One of the most common questions I'm asked is: can you help us with our evaluation?
My response to that is always: very probably, what do you want and what are the parameters you're thinking of regarding timeframes and budget? And what is it exactly that you want or need?
Often, people don't exactly know. They know evaluation is a good thing, or at the very least that they should be doing / getting some. But sometimes that's all they know. So here are some things to consider when you want to commission some evaluation (or put it out for tender).
Firstly - if the evaluation is because an external funder expects / requires it, please do be prepared to let an evaluator see your application. They will treat it confidentially, but it is a very quick way for them to give you guidance on exactly what will work best for you. A good specialist won't be pushing a big sale, but they can help you decide which options are going to be best.
Secondly - no matter how much you decide to outsource or not, an evaluator cannot do everything for you. You need a good, consistent, honest working relationship to get the best results possible. The more you put in and own it, the better the relationship and the results will be. Ideally it works as a partnership.
All of this shows how I try and work with organisations wanting evaluation. This is what you can expect from me. You can also just say: "We have £x. We'd like X. Could you do that for us?"
There are some things I've thought it would be good to do for a long time, but it's never been part of my paid work to do them, and so they haven't got done. I'm noting them here as a reminder to myself and an invitation to anyone who is interested, to commission me to do them, and share them freely and publicly (or at least under creative commons) for the wider benefit of those who can use them:
1. A list of what managing, researching and evaluating many projects has taught me about partnership - what it does or doesn't mean, what it looks like, the different shapes it takes, the benefits, challenges, pitfalls, successes, opportunities and more
2. A top ten of findings / recommendations that arise in my evaluation work. Mostly around the process of managing projects - resources, processes, staffing, communication, planning, sustainability and legacy - those sorts of things. There are so many shared benefits and challenges I see time and time again, to the point it makes me sad that these things have to be learned afresh each time with publicly funded activity. Wouldn't it be better if we can do more learning from each other and move things on?
3. A portfolio of what creative consultation / creative evaluation can look like - examples of things I've tried myself and examples that other people have developed in their work.
There might be more to this list of lists but these are the freshest in my mind just now. So if you can't afford a specialist consultant for these things, do keep popping back, maybe one day someone will have commissioned them from me and they will be available to you for free.
Creative & Cultural Skills, the national development body for the areas I and many others work in, recently announced their new Standards for Creative & Cultural Industries. Including one for Standards in Freelancing.
Not a bad idea I thought, it would be good to have something official to aspire to. Then I opened it. It's 92 pages long. That's a heck of a lot of standards. I'm sure they're all admirable. I just question whether in this current climate of time -poor stretched working for many, is 92 pages a realistic sized document to expect people to read?
There are 62 overarching standards, each with a range of bullet pointed sub-standards. I can only say for the time being that I aim to read them and that when I do I'm sure I'll wholeheartedly agree with some and raise a questioning eybrow over others.
But meanwhile I'll be focussing on meeting deadlines for the clients who pay me to read and work on other documents. So who knows how long it will take to get through those 62 standards and report back on my responses...
Image: sadly not my office, but the wonderful work of atelierpompadour
I'm most interested in how the public, your public, whoever that may be, engages with culture and creativity.
And if it nurtures creativity and develops personal, social or professional skills I'm absolutely all ears.