The value of everyday evaluation

‘We all began with the best of intentions, and then ran slap into reality. Very quickly, it was evident that the project was altogether impossible.’

So writes Elizabeth White (Director, British Council Azerbaijan) about a production of Martin McDonagh’s Leenane Trilogy, performed in Baku by Azerbaijani actors in their own language. Her account of the project – which ended triumphantly against all the odds – can be read online here, and is full of insights into theatre, diversity and intercultural dialogue.

Fascinating as it is, though, I was also struck by how blogging and the Internet can enable new kinds of evaluation. Ms. White’s piece is, in effect, a participant’s evaluation of the project. It describes the rationale and development, the obstacles that had to be overcome (or sometimes circumvented), the performances and the responses of actors, critics and government. She writes candidly about the difficulties and there is a lot to be learned from the piece.

There will, I suppose, be a formal evaluation, describing all this again with more methodological rigour at greater length for fewer readers. But this critical reflection, arising spontaneously from a committed creative process is probably more valuable to the writer’s peers and other practitioners, despite having the appearance of  a simple blog post. Because it is public, she has taken care both to tell her story well and to focus on what are, for her, its key experiences and lessons.

There are good policy reasons for evaluating arts programmes although, since the reality is often burdensome and unproductive, it has far less influence on artistic and cultural practice than it might. A straightforward, public and reflective self-evaluation, of which this piece is a fine example, could do a great deal to nourish the creative practice of artists, managers and even funding bodies.