We know that the cultural sector is often unrepresentative and exclusive, and our evaluations can sometimes serve to conceal, excuse and perpetuate these inequalities and inequities.
As evaluating cultural activity often involves differing, evolving and even contested types of value, considering the range and diversity of viewpoints and experiences enables us to gain better insights.
Making sure our evaluations are many-voiced, empathetic and socially-engaged can equip us with a crucial means to witness, challenge and address problems of representation, inclusion, inequality and inequity within the cultural sector.
Principles into practice: questions to consider
We have designed the following questions to help you think through how the People-centred Principle can apply to your specific context of practice.
Some questions may be more relevant to you than others. Consider which might help you spark productive discussions with colleagues, partners or stakeholders.
Is your evaluation activity … empathetic?
- Do you ask participants about what is important to them? Bear in mind, this might be different from the intended project impact.
- How can your evaluation embrace and work across different lived experiences, respecting (and if possible enhancing) the autonomy, dignity and agency of participants and beneficiaries?
- How can you ensure that evaluation does not diminish or disrupt participant experience? Could creative evaluation methodologies, like those shared at this Evaluation Principles event, enhance the activity?
- Is your evaluation inclusive and representative of those groups and communities you work with?
- Could your evaluation activity be causing people harm? This might include unchecked assumptions, prejudices, and microaggressions, asking for inappropriate levels of information, not managing expectations of participants, not being clear from the outset about what participation involves.
- Do you provide alternative ways to engage in your evaluation activity, so people can choose how to participate? Is it possible to meet people “where they are”?
Is your evaluation activity … many-voiced?
- Who are the dominant voices? How does this inform what you treat as valuable and worthy of including?
- How can your evaluation activity seek out, listen to and include a broader range of voices and perspectives, from design through to sharing of learnings and outcomes?
- Does your evaluation activity take a falsely unifying authorial stance (e.g. reinforcing a viewpoint or opinion as unanimous, when in fact it was only expressed by some people)?
- Do you treat responses in your evaluation activity that you might consider incorrect, irrelevant or inconvenient as valid, even when you might disagree?
- Do you give additional consideration to responses that are outliers, rather than simply excluding them as “exceptions”? Are there clues within their responses to perspectives you may otherwise have missed?
- Can your reporting use people’s own words and make source data available?
Is your evaluation activity … socially-engaged?
- Is it possible for your evaluation activity (i.e. purpose, methods and interpretation) to be co-created with representatives of participant or beneficiary groups?
- Does your evaluation activity enable those belonging to marginalised groups to participate fully? How do you ensure their contributions are not restricted to only being in relation to their membership of that group?
- Do you seek out direct responses in preference to people “representing” others’ views?
- Does your evaluation feed into your future strategy and that of your stakeholders?
- Can participants’ self-defined interests inform future cultural activity?
This guide from Mark Robinson of Thinking Practice will help you think about how every stage of your evaluation process can be something that is developed with the different stakeholders and audiences you work with.
Louise Yates, Director of the Creative People and Places project Back to Ours, shares her experience of delivering a large-scale production with and for people in the local community.