Navigating your first evaluation: A starting guide for artists and producers

A guide is to demys­ti­fy the eval­u­a­tion process by Gaia Rosen­berg Col­orni, Inde­pen­dent Eval­u­a­tor and Researcher.

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Embarking on the first evaluation of your arts project might feel like stepping into unknown territory, especially right after securing that crucial funding.

But there's no need to worry! This guide is here to demystify the evaluation process, breaking it down into manageable steps to ensure your evaluation is both meaningful and contributes practically to the growth and success of your project.

Step 1: Starting the evaluation journey

The best time to start your evaluation is now! Evaluation is a formative and integral part of your project's design, not just an afterthought. Whether you're just beginning to draft your project proposal or celebrating your funding success, incorporating evaluation from the get-go will steer your project in the right direction. An early start will also streamline the final reporting, making it easier to identify and measure your project’s impact.

A man leaning over a table looking over a map with a child

From the project’s early stages, allocating a portion of your budget for evaluation is highly recommended. This will allow you to invest in useful tools and platforms for data analysis, hire independent researchers if necessary, and fairly compensate participants for their input in consultation and feedback processes.

Further reading: Where I am on the project management cycle from Evaluation Toolbox provides insights to help you understand where you stand in the project cycle, and how to navigate evaluation activities accordingly.

Step 2: Developing a strategic evaluation plan

Here are some key questions to help you plan:

Who are your project's stakeholders?
Identify everyone involved, from project organisers to participants, bearing in mind your project will be a journey of change for all. Getting crystal clear on who your stakeholders are will enhance the relevance and effectiveness of your evaluation work, as well as your project overall.

For instance, if your project involves a series of workshops with a community group culminating in a new work, your stakeholders might include the community group members, workshop facilitators, local arts organisations, funding bodies, and potentially a wider audience who will engage with the final work.

Downloadable resource: The Existing and Desired Communities guide from OF/BY/FOR ALL on Arts Council England’s website can help you map out your stakeholders in more depth.

What outcomes do you anticipate for your project's stakeholders?
Outcomes refer to the specific, tangible changes you wish to achieve for each stakeholder group identified.

Define these changes clearly, as a list of succinct statements like: "As a result of this project, X will…" For example, in the context of community workshops culminating in new works, you might anticipate outcomes such as:

  • "As a result of this project, community group members will gain new creative skills."

  • "As a result of this project, local artists will have increased visibility and new collaboration opportunities."

  • "As a result of this project, the wider community will have a greater appreciation for local cultural expressions."

  • "As a result of this project, participants will feel a stronger sense of community and belonging."

Explore co-creating a list of outcomes with your stakeholders to align expectations, further refine the project’s purpose, and foster collaboration.

Two women talking standing in front of a wall covered with graffiti

Further reading: Starting to measure your impact from NPC offers key guidance on taking your first steps into Impact Practice. For a more in-depth read, James Noble’s Theory of Change in Ten Steps on the NPC website is a great downloadable guide, to help you develop a more thorough evaluation framework.

What other information does your funder require?
Ensure your evaluation aligns with your funder's requirements to facilitate smooth reporting and maintain a positive relationship. Incorporate the aims and metrics from your funding application into your plan, and discuss any specific expectations with your funder early on.

Step 3: Collecting meaningful data

Depending on your project's nature, the outcomes you’re looking to monitor, and the stakeholders involved, consider a variety of data collection methods to gather evidence against outcomes - this could range from surveys to more open-ended, creative approaches, such as visual thinking exercises and interactive displays.

A young girl tying a small card on to a string

Examples of data collection approaches
If structured questionnaires fit your needs, the Impact and Insight Toolkit (link below) offers a comprehensive set of questions designed to measure the impact of cultural projects, to get you started.

Downloadable resource: Dimensions Framework containing survey questions from the Impact and Insight Toolkit.

Remember, surveys are just one of many data collection methods. Keeping a project diary, conducting interviews, hosting a roundtable discussion, or engaging a 'critical friend' for feedback are all valuable strategies.

Further reading: Project diary from Evaluation Toolbox offers insights into maintaining a simple, reflective record of your project.

For a more interactive and visually engaging approach, particularly if you’re working with children, you could set up visual thinking exercises where participants use drawings or mind maps to share their insights, or interactive displays where people can use stickers or pins to contribute their thoughts.

A number of small cards covered in writing hanging on a string

And if you’re an artist, you could innovate on ways to embed reflection and feedback into your own creative process, craft, or your sessions with participants. For instance:

  • Start with an artistic 'time capsule' to capture initial hopes, revisited at the project's end to reflect on the journey.

