Chapter III.1 in “INCLUSIVE OR RATIONAL PARTICIPATORY EVALUATION?” Slovenian Evaluation Society’s Working Papers, Spring/Summer 2024, forthcomming

Key words: Outcome Harvesting, Sensemaker, Causal Mapping, Most Significant Change

The assessment of inclusivity in participatory evaluation tools presents a multifaceted challenge, as dissimilar concepts of inclusiveness exist. Inclusion can be considered from the viewpoint of the minority or the majority of the population, as well as from the perspective of the included or the excluded population.

The dominant view, informed by Arrowʼs principles of collective choice theory, emphasizes inclusivity through two key tenets. First, an unrestricted domain of choice equalizes the opportunities for collective action among all participants, particularly marginalized groups with limited access to social resources. Second, the non-dictatorship principle safeguards collective choice against the undue influence of dominant minority groups, like politicians, project leaders and key stakeholders, in resolving collective choice dilemmas. The imperative of inclusive collective choice is about the minority of the population, whether considering the minority of the excluded (deprived groups) or the minority of the included (privileged) groups.

A contrasting perspective posits that the concept of social inclusion must encompass the majority of the population. Even in established democracies, structural and systemic barriers like elitism, corruption, and political opportunism (Laclau, Mouffe) effectively marginalize the majority from shaping society (Bauman). Independent multinational studies support this notion. A significant portion of the global population, ranging from 60% to 80%, feel inadequately represented by their governments (United Nations, in Kreisler; Eurobarometer; Henning).

Likewise, the concept of inclusion can be examined from the viewpoints of the included or excluded. The socially included often take inclusion for granted. They view the world through a logocentric lens (Derrida), centred on how the included see things. The primary architects of social inclusion efforts are dominant institutions at international levels, such as The World Bank[1] and The European Union[2]. However, discussing inclusion from the aspect of the included can lead to underestimating the pervasiveness of social discrimination and its structural roots.

Post-modern philosophy offers a contrasting perspective, focusing on the excluded individuals or groups (Foucault). It posits that exclusion always precedes inclusion (Derrida) so it is (exclusion) inherent in any model or theory of truth, in any concept, category, name, or identity. Every system of thought establishes boundaries by excluding everything deemed irrelevant to its core logocentric claims. The concept of exclusion in constructing meaning finds an analogy in mapmaking. Just as a city map excludes details like every tree or building to remain useful and provide a comprehensive overview of a city layout, so too do systems of thought require the exclusion of ʻinsignificant detailsʼ to maintain transparency and coherent form.

Those experiencing social exclusion possess distinct perspectives of the world compared to those included. The excluded suffer a lack of epistemic agency (Tanaka-Ishii) – the freedom to express their viewpoints in a manner that is specific to them and aligns with their inner character – that necessarily appears weird to the majority of included, even incomprehensible due to their epistemic blindness. The excluded may see the logocentric realm solely through the void – through the gaps of the dominant view, not as enlightened but as mute and invisible.

The seemingly simple concepts of void, nothingness, or emptiness have captivated philosophers for centuries, from Western philosophers Heidegger, Sartre, Derrida, and Lacan to proponents of the Buddhist philosophy of the middle way and the contemporary Kyoto school of philosophy. Diverse thinkers have explored the possibility of understanding the world from the perspective of the void, beyond its material, objective, or real manifestations but also against assertions about emptying the world of its meaning. Exploration has yielded two contrasting interpretations of the void, nihilist and essentialist, and the third, mesoscopic, that can be obtained between them.

Nihilism, on the one hand, interprets the concept of the void as a force that deconstructs all logocentric constructs, demonstrating the absence of meaning. In the context of Jean-Paul Sartreʼs existentialist philosophy, nothingness represents the absence of essence at the core of everything. Left unchecked, a nihilistic perspective leads to relativism or indifference, ultimately destroying any sense of meaning, particularly collective meaning. But nihilist deconstruction of logocentric assertions is also a prerequisite for constructing new meaning beyond previous constraints, so it opens the ground for initiating creative and positive change.

Essentialist framework, however, posits the void as an omnipresent entity that defines the fundamental nature of all things. However, the philosophy of the middle way, both the Nagarjuna school and the Kyoto school, dismantles essentialist understanding of the void. They argue that it merely constructs another instance of logocentrism. Instead of realist logos at the centre of everything, essentialism applies logos of the void. An example is when tools mitigate blindness with blindness.

Discarding these two extreme approaches leaves one with the concept of the void from a non-extreme vantage point. This elaborates on the void from the middle ground that is neither full of nothing nor empty of everything. It is not an absolute but a relative entity. It is defined as the absence of something considered essential (Nagarjuna, Sartre), not as the absence of anything unique and absolute. The middle ground is not absolutely empty and homogeneous. The relative void is full of all overlooked, uncharacteristic, peripheral, and seemingly non-essential elements that are nonetheless present, albeit invisibly. Furthermore, the relative void in every instance manifests differently. For example, economists are usually epistemic blind towards ecological arguments, and vice versa for ecologists. Their epistemic blindnesses differ, the overlooked is present only relatively when observed from the middle ground.

From a middle-ground perspective, the void signifies the absence of something, a reality that remains unseen yet nonetheless felt (Heidegger). Heidegger refers to the experience of dread in darkness as an analogy. One sees nothing, yet the feeling of dread arises exactly because of awareness certain things are present – somewhere out there, vaguely threatening, even though not revealing any danger in particular. Similarly, Sartre posits the void as the lack of meaning or purpose in existence similar to the void left by the loss of a loved one. Sometimes we only come to understand things through their absence. Studying the history of zero, Robert Kaplan similarly reminds the reader that the mathematical concept of zero was not always defined as a number. Since it does not represent a quantity itself, zero was understood merely as a ʻplaceholderʼ[3] – a code or symbol signifying something essential for the construction of meaning, yet demonstrably absent.

The void produced by epistemic blindness can best grasp a blindsighted evaluator. He builds his judgment on uncertainties of complex issues. His ability hinges on avoiding two key pitfalls: neither overlooking things that seem unimportant to participants nor being blinded by what appears true to them. The blindsighted comprehension of uncertain things must extend beyond considering bare facts. However, it never disregards the importance of scientific arguments. In the face of uncertainty, the blindsighted evaluator recognizes the value of contrasting viewpoints without deciding one or the other. He remains epistemically indeterminate (Wittgenstein) and inconclusive. Yet, not indecisive! Conclusions, reached at meso level are described in concepts, categories, terminology, and logic that lack manifest presence and may defy immediate comprehension at the micro or macro level.

Therefore, inclusivity will be accomplished the most with a participatory evaluation tool that successfully transforms participants’ insights from epistemic blindness at the outset of the process to epistemic blindsightedness by its conclusion.

[1] Web page; Accessed May 2024.

[2] Web page; Accessed May 2024.

[3] Before developing modern concept of zero, some ancient cultures denoted zero as ‘_’, an empty space, a placeholder for something that is missing. For instance, number 205 would have been written as 2_5, which reads as two hundreds, zero tens and five ones.

Chapter I

Chapter II