Public Engagement for Good

Venture 2 Impact is in the midst of rediscovering our approach to monitoring, evaluation, and reporting impact to improve our gender equality and transformative evaluation methods. Learn a bit more about our journey below!

By Emilie Chiasson

I was frozen in my seat (and for once it wasn’t my Zoom connection). We had all heard of poverty porn and the harmful impact it has on autonomy, human dignity, and communities experiencing marginalization but I didn’t realize the active role that public engagement was playing in human trafficking. 

Last month while attending the Spur Change National Conference, hosted by the Inter-Council Network, I took part in a session called “Effective & Ethical: Public Engagement at Its Best,” where one of the facilitating NGOs, SERniña, shared their experience with shifting their and other local organizations’ public engagement practices in Guatemala.

In Guatemala, more than 10,000 cases of human trafficking and sexual exploitation are reported every year, reflecting 2.7% of the country’s GDP (SERniña, 2021). Of these cases, over 50% of victims are captured through the internet and social networks (SERnina, 2021).

Screen capture of Sernña’s presentation at the Spur Change National Conference.

What does this have to do with NGOs and public engagement?

SERniña started to notice a trend where human traffickers were easily identifying victims to fit their profiles through NGOs’ use of beneficiary photos – photos that were being used to demonstrate their work and impact when reporting to donors and the public. In effect, NGOs websites and social media channels are a growing source of information to identify, locate, and learn about children. This led to children being easily targeted as traffickers were approaching them with very detailed information about their program and community.

So what did SERniña do?

They stopped showing children’s faces on their websites, social media, and when reporting to donors. Initially, they thought donors would have an adverse reaction, but as it turned out, they were very engaged and supportive of the shift. The Guatemalan NGO also launched a national campaign to bring awareness to the problem and to help other development organizations shift their approach. You can learn more about SERniña and their incredibly important campaign at

SERniña’s new method of program participant representation on their website (retrieved from SERniña’s website)

What does this mean for V2I and me as a development practitioner?

Our team started to think about how we tell stories and how we communicate impact. This led us down a broader journey of taking a hard look at our Theory of Change and our approach to monitoring, evaluation, and reporting. As individuals and as an organization, we have a role to play in creating systemic change where our ask or need to measure impact should align with our desire to enact transformative change. How can our monitoring, evaluation, and reporting be just as transformative as our programming? 

That’s when we dug deeper and started learning about transformative evaluation. An approach which was inspired by conversations I had with a former classmate who now works for Engineers Without Borders (thank you, Geneva!) and while attending the Atlantic Council for International Cooperation’s MEAL training. 

What’s Transformative Evaluation?

Transformative evaluation places social justice at the centre of an evaluator’s work. It moves an organization from thinking solely about transformative programming to including similar ethical, participatory, and trust building practices in monitoring, evaluation (M&E) and reporting (EWB, 2019). While V2I currently uses Design Thinking Processes to develop our NGO and volunteer projects, we have been presented with an opportunity to further extend the engagement of end beneficiaries in the development and execution of our M&E. The actual design of the evaluation enhances benefits for the local community and where we actively continue to shift power dynamics and oppressive structures to ensure our partners inform the way in which they want to be monitored, evaluated, and reported (EWB, 2019).

Where do we go from here?

This year, Venture 2 Impact will be launching a new Theory of Change and approach to Monitoring and Evaluation informed by our renewed understanding of the multiple factors (good and bad) of public engagement and our approach to transformative evaluation. 

My experience at the Spur Change National Conference and as a Youth Delegate for the ICN has helped V2I and me start down this journey.  

I want to extend a big thank you to SERniña for their willingness to share their experience and how they are co-creating new stories with their beneficiaries. My gratitude is extended to the Inter-Council Network for supporting young development professionals, such as myself, to have a seat at the table.

Works Cited

Engineers Without Borders. (2019). Transformative Evaluation at EWB. and A Transformative Evaluation Toolkit for The Impact Investing Sector

Serniña. (2021). SERniña Public Engagement & Marketing Campaign.

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