Evaluation of the 2003 Wildflowers Program in China

Yunxiang Yan
Professor of Anthropology
University of California, Los Angeles
April 7, 2004

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            In 2003, the author of this report continued to serve as an external evaluator of the Wildflowers Institute’s ongoing program of community culture and community building in the People’s Republic of China. The author and Dr. Hanmin Liu, president and chief executive officer of the Wildflowers Institute, visited two Chinese communities (Meiyuan in Shanghai and Guangwai in Beijing) in September 2003, December 2003, and February 2004. These weeklong site visits provided the author with excellent opportunities to observe the Wildflowers process in action, which features, among other activities, Dr. Liu’s lectures on theories and methods of community building in American society, the actual research work of Chinese teams sponsored by the Wildflowers Institute, and the training sessions of community leadership. During the visits, the author conducted open-ended and semi-structured interviews among participants in the Wildflowers program, asking them to reflect on the various Wildflowers projects, their learning experiences, and the actual applications of the learned knowledge and tools in community work. The author also used techniques of structured interviews in cognitive anthropology, such as free listing, ranking, and mapping, to ask interviewees to offer their assessments of the effectiveness and usefulness of the Wildflowers projects.

The author was invited to participate in some site visits and other community activities organized by the Wildflowers Institute in its social labs in the United States. These site visits and community activities enabled the author to closely follow the rapid development of the Wildflowers theory of community construction and provided him with another reference point when evaluating the China program.

Based on information gathered during this process of participatory evaluation, this report evaluates the Wildflowers program in China from February 2003 to February 2004. In the first section, the author will review the outcomes of the three community research projects. It is noteworthy that one research project, using the Wildflowers theory and tools, led to an important discovery: a hidden cultural premise that to a great extent contributed to obesity among children in a Beijing community. In a different direction but with equal importance, another research project on the isolation and alienation of elderly people in a Shanghai community established a new model of community work that is based on Wildflowers’ trademark both/and approach and involves close collaboration among university researchers, public health professionals, and local government.

The second section evaluates the leadership training project, which consists of three components: the training sessions in China, the leadership seminar in San Francisco, and the curriculum development for a sustainable training project in the future. During the training sessions, which were added in 2003, Dr. Liu gave formal lectures and hosted informal discussion sessions. Both proved to be quite effective and necessary in terms of disseminating the Wildflowers theories and creating a Wildflowers space for the cultivation of informal leadership in communities. The San Francisco leadership seminar in October 2003 was successful and highly appreciated by the Chinese participants. The Chinese delegates discussed their experiences in learning and applying the American models in the Meiyuan community during the site visit in early 2004, which will be used as case study materials for the development of leadership training curriculum. The new partnership between the Wildflowers Institute and the Shine Stone, a grassroots NGO in Beijing, has laid out the institutional base for the development of curriculum in 2004.

In the third section, the author will briefly review the impressive development of the Wildflowers theory on social change and community construction based on Wildflowers’ work in five American communities, featuring an emphasis on youth leadership, the new understanding of the both/and approach, and a systematic account of power relations and cultural resources within a community. These new theoretical developments have made the Wildflowers theory and tools more relevant to China and, potentially, to other societies as well. The author will discuss the effectiveness and replicability of the Wildflowers theory and tools at the end of this report.

In general, the Wildflowers Institute achieved its goals in almost all projects in China in 2003, which is quite impressive given that the SARS epidemic in the first half of the year interrupted social life and work in the entire country for several months and thus made it virtually impossible to carry out any community work. More importantly, while continuing the close collaboration with government officials at the lowest level of the bureaucracy, the Wildflowers Institute was able to expand and deepen its influence through a local NGO, which probably made Wildflowers the only foreign organization that could conduct projects directly at the community level in China.

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