Introduction: Idea in Brief
- Stakeholders increasingly demand evidence of impact
- Evaluation can also serve as an internal learning process
- Effective evaluation practice starts in the planning stage
- Evaluation is an opportunity to engage community
For many arts organizations, evaluation and assessment are afterthoughts: obligatory post-program reporting to funders or informal and ad-hoc post-mortem conversations in the lobby or at the bar. But evaluating impact is increasingly important. Boards, funders and policy makers are hungry for (and in some cases require) metrics, stories and evidence that arts organizations add value to communities. Evaluating your community connections and engagement strategies is not only essential – it is an effective community engagement process in itself.
Tools and Tactics
Research, theory, case studies and best practices for evaluation and assessment abound; the challenge is to shape evaluation practices for community engagement applicable to incredibly diverse organizations. Through the cooperative inquiry process the LDI group arrived at an evaluation cycle with 6 milestones.
This cycle largely draws from a couple of established resources: Theory of Change: A Practical Tool for Action, Results and Learning, and Singing Our Praises: Case Studies in the Art of Evaluation. LDI members tested the cycle in their own organizations including a major institution with large facilities, multi-million dollar budgets and dozens of staff; a small presenting organization with a handful of staff and no facility; and a small producing organization.
Six Milestones in a Successful Evaluation Cycle
- EARLY: Successful evaluation begins as early in the planning process of a project/program/initiative as possible
- OFTEN: One evaluation cycle is not enough – impactful evaluation carries the lessons and ideas from one evaluation cycle to the next and so on
- RIGOROUS: Stick to your evaluation plan, identify appropriate outcomes and outputs, and strive for consistent data collection methods
REALISTIC: Invest whatever time, money, and/or people into evaluating impact that you have. A lack of resources should not prevent an organization from implementing some level of evaluation.