OUR APPROACH AND PRINCIPLES
Over the years, we have worked with numerous organisations on multiple themes, such as human rights, climate, biodiversity, justice, development and health. Through our work, we have seen first hand the consequences of persisting coloniality, which are the long- standing patterns of power that emerged through colonialism, that continue to define culture, labour, trade, relationships and knowledge production well after the official end of colonial administrations. We believe that without decolonisation, specifically the decolonisation of knowledge as it applies in the field of research and international evaluation, it will be impossible to tackle the global challenges that we collectively face and which many international development donors and NGOs claim to address. This is partly due to the universalisation of Western ways of knowing, which disregards local knowledge as worthy or legitimate in its own right and excludes many useful, innovative and sustainable solutions. Further, it leads to the imposition of standards, units of measurement, and interpretations that are incompatible with the cultures, values and realities of the places where development programmes and evaluations take place (development itself being a contested notion), and thus, increases inequality. In other words, rather than engaging with local rationalities that may differ from their own, development practitioners and evaluators tend to apply or impose their own.
This is why, as an international and diverse team, we at ODS make a daily conscious effort to challenge our own perceptions and unpack the realities around us. To address this in our work, we have developed a practice that integrates the lenses of decolonisation, localisation, anti-racism, feminism, intersectionality and wellbeing. Through these, we systematically question power; deeply analyse contexts; emphasise the importance of localisation for anything to be sustainable; and interrogate impact from the point of view of the different social positions of stakeholders with the aim of surfacing their hidden transcripts and perceptions. Yet even in applying these lenses and methodologies to evaluations, we remain aware of the challenges of deconstructing a system with such deep socio-historical roots. The multiple layers that sustain coloniality, manifested in inequalities in evaluations, range from structural to non-structural, including donor culture and requirements; individual staff member biases; and an operational field that is heavily influenced by dominant cultural norms.
These lenses are based on a single core value that underpins all of our work: humanness. We are genuinely interested in the cause, vision, and mission of the organisations and groups with which we work, instead of trying to impose what we think is right. We value horizontal management structures and diversity (embodied not only as a ticking-the-box exercise but as a part of an organisational work and thinking culture). We do not have a one-size-fits-all method in our practice; instead, we listen radically and co-create our methods.