What is a policy that "works"? One could follow monitoring indicators, observe results, carry out randomized experiments... But can the point of view of those most concerned be ignored? In its approach to evaluating poverty strategy, France Stratégie has endeavored to hear the views of those confronted by situations of exclusion, those closely familiar with the measures intended especially for them. The aim was not to simply ask them for their opinion on a particular policy, but rather to ask them to help the Evaluation Committee to understand the often very concrete issues involved in implementing anti-poverty measures.
It was decided to mobilize the “8th college” (now the "5th college") of the “Conseil national des politiques de lutte contre la pauvreté et l’exclusion sociale”(National council against Poverty and Social Exclusion). Created in 2012, this "college" is exclusively composed of people experiencing poverty or precariousness, supported by associations. Its purpose is to give a voice to, as well as to convey the knowledge of those most affected by policies heard within this body, which is responsible for leading the discussions on the coordination of poverty-related policies.
An institution of participation
Trained and supported in their work by teams from the Direction générale de la cohésion sociale (DGCS, at the Ministry of Solidarity and Health) and the Agence nouvelle des solidarités actives (ANSA), the members of this college meet regularly in Paris to define common positions, corresponding to the diversity of poverty conditions, and to contribute to the CNLE's deliberations. They are consulted on all questions of general interest concerning the fight against poverty and social exclusion, and can interact on an equal footing with the other colleges of the Conseil national (college of associations, qualified personalities, elected representatives, etc.). At the end of 2019, the organisation of the CNLE is transformed by a decree, under which the college of people experiencing poverty or precariousness will become the "5th college", and will represent, by increasing from eight to thirty-two members, half of the seats on the Conseil. It was during this period of institutional transition that France Stratégie asked the CNLE to allow this college to take part in the evaluation work.
Evaluation, a new mission for the 5th college
For the first time, the college of people experiencing poverty is directly involved in an evaluation issue. If some of its members had already participated in consultations before the adoption of the poverty strategy, they were however less familiar with the approaches and methods of evaluating public policies. Therefore, training was provided specifically for them to acquire a command of these issues.
On 21 and 22 January 2020, eleven members of this evolving college (six women and five men, accompanied by various associations and coming from various regions of France) took part in two days of meetings designed to prepare their written contribution to the initial work of the Evaluation Committee. The aim was not to recommend a particular arrangement, but to offer their point of view on what should be evaluated as a priority in the poverty strategy to inform the Evaluation Committee in the preparation of the "evaluation questions".
Two days of exchanges and training
To put themselves "in the shoes of the evaluator", the members of the college spent two days exchanging ideas among themselves, together with experts on public policies and their evaluation. They reviewed the main lines of the National Strategy for the Prevention and Fight Against Poverty; participated in workshops in small groups centred on the definition of the concept of evaluation; offered collective feedback from the workshops..
They also benefited from more detailed presentations on anti-poverty policies by the sociologist Jean-Claude Barbier, and evaluation tools discussed by Cyprien Avenel, a teacher at Sciences-Po Paris.  Following these presentations, the panel members met again in the DGCS offices and, accompanied by ANSA facilitators, prepared and drafted the opinion for the Evaluation Committee.
Priorities? participation and territories
In this opinion drafted at the end of the second day of meetings, the participants stressed the importance of the participatory dimension of the whole evaluation process - beyond their own involvement with the Committee. They suggested setting up local monitoring groups, a network or an observatory composed of people concerned; they also proposed testing beforehand possible evaluation questionnaires designed to gather more input from those affected by anti-poverty policies.
Finally, the college called the attention of the Evaluation Committee to the territorial application of the poverty strategy, to the question of the means actually implemented and to the possibility of using data collected by the major associations, beyond those produced by the administrations.
A long-term project
The messages from the 5th College were then transmitted to the Evaluation Committee, and Louis Schweitzer, accompanied by a representative of ATD-Quart Monde, specifically met at the end of February with two of the members of the College, designated as rapporteurs by their peers, to discuss the questions contained in the "Opinion" and how the Committee could respond to them. As illustrated in the progress note of the Committee, several of the recommendations were, indeed, taken into account, and will enhance the evaluation work throughout the project.
This is indeed one of the original features of this project: it does not end at this first stage, but will continue for several years, at least until 2022. In its new, enlarged composition, the college of people experiencing precariousness or poverty will be asked to express its point of view each year on the results of the poverty strategy as measured by the evaluation work. It will, therefore, be able to supplement the views of the Evaluation Committee and the citizens' panel, so that this policy can be examined from all angles necessary for its evaluation and the most relevant recommendations can be made.
2] Details of the days of January 21 and 22 2020 are available in Appendix 7 on the participatory approaches that accompanied the preparation of the Evaluation Committee's progress note.