Does curiosity signal a maturing of the sector?

The question of how best to evaluate arts, health and wellbeing projects is becoming a topic of increasing interest to me personally as well as to the sector.

How do we evidence and evaluate what we do? What are the questions we should be asking? How do we answer them in robust and credible ways? And how do we share and disseminate our learning to inform and benefit future programmes of work? 

Arts Council England recently published a review of the evidence for arts, health, wellbeing and criminal justice. Commissioned to inform ACE’s new 2020–2030 strategy, it hints at a greater emphasis from ACE on ‘everyday creativity’ and arts, health and wellbeing.  

Rather than calling for increased evidence, however, the review bemoans an over-emphasis on quantitative evaluation of arts and health programmes which, it suggests, prevents a fuller appreciation of the benefits of participation in the arts. 

“The evidence stacks up”, says the ACE report. So, if we know it works, perhaps we should be exploring answers to new questions like ‘How does it work?’, ‘What are the mechanisms that make projects successful?’ and ‘What role does artistic quality play in terms of social impact’?

I have been working with colleagues from the across the south west, facilitated by Arts and Health South West, to develop a South West Regional Strategy for Arts and Health, the first of its kind. One of the priorities for the new strategy promises to be…. Yes, Evidence! However, sitting alongside this is another priority, that of increasing the capacity and skills of the arts and health workforce.

By equipping the sector to better engage with evaluation, we are not merely arming people with the tools to evidence outcomes. We are also sparking curiosity about what works and why? 

I believe that this increasing interest in these wider questions presages a maturing of the sector.

The arts, health and wellbeing evaluation training I have been delivering this year therefore feels particularly important. It is not merely skills training. It is helping to nurture and grow the sector. 

To find out more about Creative and Credible Arts, Health and Wellbeing Evaluation Training click here

To book a place on the Creative and Credible Arts, Health and Wellbeing Evaluation Training day at the Royal Society of Public Health on 10th January 2019 click here