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Disability Equality Specialist Support Agency


Background to the evaluation

The aim of this external evaluation is to review and reflect on the effectiveness of the Steps to Mainstreaming Participation Framework, identify any possible gaps in the programme and outline the appropriate direction of the programme for the future.


The evaluation identified the existing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the programme. Examples of strengths of the programme included providing a contact base for people with a disability and community development and in turn effective mainstreaming, introduction of the ‘social model’ to programme participants and bringing people with different types of disabilities together. Weaknesses of the programme include limited resources within DESSA and capacity of projects to support the programme. Opportunities for the programme include the potential to further develop the knowledge of staff in Family Resource Centres and Community Development Projects of the ‘social model’ of disability. Threats to the effective implementation of the programme include funding, consistency of delivery and fear that the disability group may become isolated within FRCs and CDPs.


Background to the Programme

DESSA was established in 2001 to work within the Community and Voluntary sector in the area of disability rights. The mission of DESSA is to support the inclusion and active participation of disabled people in Irish life through community development methodologies. This is achieved through three areas of action including capacity building, policy development and networking. Through collaboration between the Forum of People with Disabilities and DESSA the Steps to Mainstreaming Participation Framework was initiated.


The aim of the Steps Framework is to empower disabled people and community development practitioners with knowledge and capacity to ensure the active participation of disabled people within public, civic and community life. This is achieved through delivering strategic supports at local level to people with disabilities through community development organisations and providing those local community development organisations with the capacity and supports to co-ordinate the programme at local level. In support of this, programmes were organised through local Community Development Programmes and Family Resource Centres with the purpose of mainstreaming services for people with disability. In 2005, a pilot scheme of this framework was released.

At present, the programme comprises of:

  • A series of training programmes designed to introduce disabled people to their local community
  • Exploring disability issues so that participants can inform policy and effect change nationally and locally
  • The development of practical skills to enable participation
  • The development of advocacy and mentoring supports enabling disabled people achieve life goals within a mainstream community development context
  • Capacity building among community development practitioners in disability equality
  • The development of a model of mainstreaming.


The Steps to Mainstreaming sets out seven steps to participation for people with disabilities under three broad headings of social, economic and community capacity. The first three steps of the Programme; Making Choices, Step Forward and Mentoring West, which are aimed at building social capacity, come under the remit of this evaluation. (See Steps to Mainstreaming Participation Framework in Appendix 1).


The Making Choices programme is directed towards people with disabilities at a local community level with the aim of increasing their participation in the community. The training programme involves introduction to and becoming familiar with the local Community Development Programme (CDP) and Family Resource Centre (FRC) programme to encourage participation in the social, cultural and economic activities of their community. The Step Forward programme is directed towards those with an interest in disability issues, with a view to influencing disability policy at a local and national level. Finally the Mentoring West, which was run as a pilot project, aims to build on the initial steps with a view to providing CDPs and FRCs the resource of trained disabled mentors to work with assigned individuals who have self-advocacy capabilities.


Conceptual framework of the Steps to Mainstreaming Participation Framework

The review has examined a large number of printed internal documents, texts, notes and awareness materials used in the initiative by one of the main tutor/facilitators. The documents had a wide scope. They embraced presentations on the concepts of:

  • Mentoring
  • Advocacy
  • Community Development


Following this document examination, the review produced a 20-page paper on social inclusion and active citizenship, advocacy in its various forms, and community development. The paper, is provided separate to the evaluation, and distinguishes between the emphasis that these concepts bring to social development and social inclusion perspectives and practices. This is a potentially stand-alone paper and can be used later as a reference document by DESSA and by funding bodies. A summary of the paper is included in (Appendix 3).


The combination of the examination of texts and the preparation of the concepts paper threw up an ambiguity in the application of inclusion, advocacy and community development in the Steps to Mainstreaming Participation Framework. There is a tendency to use the terms interchangeably as part of the promotion of a wider social inclusion agenda. This is not too surprising, since this is also the case with major documents in the public arena on social inclusion/exclusion such as Towards 2016 and the National Economic and Social Council’s Developmental Welfare State. There was no ambiguity in this area on the part of the funders and promoters of the Programme.


Projects/Stakeholders consulted in the evaluation

It was agreed that a total of ten Family Resource Centres and Community Development Projects would be
included in this evaluation. Table 1 lists the ten projects consulted.


Table 1 - Family Resource Centres and Community Development Projects in evaluation

Location Project Name
Limerick county and city Hospital FRC
  West Limerick CDP
  Our Lady of Lourdes CDP
  Southill CDP
  Southill FRC
  Clare East Clare CDP
Galway county and city Ballybane CDP
  Aonad Resource Centre
  Na Calai CDP
Mayo Cosgallen CDP
Donegal Raphoe FRC

Source: As per DESSA tender document, June 2008.


As well as community development organisations, it was agreed that the funders and partners of the programme would be interviewed along with DESSA employees and programme facilitators. A number of qualitative research methods would be used to examine the programme: roundtable discussions, telephone interviews and face-to-face interviews. To interview programme facilitators, funders, partners and DESSA employees, face-to-face and telephone interviews were used. Roundtable discussions were used to interview programme staff and participants. In addition, telephone interviews with staff were used to follow up on issues raised in the roundtable discussions. The following section will discuss the methodology used in this research in more detail.