When to measure
The evaluation cycle demonstrates that evaluation is an ongoing process and measurement should be done throughout to feed into the various stages.
During the planning phase data collection can enable effective outcomes to be set and establish a baseline set of data. Throughout the project social impact should be measured at various stages with either quantitative data, qualitative data or a mixture of the two being collected.
This data can be used to assess and revaluate outcomes and make adjustments if necessary.
Baseline, frontend and formative evaluation
There are various types of measuring and evaluation that need to take place early on in a project life-cycle.
Establishing a baseline is an essential starting point for any type of evaluation to assess the current situation. In order to assess if a particular course of action has increased visitor figures, for example, you must measure the visitor figures before the work is undertaken or indeed what work it is you will be doing to achieve this outcome.
With social impact the principal is the same, although data can be harder to quantify, the tools and techniques used should be the same as those laid out in section 5. The Time Capsule approach developed by the Happy Museum project is a good collaborative way of establishing a baseline.
The process can then be repeated at the end of the project to produce comparable data. Before a project begins or during the planning stage, front-end evaluation should be undertaken with your target audiences and stakeholders.
This can establish current levels of knowledge or feeling in a particular area but also involves the audience in the process from the outset, increasing its participatory nature. Front-end evaluation is usually about identifying needs and qualitative measurements are often the best at getting this information.
Museums Sheffield used an innovative approach at this stage of their Esmeé Fairbairn Collections Fund Protest and Activism project. They gave one of their city centre exhibition spaces over to Protest Lab, an exhibition with little formal content but instead space for the public to input into the project plan via graffiti walls and stickers answering open questions such as “what causes matter to you?”
This enabled them to assess gaps in their collection in relation to protest and activism. Formative evaluation should also be done early in a project timeframe, but unlike front-end evaluation, it is designed to enable you to learn the best methods for achieving your outcomes as quickly as possible.
It enables you to check that the project is on track and adjust outcomes and outputs if necessary. In socially engaged practice it enables participants to be involved at a deeper level in guiding the project direction.
Derby Museums use a Project Lab approach in work, such as their Esmeé Fairbairn Collections Fund World Cultures project. This adheres to the principals of human-centred design and involves opening up gallery spaces in order to gain public insight and test approaches to elements such as object interpretation and display.
Summative evaluation is usually undertaken towards the end of a project cycle and tests whether outcomes have been achieved. This might be where output indicators are checked and compared against baseline or front-end measures and therefore the same techniques used at that stage are usually repeated.
Links and downloads
Measuring socially engaged practice: a toolkit for museums (pdf)
Measuring socially engaged practice – large print version (word)