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A new guide to evaluating arts and cultural learning explains the importance of sharing  evidence to help organisations improve their work.

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Arts organisations, funders, schools and teachers are being given new guidance on how to incorporate evidence and evaluation into their work.

A handbook produced by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), aims to support all cultural and educational professionals to become ‘evidence champions’ – regardless of the level of experience they have in conducting evaluations. 

This includes sourcing the appropriate information to demonstrate impact, taking collective ownership of project evaluation, and supporting colleagues to improve.

The RSA’s guide has been published as part of its three-year Learning About Culture programme, jointly funded by Arts Council England and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Evidence rich practice

Rather than seeing evaluation simply as a way of meeting trustee, funder or Government priorities, the guide encourages arts and education professionals to see it as part of their own agenda, supporting both learning and sustainability through “evidence-rich practice”.

It outlines four key skills:

  • Sourcing appropriate evidence (finding credible evidence and using it to plan activity)
  • Leading project evaluations collaboratively (showing how work will make a difference to participants and getting the scale of the evaluation right)
  • Learning about the difference a project has made and how it could be improved (using data to paint an accurate picture of what happened)
  • Supporting others working across the sector to improve their evaluations (using evaluations not only to judge how an organisation has been successful, but to support others’ learning).

It argues why key skills are important and gives practical advice, showing how organisations have overcome challenges.

“There’s a role for everyone in the arts and cultural learning sector to become an ‘Evidence Champion’,” said Mark Londesborough, RSA Associate Director for Creative Learning and Development.

“Our consultation and research revealed an appetite among arts and cultural learning practitioners to improve, but not quite so much certainty about how to get there. Rather than simply reporting what we found, we wanted to frame this as a guide that might support networks of practitioners and maverick changemakers to do their bit.”

“We believe that the arts are valuable in-and-of themselves, and we’re not starting from zero as there’s lots of evidence about what can make a difference,” Londesborough added. “But even if we know something can work, making sure it works anywhere requires us to keep a close eye on what we’re doing. 

“Our guide is aimed at helping people at all levels – from beginners to professionals – take the next steps on the journey to becoming ‘Evidence Champions’.”