A short story about cultural evaluation

How much – do you think – that right now every arts and culture initiative embarked upon has to be more than just a project?

Is the world looking for narratives of creativity, conduits of community expression, catalysts for social dialogue?

Participation can be for its own sake. Creativity doesn’t have to be measured.


In strange times, the ripple effects of these projects transcend immediate audiences and stir big thoughts, and evoke bigger emotions. The pragmatic aspect of evaluating impact often lurks in the shadows. But maybe giving it more light is helpful in more ways than the obvious.

Evaluation in the cultural sector is not about cold numbers or sterile statistics; it’s about weaving the quantifiable with the qualitative to unveil the story of impact. It’s about measuring not just the reach but the resonance, not just the outputs but the outcomes.

Regular check-ins: cultural evaluation is about regular check-ins. Touchpoints where the script of the project is reviewed, issues are troubleshooted, and the narrative is fine-tuned to ensure every aspect is useful.

Live evaluation plan: A project in the cultural sector is a living entity, evolving with each phase. The evaluation plan should mirror this dynamism, being a ‘live’ document that’s revisited and revised to align with the unfolding narrative of the project.

Shared live workspace: The collaborative spirit is the hallmark of the cultural sector. Having a shared live workspace fosters real-time collaboration, ensuring every stakeholder is on the same page as the story of the project unfolds.

Interim data summary: A mid-act review to gauge the pulse of the project. It’s a check to see how the narrative is resonating with the audience and what chapters may need a rewrite to enhance the impact.

Participant-centric reporting: Cultural consumers and producers are the narrators, especially those who are navigating it against the odds, and their involvement in crafting the evaluation report is crucial. It ensures the report is a true reflection of the project’s journey and the lessons learned – but it is also only fair to involve people in their own data stories?

Formative evaluation: Using data as a live storytelling device in formative evaluation helps in sculpting the ongoing narrative, ensuring it is steering towards a meaningful moment of clarity, that everyone can use.

Mixed data approach: A balanced narrative is enriched with a mix of qualitative and quantitative data, painting a holistic picture of the project’s impact.

Outcome prioritisation: Identifying the key outcomes to focus on at the outset ensures the narrative remains crisp, compelling, and centred on what matters most.

The narrative of cultural evaluation is about turning the lens inward, understanding the footprint of cultural projects, and using insights to script more impactful narratives in the future.

It’s about ensuring the story doesn’t end when the curtain falls, but leaves a lasting imprint, ready to be built upon in the next narrative. With a structured yet flexible evaluation approach, the story of cultural evaluation is one of continuous learning, improvement, and a relentless pursuit of meaningful impact.

always possible has been powering up the capacity and knowledge of arts and culture organisations for over eight years. From opera houses to literacy charities, high street music engagement to national resources, touring theatre to galleries and digital festivals.

What could a new evaluation approach for ambitious organisations look like?