  • Encourage participants to use drawing, collage, or performance to express their experiences and the impact of the project.

  • Create a journey mural to timeline milestones and achievements, mapping the project's growth visually.

  • Write a collective poem to celebrate the group's experiences of the project, weaving together each participant's voice.

  • Use live illustration during sessions to capture feedback dynamically, sparking further discussion and reflection.

Ethical, participant focused research
Ethical considerations such as informed consent and ethical data handling are paramount. Build your evaluation on a foundation of trust and integrity, ensuring all participants understand the research purpose and their right to withdraw at any time.

Two men talking, one is taking notes

Further reading: The cycle of good impact practice: Research ethics and data protection from NPC offers clear, essential guidance on research ethics and principles of informed consent.

When conducting research, it's crucial to center the user journey of your participants. Ask yourself: Is the language clear and accessible? Does the research resonate and engage them? Are their voices and honest opinions accurately reflected in your documentation? Think about how the research can benefit participants directly. Be mindful of potential barriers and power dynamics, as well as your own biases - and strive to address these proactively. Avoid leading questions and jargon. Simplify your approach to avoid over-complication, ensuring the process is as inclusive and representative as possible.

Further reading: How to … amplify diverse voices in research and evaluation by Dr. Karen Patel on the Centre for Cultural Value’s website is a helpful guide providing prompts and ideas to engage diverse groups in your research, and ensure their voices are reflected in your work.

Step 4: Final reporting and reflection

Synthesizing your insights and crafting a narrative of your project's journey is the culmination of the evaluation process.

The phrase 'what did you like?' written on a piece of paper, surrounded by colourful badges

The thought of data analysis and reporting can seem overwhelming if starting from scratch, but there's no need to reinvent the wheel. Begin with reviewing the project outcomes you outlined in the planning stage (Step 2), treating them as a checklist for your report. Reflect on how well these outcomes were achieved, backing up your findings with evidence whenever you can, such as statistics or quotes from participants. If certain outcomes weren't met, try to document the reasons behind this and any relevant learnings.

Your report is more than a funding requirement; it's a tool for reflection, aiding growth. To help you shape it, you could host a debrief with stakeholders to collectively identify key findings and learnings for your report: What worked well? What would you do differently? How has this project influenced your artistic path? Have stakeholders made any recommendations for the future? Are there any external factors affecting your project that need to be acknowledged? You may find it helpful to summarise your learnings into a simple SWOT analysis - outlining the project’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats in headline form.

Downloadable resource: SWOT Analysis Templates from Canva to help you organise your project’s findings into a succinct yet balanced summary.

Think of your evaluation report as a legacy of your project, offering a solid base for future proposals. It highlights your work's value and future potential, bolstering your case for ongoing support.

Further reading: Strengthening Your Funding Applications by Catherine Herbert and Hannah Rose on the Visual Arts South West website provides further insights to enhance your next venture’s bid.

Make your report engaging and accessible by using plain language, incorporating visuals and testimonials, and presenting clear data. Try not to limit dissemination to your funders alone; expand it to include stakeholders and the wider arts community to inform, inspire, and nurture a more inclusive dialogue. Explore innovative formats for sharing your findings, such as films, a gathering, blog posts, or artworks, to captivate a broader audience.

Further reading: How to … share research and evaluation findings through performance by Dr Martin Glynn on the Centre for Cultural Value’s website provides inspiration on creative methods of disseminating insights.

By integrating these strategies into your project, you're not just ticking boxes for funding - you're embarking on a process that enriches your work, and connects more deeply with your audience and collaborators. Remember, evaluation isn't about just proving your project's worth - it's about learning, growing, and sparking change.

Gaia Rosenberg Colorni holds 13+ years’ experience working in arts management within the creative industries. As an Independent Evaluator and Researcher, Gaia has worked with leading organisations in the arts and music sector nationally, including In Between Time, Artes Mundi, Open Up Music, Royal Albert Memorial Museum Exeter and Arnolfini Centre for Contemporary Arts. Her skills include audience development, community research, project management, fundraising, business planning and strategy. Gaia holds a Fine Art Masters Degree from the University of Leeds, and is particularly passionate about inclusion, sustainability and learning in the arts. She is Co-Chair of the Board of Trustees at MAP Charity (Music and Arts Production Leeds), an alternative provider in cultural education and arts centre.

This resource is part of a series of writing workshops that was part of the West of England Visual Arts Alliance (WEVAA), a three year programme that includes professional development, commissioning, and support and resources. Find out more here

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