By Pro Progressione
How do we evaluate participatory processes that are primarily aimed at improvement? How can we increase the impact of participatory creative processes? – We asked the question once to experts in the field. – “The impact of art or participatory art cannot be measured,” was the answer, “because we do not know exactly who will be affected and how much. In the following short article, we seek to answer the question of how we can measure, and even how we should examine and evaluate these processes.
Mita Pujara started her Evaluation in Participatory Arts Projects presentation1 by introducing the idea that we humans value all our experiences. We make judgements about all the influences from the world around us. As babies, we evaluate primarily with our senses, while later we judge things with our intellect and criticise something from a much more complex point of view. While as babies we make judgements about whether something is good for us or threatening, as adults we consider how the experience affected us: for example, whether it was meaningful, what was new about it, what I take with me from it or what I disagree with.
But why do we evaluate everything? We make interpretations of the world through evaluation. Our value judgements are built into our experiences and help us to make informed decisions. In this way, we can see that every programme or process is judged by the participants. However, if we want to capture subjective value judgements to draw conclusions, it is very important to define the objectives of the measurement. We can use quantity-based measurements, which usually involve larger numbers of people and are basically used to prove or confirm something. We can use qualitative measurement, which usually uses fewer numbers and different methods to understand the individual.
You can use a mixture of the two methods, but it is essential that you define exactly what you are measuring and whose opinions you want to know. It is also worth being specific about what will influence our measurement, for example, who it is aimed at and how it is prepared. Consequently, evaluation requires as much planning as the programme, session, or work process. We need to consider the needs of our target group in the planning as much as in the preparation of the programme. In order to assess quality, we also need to include the wishes and needs of stakeholders in the assessment, so that we have a clear picture of their realisation.
The question we need to ask is: what do we most want to know? What is the value that is most important to us in the programme. Once we have a clear objective, we can start to choose the most effective method. Nowadays, we are most often asked to give feedback by filling in forms, but for many people these forms have become boring. Very few people are enthusiastic about filling them in. Fortunately, these are not the only methods available to us.
The handbook Catching the moment – evaluating community theatre2 has some creative, playful evaluation methods and points out that making the process playful and interesting helps to get more accurate feedback on the programmes. The handbook offers a list of visual, discursive, and performative forms that can be used with young and older communities.
A separate form of evaluation is participatory evaluation3, which places great emphasis on involving stakeholders in the design and implementation of evaluation studies. The main objective of participatory evaluation is to be meaningful, useful, socially equitable and integrative. When implementing participatory arts education evaluation, it is advisable to use creative and engaging forms of evaluation that will help to get a more accurate picture of the process.
3 D. Coghlan, M. Brydon-Miller ed. The SAGE Encyclopediaof Action Research. Participatory Evaluation. (https://www.academia.edu/8905763/Participatory_Evaluation)