Lessons Learned: Prioritizing the Perspectives of Local Disabled Person’s Organizations on Education Evaluation and Research
What We Learned from Partnering with the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization on a Multi-Country Study on Inclusive Education
The Multi-Country Study on Inclusive Education (MCSIE) is the first major, multi-country effort by USAID to investigate what works when supporting children with disabilities as they learn to read. The purpose of the study is to derive lessons to sustainably advance teaching and learning outcomes for children with disabilities in varying contexts.
As part of MCSIE and in keeping with the principle “nothing about us without us,” in Cambodia, USAID and research partner Inclusive Development Partners (IDP) worked with the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organisation (CDPO) to evaluate inclusive education within the All Children Reading (ACR) Cambodia project. CDPO is an organization led by persons with disabilities, which works with the Cambodian government to ensure all policy and legal framework incorporates disability inclusion. Participating in evaluation research was a new experience for the organization. Yet valuable lessons have been drawn on how international organizations can conduct collaborative research with local partners on inclusive education.
Lesson #1: Take time to understand local partners, local context, and to build trust
Colleagues from CDPO noted that trust is essential to a successful partnership between international organizations and local organizations. Trust is built by understanding, prioritizing, and incorporating local experiences, knowledge, perspectives, and skills. Mean Vibol Ratanak, Senior Program Officer at CDPO, explained, “If they don’t understand us, we cannot work closely regarding the implementation of the project.”
He believes good practice was USAID’s and IDP’s early engagement with CDPO to try and better understand the concept of disability within the Cambodian context.
Lesson #2: Provide technical support and help strengthen research capacity of local partners
CDPO identified technical support as one of the most important forms of support they received. Ratanak explained, “Even though we are good at what we do, we are not up to date (with concepts, research methods, and techniques), so we need (the expertise of) partners to build the capacity of the team.”
Ratanak explained that he had yet to become familiar with certain concepts of inclusive education but was gradually able to build expertise through his participation in the MCSIE research. “After being part of the project for three years, I can say that I've learned 70 or 80 percent about inclusive education,” he elaborated.
Interviewing, including asking probing questions and being observant, were research skills that Ratanak and his CDPO colleagues strengthened during the process. Honing their observational skills was particularly important for the research as the COVID-19 pandemic prevented IDP researchers from traveling to Cambodia. The CDPO team also wrote descriptively about their observations.
Lesson #3: Provide adequate financial support to local organizations and researchers
Local organizations and researchers not only need technical and capacity-strengthening support, but they also need adequate financial assistance. Ratanak explained, “We don’t want to just keep the budget or knowledge to ourselves. We want to share with other Organizations of People with Disabilities (OPDs), so they can conduct research and build capacity.” CDPO works with 75 OPDs across Cambodia to promote disability inclusion and implement laws recognizing the rights of people with disabilities. The effects of financially supporting this national OPD might help strengthen the sector nationally.
Lesson #4: Support the inclusion of local partners in translating and adapting research tools so that they are appropriate to local language and culture
Colleagues from CDPO discussed the importance of Inclusive Development Partners (IDP) and USAID supporting the translation and adaptation of research questions and data into the local language and context. Ratanak told us, “A lot of Cambodian people can understand English, but speaking is difficult for them because they don’t use (English) very often.” Colleagues from CDPO also highlighted the importance of including OPDs in the translation and adaptation process to ensure that disability-related language captures what is intended and appropriate.
Translating data into local languages ensures local researchers can participate authentically. Ratanak pointed out that the research could have missed important feedback if the information were only provided in English. Furthermore, OPDs’ participation in the translation and adaptation helped researchers avoid terminology that perpetuated misconceptions of disabilities or resulted in stigmatization.
Lesson #5: Make meaning of research findings with local partners
International organizations should work with local organizations and researchers to analyze data, make sense of the research findings and support the dissemination of the research outputs to all relevant stakeholders. Communicating findings with local stakeholders ensures the knowledge generated in the local context is shared with communities who can use the information to advance their priorities. Monika Mak, Executive Director of CDPO, said they organized a workshop to share findings from the MCSIE study with approximately 100 representatives of the government ministries, development partners, and other OPDs. She said they will use findings to advocate with local authorities and national and subnational governments for continued attention to issues of inclusive education.
Lesson #6: Continue to engage with partners to encourage recommendations from research are implemented
Supporting dissemination of research findings is not enough. International organizations should continue to engage with local partners to help address gaps and help promote advocacy efforts based on the research. Because USAID supported the MCSIE study, which helped identify gaps in disability-inclusive education in Cambodia, CDPO believes USAID would be well placed to encourage and support the Cambodian government to address these challenges. Ratanak explained, “When we bring these results to the Ministry (of Education), they are happy to get them, but we need support from the USAID to get (ongoing) technical (solutions).” For instance, Mak, the Executive Director of CDPO, identified Universal Design Learning (UDL) as an area of support USAID could provide the Cambodian government to address some of the gaps identified in the MCSIE study. Mak also sees the need for support to ensure that disability inclusion takes place on the national level.