Pragmatic Evaluation in Community Media - A Developmental Approach

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In the dynamic world of community media and community-focussed communications, the methods by which we assess and evaluate our projects are pivotal. Recent approaches to social theory and critical social thinking have been grounded in critical and intersectional approaches. These approaches prioritise the critique of power structures that are said to be permitted through society in the form of discourse and language.

Many academic scholars and researchers follow this line of thinking, and subsequently base their social change models on the idea that power inherently separates people and the social groups they identify with. Many social-change advocacy organisations, and their associated funding organisations, now follow this way of reasoning about social relationships. In the critical theory approach, we are defined by our identity, the historical forces that have shaped our inherited identity, and therefore we need to recognise that our social standing is the result of deeply rooted power dynamics, such as patriarchy, colonialism, racism and other forms of normative socialisation.

However, an alternative mode of critique is available to us, one that comes from a different tradition of critical thinking and philosophising. The pragmatic approach was founded and developed by the likes of John Dewey, Charles Sanders Peirce, William James and Richard Rorty.  The pragmatic evaluation and development approach takes a naturalistic and evolutionary approach to social change, whereby our thinking is related to our actions. Pragmatists recognise that the world is changeable, and the role that humans play in society is purposeful and practical. The point it not to look for and find universal truths, but to deal with the challenges of the moment to promote an ethical response that can account for social change.

Understanding the Pragmatic Approach: At its core, a pragmatic model values empirical learning, problem-solving, and active community involvement in the development of knowledge and solutions to problems. Pragmatism is anti-ideological, as it shifts focus from purely abstract and theoretical criticisms, to tangible actions and outcomes based on empirical evidence.

  • Empirical Learning: Pragmatism emphasises learning from real-world experiences, allowing community media projects to adapt and evolve based on actual community feedback and needs.
  • Problem-Solving: By viewing challenges as practical problems requiring solutions, the pragmatic approach fosters a proactive stance towards obstacles, promoting innovation and adaptability.
  • Community Involvement: Pragmatism underscores the importance of involving the community in the evaluation process, ensuring that projects remain relevant and beneficial to their intended audience.

The Online Meetup: A Deeper Dive
Drawing inspiration from the principles of ‘Pragmatic Deliberation’, this approach champions the idea that community media should be adaptive, responsive, and deeply rooted in the realities and needs of our communities. Why, then, should we consider pragmatism as an approach that can help with understanding the effectiveness of our community-focussed communications?

To delve further into this compelling approach, Decentered Media is hosting our regular online meetup for our Patreon subscribers. This discussion promises to be a melting pot of ideas, allowing participants to share insights, experiences, and queries with fellow community media enthusiasts and experts.

As the media landscape continues to evolve, it’s essential for community media professionals to stay abreast of emerging evaluation and development models. The pragmatic approach, with its emphasis on real-world learning and community engagement, offers a promising alternative that warrants exploration. While critical and intersectional models have their merits, the time is ripe for community media to consider the pragmatic model’s potential advantages. By doing so, we can ensure that our projects remain impactful, relevant, and in tune with the communities they serve.

Subscribe to Decentered Media on Patreon for as little as £3 per month, and take part in regular discussions and events that push the boundaries of how we understand community media and community-focussed communication.

The Decentered Media Meetup now takes place online fortnightly on Wednesdays from 6.30pm, starting 20th September.