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Last updated: 05/12/2005

Cultural and social analysis


When and why should cultural and social analysis be used?

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Cultural and
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To analyse social changes and impediments to development

Cultural and social analysis should be one of the principal tools for the design of strategies and the definition of programmes. It facilitates the understanding of the capacity of the social structure to absorb and enhance change induced by the implementation of development strategies. At the same time, it provides the means of identifying any constraints which are likely to impede these changes. This is therefore a dynamic process, in contrast to a static description of society.

"The study of social structures in a context of multiple and increasing changes () highlights existing contradictions between various principles of structuration and organisation, as well as existing gaps between the 'official' features of society and social behaviour" (Balandier, 1985).

To assess country strategies

In ex ante evaluation
The use of cultural and social analysis is most appropriate in ex ante evaluations, because an understanding of national societies is one of the components on which the whole co-operation process can lean. This specific use will be developed here.

The evaluator should establish a socio-anthropological framework which incorporates the strategy of development co-operation. This strategy and the resulting programmes are likely to be more or less successful in different types of society. The objective is to highlight the factors which favour development strategies introduced by the co-operation process, and to brief the co-operation programme's managers who otherwise might go against specific social, religious and political characteristics, cultural habits and interest groups, and, by doing so, jeopardise the programme.

In all cases
The social and cultural characteristics to be studied should be the ones influencing development co-operation strategies in situations where:

  • Target populations are in favour or against actions planned in these strategies
  • Local officials responsible for co-operation programmes either enable the whole population to benefit from the strategies' positive effects, or on the contrary, focus on special interest groups, casts or communities
  • Religious beliefs or hierarchies in social relations can facilitate or impede changes planned by the European Union's strategy

In intermediary and ex post evaluations
The use of cultural and social analysis in ex ante evaluations does not exclude its inclusion in intermediary and ex post evaluations.

Intermediary evaluations can use this tool to assess the relevance of the strategic objectives and the priorities of programmes.

Ex post evaluations can make a comparison between the initial findings in the cultural and social analysis and an outcome analysis of the programmes implemented under the strategy.

The cultural and social analysis reference framework

In combination with a SWOT analysis
As a general approach, cultural and social analysis can complement a SWOT analysis.



To analyse specific social groups

Cultural and social analysis provides a means to examine:

  • Which groups are the focus of the assistance (in ex ante evaluation)
  • Which groups have actually benefited from the European Union's strategy (in ex post evaluation)
  • Which groups have been forgotten in the strategy's wording (ex ante evaluation), or benefited less in the strategy's implementation (ex post evaluation)

People who are involved in the European Union programmes and projects resulting from country strategies. They can be direct partners (such as political authorities, technicians, economic and administrative actors) and indirect ones (beneficiaries). However, they are first and foremost human entities operating in a determined social framework.

A knowledge of how a society is structured (such as parental links and administrative, political, legal and religious systems), and organised (relations among social groups, between politics and civil society, and between political and economic power) is essential to the evaluation.

To understand social behaviour and brakes on development

Cultural and social analysis contributes to the understanding of the decisive factors which shape economic behaviour, institutional practice, and resistance to change. These elements are seldom described in statistical directories, or in official documentation, because development strategies in the past were designed without taking into account social structures and beneficiaries' perspectives.

However, "some failures (in development projects) are simply due to an inadequate economic analysis, others to a misinterpretation of socio-cultural data or ignorance of the role of the participants' traditions in the success of a project" (Kottak, 1998).

Kottak's comment applies both to projects and to country strategies. At the latter level, however, the understanding of socio-cultural data and the role of tradition is more complex. It represents the main challenge to the implementation of a cultural and social analysis.

To get a global overview of society

It is particularly difficult to provide methodological guidance concerning the analysis of social organisation in the context of a country/region evaluation.

Indeed, it is as easy to understand social organisation at a local project level, as it is risky to adopt the same approach at a national level (social complexity may be confusing to the evaluator). The evaluation does not usually develop research rationale, and only chooses elements from social sciences to examine the relevance of the development co-operation strategy, to the reality of a national society.

The elements selected should be the ones included in the general approach framework and, at the same time, be sufficiently relevant to the change resulting from development strategies.



The advantages

A cross-cutting approach
Cultural and social analysis is at the intersection of various evaluation tools. It plays a mediating role between the assessment's topics and evaluation tools.

This tool contributes to the establishment of evaluation conclusions (relating to relevance, coherence, effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability) on the specificities and the underlying trends in social systems within which strategy and development co-operation programmes are implemented.

New emphasis on social sciences applied to development
Cultural and social analysis brings new perspectives to applied social sciences because its use is still in its infancy and references are scarce:

" Through the exploration of new fields, researchers in applied social sciences are given
the rare opportunity, along their study on cultural variables in development programmes,
to develop "social inventions" as Whyte puts it ingeniously (Cerna, 1998)".

The limitations

A methodology leaving the strategic objectives unquestioned
The first limitation is inherent in the suggested methodology, which consists of restricting the scope of the cultural and social analysis according to the strategic objectives.

When the analysis is carried out during the strategy drafting stage, its scope is determined by the European Union's general objectives, which do not usually refer to individual country contexts.

When the analysis is carried out at the strategy evaluation stage, its scope is related to the objectives of the strategy to be assessed. In this case, however, the risk of neglecting indicators which could have led to the selection of another set of objectives is substantial.

A methodology whose implementation is challenging
Another aspect of a cultural and social study, which is an inherent difficulty in implementation (rather than a limitation), is the evaluator's onerous responsibility related to the conduct of research.

For the general approach, this methodology can provide indications to the evaluator about the questions to be addressed, the sources of information and the methodology to be used in the collection and analysis of data. Nevertheless, for each country's specific goal, the evaluator will have to deconstruct the wording of the Country Strategy Papers in order to convert the themes of the general approach into individual sub-questions.

A socio-anthropologist expert is therefore required in the evaluation team.