Some thoughts on evaluation and co-creation from our Research, Evaluation and Design Lead, Vicky Tremain.

Hertfordshire Cultural Education Partnership (HCEP) is an ambitious county wide Local Cultural Education Partnership (LCEP) supported by the Royal Opera House Bridge. Launched by Arts Council England in 2015 to help meet the Cultural Education Challenge, LCEPs are innovative partnerships between cultural providers, educational institutions and local authorities that aim to join up and improve cultural education provision for children and young people in their town, city, county or region.

hcep logoHCEP brings together a range of partners from the education and cultural sectors, as well as local authorities and youth service providers to deliver its strategy to ensure all young people in Hertfordshire can access high quality cultural provision.

In June 2021, always possible was commissioned to evaluate HCEP’s 8-month Test & Trial initiative, which was designed to test some interventions that address the outcomes of an earlier cultural needs analysis conducted in the region.

Over the summer we set out on a Theory of Change process with the core team, the delivery team and with input from local cultural partners. Via a combination of workshops, a survey and desk-based research, we co-built the Theory of Change for this project phase that:

  • articulates how an organisation or its activity makes (or intends to make) change happen
  • establishes a shared language around evaluation and impact measurement
  • identifies what needs measuring, and how
  • examines risk and challenges assumptions
  • also functions as a detailed project plan

 

With a Theory of Change in place, and a detailed evaluation plan outlining who is collecting what evidence and measuring what data where and when, the team had a sound basis for outcomes-led delivery from which to work. A selection of pre-activity questions were sent out to children, young people, teachers and cultural organisations to collect baseline data. And in October delivery began – an exciting range of co-creation experiments, engagement events and research exercises – led across five towns in the region by three experienced creative producers.

Although delivery is still under way across the county, we already have some formative insights that have helped guide the direction of the work. Co-creation is a topic that has been getting hotter in recent years, and not just in the arts and cultural sectors. But before you embark upon the process, certain conditions need to be in place for co-creation to be truly authentic and take people from ‘consumers’ to ‘co-owners’ (Fig. 1). Is every party aware of the others’ needs? Their motivations? Their potential barriers? Do all participants have the skills they need or does this need addressing? If you’re driven to co-creation for the purposes of cultural democracy, then who are you extending the invite to and how? And do we all even mean the same thing when we say ‘co-creation’?

Fig. 1: The Participation Scale, New Power: How Anyone Can Persuade, Mobilize, and Succeed in Our Chaotic, Connected Age, Jeremy Heimans & Henry Timms, 2019.

Fig. 1: The Participation Scale, New Power: How Anyone Can Persuade, Mobilize, and Succeed in Our Chaotic, Connected Age, Jeremy Heimans & Henry Timms, 2019.

As the external evaluator, it would be remiss of us not to ask ourselves how we can co-create the evaluation process as well. We articulate the outcomes we’re all hoping for (in this case, founded in a rigorous needs analysis) such as young people are more empowered to shape cultural offers or they have a clearer understanding of creative pathways open to them. But then we need to go beyond setting indicators for measurement authoritatively, based on our own assumptions/feelings/experiences, and ask participants a simple question about the outcome we’re hoping for…

How will we know?

It’s absolutely lighting us up to be examining and answering these questions with the fantastic HCEP team at the University of Hertfordshire. More insight to follow.

In the meantime you can find out more about HCEP and their progress here. For further reading, check out the Centre for Cultural Value’s highly accessible new set of Evaluation Principles (co-created, by the way) which reinforce the idea that evaluation should be ‘people-centred’. If you’re new to thinking about evaluation, or you need a refresher, we recommend making use of this excellent free resource.

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