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Why do we need Evaluation Principles?

This video explains how evaluation principles can be a useful tool for learning and developing evaluation practices.

The video above details how evaluation principles can be a useful tool for learning and developing evaluation practices within particular sectors by providing a common language and set of agreed-upon priorities for all stakeholders in the arts, culture and heritage sector.

They help us to define what ‘good’ evaluation looks like. These principles need to be universally applicable, but also flexible and adaptable to guiding evaluation in different contexts.

The four core values of evaluation

Underneath the four core values described below, a set of sub-principles offer the nuance required of cultural evaluation. We will explore these in more detail in the next step, as well as providing a little bit more detail on how the principles were developed

1. Evaluation should be beneficial

As we explored in the first activity, the aims of our evaluations are often influenced by the priorities of our funders, rather than addressing the needs of organisations and – importantly – the needs of our audiences, visitors and the wider public. In order for our evaluation activity to be beneficial, it needs to centre the experiences, wants, values and viewpoints of the people who are at the heart of the activity. We can do this by privileging meaningful learning, reflection and positive change over empty justification and advocacy.

2. Evaluation should be robust

In order to inform genuine change within the cultural sector, we need to be confident enough in the findings of our evaluation activity. We will explore in this course how appropriate and rigorous application of a range of different methods (or ‘mixing’ methods) can support organisations to not just find out ‘what’ happened, but understanding in more depth ‘why’ and ‘how’. This often also involves acknowledging and learning from our failures and mistakes along the way.

3. Evaluation should be people-centred

As you explored in the first section of this course, evaluating cultural activity involves differing, evolving and even contested types of value. Part of the skill of evaluation is about balancing expertise and skill with openness.

At its most useful, evaluation enables those participating to learn with and through one another, and to do this we need to engender humility, honesty, trust, curiosity and empathy. It is in this spirit that the Evaluation Principles were developed, as you will explore further in the next step.

4. Evaluation should be connected

Just as who decides what is worth evaluating and how we carry out our evaluations matters, whose voices are present in reporting and dissemination of our evaluation findings and who gets to hear and act on findings is equally important.

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. But evaluation can also offer a crucial means to witness, challenge and address these problems. Ignoring this bias is less, not more, objective and therefore it is important that we consider the range and diversity of viewpoints and experiences in our evaluations to gain better insights.

Find out more

You can read more about commonly agreed evaluation principles across the globe in Dr Beatriz Garcia’s blog post A UK First: Evaluation principles for the cultural sector

Your views

  • Based on your experience, how might you define ‘good’ evaluation?
  • Do you agree that evaluation should be beneficial, robust, people-centred and connected? Why/why not?
Share and discuss your thoughts with other learners in the Comments section. Try to respond to at least two other posts made by your peers.
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Evaluation for Arts, Culture, and Heritage: Principles and Practice

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