BLOG 4th March 2021

(Good) Evaluation is not a chore

We made it! The last theme of the year is the fifth step of audience development i.e. the moment when you sit back, relax and look at what you’ve accomplished. It’s when you look at all the data you have and use these insights to plan your next step.

Evaluation gets a bad rap and often, that is because what we think of as evaluation is something else. Like reporting. Or box-ticking. It can be thought of as something someone else needs you to do, rather than something you want to do yourself. But done right, with a bit of effort and thinking before you start (yes before you start. Not when you are nearly done) evaluation can be one of the powerful tools in your weaponry. Think of it as what allows you to close the circle and start again.

There are really 3 questions that should be on your mind when it comes to evaluation:

  • What is it that you want to do or what does success look like?
  • What data will you need to collect to evidence?
  • What did you learn?

What is success?

Success doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. If you understand who you are as an organisation and what your purpose is, then it will be easier to define what success looks like for you. If the word purpose gives you the heebie-jeebies, think about it differently: what were you trying to achieve with what you delivered? Whatever the answer is, this is it.

How to measure success?

How will you know if you achieved success? Back to the data! Think of indicators in your car. You use them to signal direction. Your choice of data does the same job. What information will help you to know you are on course?

Let’s look at thrive as an example. As you know, we run lots of events and training. We used to track numbers only – the number of people who attended each event or signed up. And the numbers were good. But we kept seeing the same faces at our events, which made us stop and think. If the training was doing its job, people would come to the session and then put what they learned into practice. So, we pushed ourselves to think about what impact we wanted the sessions to have: we wanted to tell people stuff that they didn’t already know and inspire them to put that knowledge into action in their own organisations. Our data collection focused on whether people had learnt something new at a session and if they would do something differently because of it.

We still count numbers – because knowing how much you do and how well you do it is still part of the evaluation process. The big change came in evidencing the difference we make.

Ask your audience

It is fundamental to involve your audience to evaluate your impact. Without them, you wouldn’t exist. They are your bread and butter, your fans, the ones who cheer for you with no end. It would be rude not to ask for their feedback.

Surveys are the usual way to go (we can help you to ask the right questions) and answers to open-ended questions can be your golden nuggets. But don’t dismiss other options like focus groups, one-to-one interviews or simply picking up the phone to call your most fervent audience member. Having a conversation face to face or hearing someone’s voice is worth everything. It’s personal, caring and allows you to dig deeper (and strengthen your relationship with them).

Is it time-consuming? Yes! Is it worth it? Also yes!

We often hear from organisations that they don’t have the time or the resources to conduct a proper evaluation. We get it. It is tough finding an open spot in the diary. But, as with most things, if you plan it at the start, it actually saves you time in the long run and means you are more likely to succeed.

An evaluation isn’t just a long report that needs to get done for your funders and then gets put on a shelf to be forgotten forever. An evaluation gives you the opportunity to learn and make evidence-based decisions for your future work. It provides valuable insights about your activities that can inform what you’ve done well and what you shouldn’t be doing again.

To make it easier for you, keep it as simple as possible. You can create templates you can re-use to collect your data or allocate an hour or 2 a week to go through the elements you’re tracking.

It’s fair to assume what you do is your passion – that’s usually the case for most people working in arts and culture. Well, wouldn’t it be fantastic to know about the impact you have had on people, and also the evidence to back that up?

There’s only one thing left to do then, plan your next evaluation!

Want to talk about your evaluation and want to talk it through? Book a free audience appointment with us for a casual chat.

Understand your audience, develop your strategy today. TALK TO US