August 6, 2003 - PCOL Exclusive: Evaluating the Peace Corps

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By Admin1 (admin) on Friday, September 12, 2003 - 11:15 pm: Edit Post

Evaluating the Peace Corps

Read and comment on this story sent to us by former Peace Corps Staffer Paul Sack on the Evaluation Department established in the 1960's under the legendary Charles Peters. Like almost all chief executives, Sargent Shriver recognized that it would be impossible for him to manage and improve the the Peace Corps program without information about what worked and what did not work in the field. Read the story at:

Evaluating the Peace Corps*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Evaluating the Peace Corps

by Paul Sack

When Sargent Shriver launched the Peace Corps in the early 1960s, he recognized the need for feedback from overseas on how the programs were working out. He therefore established the Evaluation Department under the legendary Charles Peters. Like almost all chief executives, Sarge recognized that it would be impossible for him to manage and improve the the Peace Corps program without information about what worked and what did not work in the field. Unfortunately, the current and recent Directors of the Peace Corps have abandoned the overseas evaluations programs (except for reports on administrative matters by the Inspector General).

Under Sarge and his immediate successor, each country was visited and its programs evaluated by an independent, highly skilled observer - often a university professor who developed continuity by reviewing different programs on varied continents in successive years. The reports were addressed directly to Sarge but were circulated to the appropriate regional director and others with a need to know. There was also a separate section on overseas staff which went to Sarge and others on a more restricted basis.

The evaluators generally spent up to a month in-country. They visited at least 60% of the volunteers at their sites and interviewed their direct host country supervisors as well as other host country personnel further up the line in the programs or ministries. They also interviewed relevant personnel in the U.S. embassy - often including the ambassador, the head of USAID, and - of course - any personnel directly involved in programs in which volunteers were working. These evaluations provided everyone who read them with important information about what was working and what was not, how the volunteers felt about their jobs, and enabled those managing the programs - especially those in Washington - to repeat the successes in other countries and to try to reduce the losses from poor types of programs.

Some of the most important questions answered by the evaluations were:

Did the volunteers find the job rewarding?

Was the work important to the host country?

Were the volunteers' jobs and living arrangements conducive to strong interaction with host country nationals?

After completing two years (1966-67) as Country Director in Tanzania, I went to Washington to be in charge of the office that made the decisions as to which program requests for volunteers were approved and which were not. The evaluations were enormously important in making these decisions. Moreover, we tried to discern which types of assignments were found to be most rewarding to volunteers and encouraged the regional directors and overseas country directors to increase their planning in those directions.

One of the things we discovered, for instance, was that volunteers worked best and were happiest when they had real jobs within some host country structure. By contrast, unstructured "community development" assignments - in which volunteers were trained to analyze local communities and find ways to prod them toward solving "felt needs," - left 80% of the Volunteers frustrated and ineffective and, in fact, seemed to cause behavior problems that were inimical to the best interests of the Peace Corps and possibly to the Volunteers themselves.

Through these evaluation reports, the Director of the Peace Corps was able to shape the overseas program, as Country Directors learned what types of jobs and living arrangements for volunteers were regarded positively.

It is more than unfortunate that the current director of the Peace Corps and his recent predecessors have tried to manage the Peace Corps without any real knowledge of what is going on overseas, except in the administrative area. As a result, programs with terrible non-jobs have proliferated; and the Peace Corps has not been able to capitalize and spread those successes that it does not know about. Moreover, on the basis of what we learned from the evaluations we read in the 1960s, I am sure that there are scandals overseas which are easily concealed from unseeing eyes in Washington, thousands of miles away.

Click on a link below for more stories on PCOL

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