Hello, I’m Sarah and I’m currently on placement with Quarantine from my MA at the University of Manchester. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a North West Development Network Meeting with Ali, Quarantine’s General Manager and Producer, which was focused on evaluative processes and the challenges of reporting to funders.
The conversations were interesting and varied, covering topics ranging from creative methods of evaluation, to appropriate formats for producing reports, to who should have the responsibility for monitoring progress and creating the final document. The experiences that were shared shifted from person to person dependent on factors such as the size of the organisation, the type of work being created, and the previous relationship between the organisation and the funding body, however, there seemed to be a general consensus that securing funding is never the end of the journey. As well as being the start of the (hopefully exciting) creative project, it also marks the start of a long and potentially arduous process of monitoring staff, participants, activities and outcomes; accumulating feedback; and paperwork – lots of paperwork! The aim is to produce a carefully tailored document or reporting mechanism that satisfies the needs of the funding body; ensuring project funds are secure, positive relationships are maintained, and –fingers crossed – future funding comes our way.
For me, as a practitioner who sits largely on the outside of the funding process, the conversations raised lots of interesting questions:
- What does a ‘fundable’ project look like?
- If we bend projects to fit the funding criteria then what is compromised?
- How can we predetermine impact and outcomes as required by the funders but still leave space to be responsive to the people in the room and the accidents that might takes us somewhere wonderful but entirely unexpected?
- How do we ‘evidence the impact’ of our work?
- What counts an impact anyway?
- And what counts as evidence?
- What about the impact that can’t be evidenced?
- What do these reports communicate?
- Whose language are they written in?
- Whose voices are heard?
- What is made visible and what is hidden?
- Whose needs are being met?
Recent publications such as Claire Bishop’s Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (2012) and James Thompson’s Theatre Action Research: A Democracy of The Ground (2006) feel particularly resonant in this context as they contribute significantly to this on-going dialogue about evaluative practices. These works suggest that a focus from funders on ‘evidencing impact’ creates an imperative to define project outcomes in relation to pre-determined cultural narratives, running the risk of perpetuating stereotypes rather than illuminating the complexities of contemporary life and the wide range of effect and affect that arts practices can have within it.
Certainly, these concerns were present in the conversations on the day – and the focus seemed to be not only on the challenges and realities of reporting to funders, but also – and perhaps most importantly – on the possibilities. The organisations present generously shared examples of innovative approaches to evaluation and reporting that allow for projects to be represented within the complexities of their context and that offer opportunities for a range of voices to be heard and represented within the subsequent documentation of practice. As a relatively young practitioner, I feel hopeful and inspired to learn that these conversations and practices are under way; that these types of questions are not only being asked, but also that the people in this room are taking them forward in search of answers.