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Thinking about Evaluation Creatively in a Creative Project

posted 9 Mar 2018, 01:39 by Art & Social Change
Our project team bring a fantastic range of perspectives, in both disciplines and management practices. We are discovering EVALUATION is an area with prevailing norms – with variations from disciplines and cultures (particularly cultures of work environments). We are actively learning from one another and expanding our approaches to find powerfully effective ones for art in health and well-being contexts.

As a funded project – and as a research initiative involving participants – we are evaluating participant experience, project progress, and comparing feedbacks cross-culturally. A rich and varied resource pool is emerging. In the process of implementing a “normal” evaluation, what we tend to do in arts programmes is attempt to fit square pegs into round holes. The arts are not often concerned with measures, statistics, outputs and so on, although these may work for example in singing to improve breathing, or dance to improve physical wellbeing.

With arts programmes intended for mental health improvements, some of the intended outcomes are more to do with human experiences that are not always measurable: “Feeling good”, “happy”, “at one with one’s self”. We could add other human emotions such as love, freedom from fear and so on.

Now of course, some of this may be captured by qualitative research.

Our Italian colleagues have devised two surveys of participants (differentiated between artists and health workers in conjunction with their first round pilot training. These will shortly be added to our page about Pilot Training in Italy

A German colleague – who particularly specialises in helping shape training programmes – provided this commentary  following an observational evaluation approach

A UK colleague has shared a tool developed in the UK by an artist youth outreach worker that is now used in a range of settings all over the world particularly to assess emotional perspectives and break down emotional blocks.

In evaluating our own progress against project requirements, we are learning about the impact of evaluation on the artistic process: As of the completion of our first round pilot training activities, two of four groups have commented that evaluation feels too frequent, and repetitive. However, we are also observing its fundamental importance to devising and delivering something that is successful. One of our colleagues has said, “The evaluation tool is fundamental within a project path. It gives you the opportunity, during the course of the activities, to see the critical and strength points and to make adjustments. In experimenting with a number of evaluation tools, we’re finding that even though the tools are different, the tools are replicating the questions, and we often write the same answers. Something designed for our specific needs – is emerging as very important.”

Another colleague has observed, “A few years ago I evaluated a programme implemented amongst people with profound learning disabilities. I was really struck with how “normal” evaluation methods were fairly useless. What I really wanted to do was to film the participants enjoying themselves. The viewer could then see what I could see, the wonderful affect upon a person with no verbal skills. Traditional methods may insist upon confidentiality, thus anonymising and potentially silencing this voice (expression). Researchers amongst children have made great advances in using creative methods in research and evaluation and I wonder if whilst working with adults in mental health programmes we should learn from such methods.”

In this project therefore our evaluation fulfils the requirements of the funders, but we are also capturing testimonies through film, photographs and the written word. Together they make for rich evidence. Unfortunately because the world is the way it is, the concept of evidence is often limited to that which is considered scientific. We hope through this project, that we can help create artistic evidence that is more meaningful and creative than a set of statistics ever could be.