Dec 19, 2016

RESEO Conference Winter 2016 Pt.1

Reflective Practice: Evaluation in Arts Education

I'm going to start with a provocation: listening to the speakers at the wonderful 3-day European conference at the Opera National de Paris, I came away with the terrible feeling that there is a tendency of middle-aged, white, male policymen to talk purely for the sake of talking, whilst the majority of female project managers and department chiefs actually have pivotally important knowledge or fact-based experiences to share!

But could we hear their experiences? No, because all of the men (bar 3) spent so long upstaging the others with their mansplaining of subjects we already knew about, including the value of arts education! (This is OLD NEWS, mate!) I was disgusted to see that the more powerful the policymen were, the less they seemed to listen or care about anything other than themselves.  These dudes have a lot to reflect on - had they participated in the training and advice sessions provided by RESEO at the conference, they may well have picked up something useful to this end! Ok - breathe. I've got it off my chest... I think... Provocation over.

This was just one of the fascinating insights I gained into the situation of opera education in Europe: that politics is actually an important part of the challenge to really create value through artistic practice.

To cut to the chase, the real point of this conference was to remind us all that evaluation - that "boring" thing we do after all the fun of a project or that "scary" thing that might reveal how we didn't really achieve what we wanted to - is actually REALLY VALUABLE if we consider it as part of the project and not just a tag-on at the end.

The whole three days, I kept thinking: "to eVALUate is to make VALUE." Just as when you en-liven something, you can en-value it, give it more value. Even if the project was a failure! Susanne Burns, of Susanne Burns Associates, summarised this idea well:

Evaluation is not just about numbers - It's about actively learning as well as telling stories.
It's not just for our funders - It's for all of us, whoever is running the projects.
It's not about advocating the quality of the work - It's more neutral, and can reveal learning from mistakes.
It's not negative/time-consuming - It can be positive and fit resources.
It isn't just retrospective - It is most effective if it happens concurrently with your project!

It's a tool which you can use to make best use of your experiences and learnings - and others can benefit from it as well! More on this subject in Pt.2