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Defining cultural evaluation

In this step, you will learn how to define and describe cultural evaluation and reflect on who evaluation is really for.
Five persons with stars in their hands.

In this step, you will learn how to define and describe cultural evaluation and reflect on who evaluation is really for. 

A definition of evaluation

The Oxford English Dictionary defines evaluation as: “The making of a judgement about the amount, number, or value of something; assessment.”

This basic definition is useful as a starting point but it fails to capture the complex artistic, social, educational and economic impacts that arts and cultural activities can have.

The linguistic roots of evaluation

The etymology (or linguistic roots) of evaluation helps us understand its core purpose. If you break the term down into its component parts you can see that “value” lies at the heart of evaluation. This is particularly useful when we’re thinking about cultural evaluation, as the multifaceted and multidimensional values and impacts of culture can never be fully captured in numbers.

Evaluation as a value-based process

Accordingly, François Matarasso (1996) defines evaluation as a value-based process of calculating worth. He reminds us that evaluation should be clearly distinguished from reporting, monitoring and advocacy, and that “the art of evaluation lies in ensuring that the measurable doesn’t drive out the immeasurable” (1996, p. 15).

In other words, cultural evaluation is about more than measuring: it involves harnessing a wide range of data to capture value and impact in order to evidence positive change. This helps individuals and organisations to understand their impact and fosters a culture of reflective practice whereby evaluation shapes future activities and plans. We will return to this in Week 2.

Who is evaluation for?

This question can only be answered through stakeholder mapping. Key stakeholders for cultural evaluation are usually the following:

This is model of Key stakeholders for cultural evaluation. Full description linked below.

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In Activity 3: Models of Evaluation, stakeholder mapping is covered in more detail, and you will have the opportunity to engage in a stakeholder mapping exercise.

Evaluation is essentially a process of learning and effective evaluation is planned, designed, conducted and communicated with key stakeholders in mind. It should be based on an agreed set of principles and reflect the strategic goals or mission of a cultural activity, project, programme or organisation. 

Time to reflect 

  • How do these definitions of cultural evaluation relate to the work that you do? 
  • Does it make you consider evaluation in a different way? If so, why?
Share and discuss your thoughts with other learners in the Comments section. Try to respond to at least two other posts made by other learners.
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Evaluation for Arts, Culture, and Heritage: Principles and Practice

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