Learning about evaluation
Fifteen years ago, at the end of Use or Ornament?, I rather naively raised the possibility of producing an evaluation handbook for arts projects. I’d been concerned with the conceptual, ethical, methodological and practical challenges of arts evaluation for some years, first as an arts practitioner and then a researcher. Even so, I was still only beginning to understand the true complexity of those challenges.
Today, it seems obvious to me that the idea of a single evaluation resource was not just unrealistic but misguided: there are many good routes through this territory (as well as some dangerous ones that lead people over cliffs or lose them in deserts).
Since 1997, I’ve produced notes to accompany evaluation workshops, given lectures and seminars on the subject, written a short book for Arts and Business (Did it make a difference?, 2001) and even tried an arts evaluation wiki. Of all this it is the workshops that are most valuable, because they enable people to question, debate and share experience. They demystify ideas that can seem obscure and even oppressive and, like good community arts practice, at their best they are empowering.
The arts in community health and wellbeing
Last year Liverpool Primary Care Trust (PCT) asked me to write some evaluation guidance to support the community groups funded through the Grass Roots arts programme they run with the City Council. This is one of the legacies of Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture in 2008. Grants of up to £5,000 are given to community groups for arts programmes that can support broad public health objectives, as part of Liverpool’s Decade of Health and Wellbeing
In 2010, the projects included theatre with homeless people by Collective Encounters, samba workshops and a parade, art with young disabled people, and work by Chaturangan with Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine among much else. The results have often been impressive, perhaps because the small grants have given voluntary groups just the resources they needed to do something they were excited about achieving.
Just another Arts and Health evaluation resource
In order to justify investing health funds in community arts projects, the PCT needed credible evidence of their value. But many of the groups are run by volunteers with little or no knowledge of formal evaluation. Their activities are often informal and open, especially if they are trying to reach people who have little or no contact with public services.
It was essential therefore to develop an evaluation approach that was workable and interfered with the activities as little as possible. It also had to be proportionate to a grant of a few thousand pounds and a project that might last only a few weeks.
The guidance and planning template were introduced to those who’d been awarded grants at a workshop at the Bluecoat in September 2011. They subsequently used the materials to plan and report on their work throughout 2011 and 2012.
It has proved to be a useful tool. The PCT have made some adjustments based on that first experience and the revised version will be used in the new round of projects, starting this autumn.
Download the guidance
Although these tools relate to a specific programme, they may also be helpful to someone intending to evaluate a community-based art in health project, so I’ve added them to this site. To download copies in Word files, click on the links below:
- Liverpool Grass Roots Programme Evaluation Guidance
- Liverpool Grass Roots Programme Planning and Evaluation Template
This is now only partly my work, but its development is just what should happen to such materials. They are not authoritative statements, such as I probably had in mind when I wrote of a handbook 15 years ago. They are just imperfect tools that can, for all their limitations, still help us understand what happens in community arts programmes better.