I spend much of my time evaluating cultural learning and engagement projects. Like most people who work in this sector, I love to think of myself as a bit of an artistic soul, so I understand the pain some of you creative bods feel when it comes to evaluating your work. It can feel too dry and technical sometimes.
I’m here to preach to the evaluation nay-sayers. I believe it can be amazingly creative and, when it comes to audiences for learning and engagement programmes, most organisations I work with are keen to involve creative approaches in collecting feedback. Here are some key things to remember.
1. Define what you really mean by creative approaches
Are you considering getting arty, or do you mean doing ‘something a bit different’ from a survey? Some of the easiest ways to be creative are about transforming the more traditional methods into something more fun and engaging. This may be asking people to rate their experience physically or performatively, or perhaps turning a questionnaire into game, or using interactive digital tools to conduct interviews. On the other hand, you may move even further from the standard format and encourage participants to create an artistic response, using this as stimulus to get explore experiences. This can be a really powerful way of supporting people to share views in an authentic and audience-led way. There are no right or wrongs here but be clear what you mean.
2. Creative approaches are a great way of overcoming some of the challenges around evaluation
Evaluation can easily be seen as an add on. It is all too often done at the end of projects, or just to please funding requirements. It can also leave you feeling open and vulnerable as it may expose the things that aren’t working so well (which is a good thing by the way as it supports learning). We also worry that our audiences can get questionnaire fatigue or that the richness of work is not captured. This is where creative approaches really shine. They can be embedded into the activities within your programmes, supporting stakeholders to engage with your reporting by balancing the text and stats. Recently we evaluated a digital heritage project with young people where we worked with our client to embed questions into Minecraft, which they were using in the project. Connecting your creative tools to the artform is key.
3. Don’t use creative approaches for the sake of it – combine with other tools
They can take longer to develop, more time to undertake and be time-consuming to analyse. Sometimes the data might not provide any useful or rigorous evidence alone; rather, it complements other feedback. Creative feedback can be a powerful way of bringing broader findings from quantitative data to life – but you need the backbone of a rigorous approach.
4. Don’t lose sight of good practice around evaluation, even when getting creative
Remember to keep the evaluation plan in mind when you are thinking about using creative data collection tools. Keep your aims in mind and know what you are evaluating. Also bear in mind your audiences and the environment. Keep it simple; be creative if it will allow people to feedback information that other approaches can’t, but be realistic about what is possible.
5. Telling the story – creative dissemination
Whilst is it not always possible to collect data in creative ways, sharing your learning poses lots of opportunities to bring more flair. We worked with the British Museum on the evaluation of their Object Journeys project and commissioned a spoken word artist to respond to the Somali community partners’ experience. For another project, we commissioned a series of artists to creatively interpret parts of an evaluation report and showcase these at an event – which really helped prompt wider discussion. We are currently working on another project with a designer where we have been bringing evaluation reporting to life through a series of animations. I believe being creative in these ways can really be the most effective way of showcasing means the real insight hidden in long evaluation reports.
While audiences are most comfortable returning to outdoor events, organising a festival that can flex around ever-changing restrictions is still no mean feat. Penny Mills and Jonathan Goodacre have been looking at what’s working.
Unpredictable and changing circumstances are making it difficult to plan any festival this summer but we are a resourceful lot in the cultural sector.