Nothing makes me happier as an evaluator than clients who use and share the evaluation to improve their work and the work of others. It's the direct opposite of sending your report off to trustees or funders and forgetting about it. So I was delighted to find out Leeds Dance Partnership (LDP) had done exactly that. I recently completed their impact and process evaluation for the first four official years of the partnership - a three quarters of a million pound initiative supported by Arts Council England's (ACE) Ambition for Excellence scheme.
It was a very complicated partnership, programme and evaluation. Partners had to be honest, not only identifying successes, but also looking at where not everything had gone to plan. We included it all. Participants, the local and national dance sector, the Leeds cultural decision makers, and regional freelance artists all inputted to ensure a really balanced and practical set of perspectives.
There was a lot to say about the achievements, pitfalls and learning along the way. And at the same time we wanted the report to be accessible, easy to find what different people needed.
As soon as the report was completed, LDP sent it off to ACE ahead of a follow-up meeting. I rarely expect funders to read evaluation reports, knowing how stretched everyone's workload is. So I was delighted to hear ACE had not only read the report but also fed back their appreciation that "the report was more thorough than we expected - very good, and we welcomed the SWOT which explored the flaws as well as stating the positives."
Those investing in your work really do want to see the learning process not just the good news stories (of course they want to see those too!).
I thought that was the end of the story, but no. I was even more pleased when I received a message out of the blue via LinkedIn from an Organisational Development Consultant now working with Leeds Dance Partnership who said the report had been shared with her and, "I found this such a helpful and insightful piece of work that I wanted to write to say thank you as it has enabled me to engage with LDP faster and in a more informed way than would otherwise have been the case."
LDP has also made the summary and full reports available for anyone via their website here or you can read it on screen / download directly from my own collection here. A variety of other examples of my evaluation reports are also available on the Example Reports page.
So - these are just a couple of examples of what the point of evaluation is. It's a way to reflect, learn and evolve. It's a way to pass the memory of what happened, what worked and what didn't on from one set of people to another, to save time, stop reinventing wheels, and make the most of the resources you have. There are other reasons to do evaluation, do it well, and put it to good use. But making it publicly available and actively sharing it are a couple that really make me feel the work has been worthwhile.
Free Downloadable resource - Children & Young People's Arts Participation in Practice: For Rural and Other AreasRead Now
Last winter I was asked to create a series of case studies and good practice guidance for arts related work with children and young people in rural areas. This was part of a bigger piece of work for Arts Connect as they began their journey to support the creation of a consortium for arts and cultural organisations across Shropshire.
Shropshire Arts Consortium was formally launched this week with much ground covered already in the past few months and a lively energy to carry on building opportunities for children and young people in the area moving forward. A website for their work is on its way and in the meantime you can follow them on the #ShropConsortium hashtag.
Many people were interested in the case studies and research I carried out, and Arts Connect have kindly agreed to share it as widely as possible.
The resource created from this research contains
Feel free to read or download the resource below...
One Small Step for Early Years, One Giant Leap for Children: a toolkit for creativity with young childrenRead Now
This time last year I was lucky enough to work with Isaacs UK and CAPE UK, exploring the work of artists and creative practitioners working with children and staff in ten early years settings across Leeds. They settings worked together as network, using Creative Partnerships' enquiry model of working to test out their activities.
My role was to pull together everyone's learning, summarising shared findings and exceptional experiences, laying these out in a way which might be helpful for others looking for new and / or creative ways to unlock potential in their children. To round up a few of the ups and downs, things that worked, things that didn't work quite so much, and some of the thinking the creative and early years practitioners travelled through together or separately. At the heart of it all, to tell some of the stories of the children and how their outlook on the world changed a little as a result of the projects. On a more formal side, we looked at a couple of different ways of monitoring the progress of children - both in terms of the Foundation Stage areas, and in their wellbeing and involvement through a system known as EXE (Experiential Education).
CAPE set some fantastic designers loose on the content I wrote with IsaacsUK, and the result is a really stunning and accessible looking publication. Please read, browse, enjoy and most importantly - pass it on to anyone who might make use of it.
Browse or download it below, or online *here*
Way back in 2006 I received a grant from Arts Council England to research the DIY / subversive / home grown - whatever you want to call it - craft scene in the UK. The likes of what is now much more widely known; Etsy, Stitch and Bitch, yarnbombing (knitting attached to things in public as you may know it - lamposts, bike rails, bannisters etc).It was all going on in the US, but I wondered to what extent that was happening here too - if at all...
In 2006 there really wasn't that much of this around. To set the scene, less than 300 UK people were registered on Etsy and people were still finding one another through MySpace. Which is where my research started.
This week I'll be at a two day workshop exploring what craft and communities have in common, and what potential there is for craft and community being in the same mix. Much of the topics under the microscope will be the exact same ones that arose in my research. Eventually there will be a website where the Connecting Craft & The Community project will be shared more widely. But for the benefit of colleagues I'll be meeting in the next couple of days, and anyone else who is interested, here is the report produced in 2007, which summarised the work, and laid out some options to take the themes on into a programme of exhibitions, projects and events (which I'm happy to say did indeed happen.)
So here's the report.
