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Queen Mary experts pioneer evaluation training for arts and cultural heritage sector

Local and national arts and cultural heritage organisations are taking part in a new pilot programme, led by People’s Palace Projects as part of Queen Mary’s ongoing Arts and Culture strategy, to help the sector demonstrate its value to funders and other key stakeholders.

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Currently, arts organisations and individual practitioners often lack the tools they need to meet evaluation demands from funders and other statutory bodies. With reduced Government funding for arts and culture initiatives making other financial support increasingly competitive, this 'evaluation gap' can mean that potentially invaluable and hugely impactful projects never get off the ground because they’re not able to win the funding they deserve. 

Queen Mary's new Cultural Evaluation Training Programme for the arts and heritage sector will focus on building individual and organisational skills in evaluating the impact of their work on communities. Longer term, this pilot will inform the design of a practice-based Queen Mary degree apprenticeship in cultural evaluation, to help share these practical tools and skills with more artists in East London.

A diverse range of local and national organisations are currently involved in the pilot programme - including Artsadmin, Bow Arts, Donmar Warehouse, English National Ballet, Mile End Community Project, Spitalfields Music and Whitechapel Gallery. Over an intensive four-day training period, Gustavo Müller from People’s Palace Projects worked with participants to start developing a toolkit for evaluative practice tailored to their organisational aims and needs.

In addition to these practical workshops, participants benefitted from discussions with artist and curator Dr Jane Wildgoose, who spoke on artists conducting independent evaluation projects - as well as sector consultant Lucy Perman MBE, who discussed theory of change as a key approach to contextualising the evaluation process holistically within arts organisations. 

The research methodology goes beyond standard economic and quantitative metrics to really make the case for the value of the sector. People's Palace Projects originally developed this approach with economists in Brazil, and it has since been used for successful projects in South America and the UK - such as Relative Values, which brought Battersea Arts Centre and Contact Theatre (Manchester) together with Brazilian organisations to map and narrate their impact on local communities.

Benjamin Lalague of English National Ballet explained: "The training introduced us to the macro concepts of evaluation through focussing us on specific examples from our organisations – this allowed us to engage in very directive thinking about outcomes, giving us tangible tools to carry out an evaluation project in the next phase of training. The sessions were also really clarifying in the way that they helped us see how other teams within our own organisations might need to approach/ think about the evaluation process very differently."

After taking part in the first phase of the pilot, Dr Richard Martin of Whitechapel Gallery said: "I found it fascinating and inspiring. You’ve pushed us to think deeply about the evaluation process. This week has stretched me to find a balance between learning about evaluation in a general way and applying it to specific projects at Whitechapel."

Nurull Islam of Mile End Community Project added: "Our work in the community is constant, and although we evaluate projects, time is one of our biggest barriers that stops us from carrying in depth evaluations. However, this programme has really made me think of the importance of evaluation and how it can be used in order to create further opportunities for our organisation but also to better understand and grow as a community.

"The programme has been a huge eye opener for me. I enjoyed the way it was delivered - the relaxed environment, the diverse range of organisations to share our practices with and learn from. I am really excited to implement what we have been taught, and also looking forward to the sessions in the future."

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