To give you a flavour the contents page reads as follows... Defining DIY :: A Potted History :: Textiles :: Gender Stories :: Inclusivity & Anti-elitism :: Anti-consumerism & The Individual :: Political Crafting :: Interdisciplinary Content :: Street Crafting :: Sharing, Authorship and Currency :: Art & Anti-Art :: Entrepreneurialism :: Quality :: Exhibition & Project Potential :: Options and Recommendations
Read or download as a pdf it below; or from google docs here; or contact me and I'll email it to you...
I spent a huge amount of last year working with some amazing academic staff, researchers and community groups as they learned more about one another through creative projects as part of the Manchester Beacon for Public Engagement. My role was (and still is) to help what's happening at practice level link with a rather complex overarching evaluation framework.
The Manchester Beacon programme is, in a nutshell, about encouraging learning institutions to better understand how to open themselves up to communities more effectively. An important part of that process is to trial new approaches and reflect on what works, or what could be improved. It's an action learning model really.
The Beacon team and I identified that those involved in the practice needed support in being able to report back on their work in ways that fit the evaluation framework. So we set about producing some guidance for them, based on the input of community groups and a pilot cohort of academics and researchers.
Fast forward many months and the evaluation guidance pack / toolkit I created with their help, and the help of other colleagues, is now freely available. It contains some basic principles of evaluation, hints and tips, templates, and examples of creative consultation.
You can read or download it below; contact me for a copy; or read / download it here.
On this page, you can also find some very short podcasts and top tips from some of the staff and community groups who have used the document. At the end of the pack there are also lots more links to further evaluation guidance in public engagement and also support created specifically for the fields of science communication; community engagement; arts and heritage; and health and wellbeing.
All thoughts or comments welcome...
I currently have a number of clients who, in some shape or form, are involved in being part of museums who are trying to become better friends with their communities. In order to be able to assist them in this as well as I can, and refresh my own thinking on the topic, I assembled a quick list of everything I ever knew about this sort of work - what to look out for, what to do, what not to do.
I then sent a call out to all the lovely and helpful members of the GEM email list to see what insights they had on the same theme.
Three months later I've finally collated it all under sub-headings and here it is; a short paper on things to be aware of if you're a museum working with local communities. In fact I'm sure much of it will be transferable to other types of organisations.
I would especially like to thank everyone who did respond to the GEM email request, and sent me all sorts of papers, reports, observations, anecdotes and ponderings, particularly those who trusted me enough with what, in some cases, were quite hard lessons for their organisations to learn.
I'd very much like the discussion to keep flowing so please do add comments, or include links to other relevant papers, reports etc below...
04.03.11 update... for the few people who let me know they haven't been able to see or save the document below - it's now also available as a straight forward pdf to read or download here or drop me a line via the comments pageand I'll happily email it to you
For several years there has been debate about the potential for using the arts to help improve literacy and numeracy (and other subjects). For many arts organisations being able to find ways to achieve this has been a necessity to survive. For some this raises discomfort, those who feel it's not what the arts are for and can run the risk of people losing sight of other benefits that perhaps are more intrinsic to artistic practice. Personally I don't choose one side or the other of the argument, there are truths and benefits (and no doubt pitfalls) either way.
Though I do know this - for children and young people who for whatever reason are not as developed as their peers in language and numeracy skills, the arts can present a more accessible way to unpick learning that some other formats. I've seen it happen first hand. I can't say for sure it's specific to the arts - I do think it's something about a creative approach generally and the opportunity to work in different environments and include kinaesthetic activity. All of which is common, but not exclusive, to arts activity.
However - last year I was asked to work with the inspirational arts producer Elizabeth Lynch to evaluate Performing for Success. An arts based project building on the proven achievements of Playing for Success (which used sports to improve young people's numeracy and literacy skills). It was a unique programme in that it met Extended School agendas and relied on partnerships between extended school deliverers experienced in sport, and arts or cultural organisations. However there was no national model, each pilot area approached the structure in different ways, some more effectively and successfully than others. It was DCFS funded initiative but not via the 'usual' channels (such as Find Your Talent or Creative Partnerships) but through an independent education contractor, Rex Hall Associates.
In the current climate who can say what will happen to these kinds of initiatives. However if you'd like to read our response to the programme you can download it *here*
UPDATE: I have learned that Rex Hall sadly passed away on May 31st. My experience of working with him was brief but so inspiring to see first hand the difference one person can make. My thoughts and wishes go to all of those close to him.
Unintentionally I have carved out something of a niche in my repertoire, in the form of evaluation. I'm not sure if its because I naturally love to disect and deconstruct what is seemingly apparent to see what else is really going on; or whether it's simply because other people don't enjoy it and are happy to hand it to someone else. (I'm lucky in that much of my evaluation work comes through recommendation).
I know at times it's because organisations know in great detail so many things about what they do and the way they work, but need to be able to show that they have explored this objectively, and so hire an external consultant.
Often I never know how much it influences organisations to change, adapt and experiment, though I have one client who I know does read them with a fine tooth comb, come back to me query and delve deeper into some parts, and act on it annually, which is very rewarding indeed.
For reasons not exciting enough to share here, I spent much of today re-reading past evaluation reports and realising how fascinating this process of reflection really is. It was refreshing to read these again, with space and time, for what they really say, rather than in a proof reading and contract fulfilling, deadline looming frame of mind.
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.