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Why do we evaluate projects? A simple question, but by asking different people you get dramatically differing answers. Some people evaluate to self-reflect, whereas others do to self-improve. Just as different people start to think about the evaluation of their projects at different points, the way we think and conduct evaluation can have significant ramifications on the success and outcome of a project.
As part of the Brighton branch of the ARTS project, the ARTS team ran a programme of events called FutureRoots in collaboration with ONCA Centre for Arts and Ecology. Bridget McKenzie’s Thrivability Workshop sought to address these questions around evaluation, and explore the concept of “oikonomics” and how the value we place on projects may go beyond the information requested in a project funder’s evaluation pack.
Bridget McKenzie is a director of international arts and heritage consultancy organisation Flow. Through her work she has been trying to establish a model to embed thrivability within organisations. Thrivability is what McKenzie would term as the “next big social evolution” in society. She explained that as we have moved from a society first focuses on survival, then to sustainability, to resilience, and next to thrivability.
To embed the mindset of a thrivable society into an organisation we need a framework for evaluation that involves evidence of change from conception, planning, execution and evaluation of a project. The framework McKenzie is working on aims to connect all interventions a project makes, from the direct outputs to the long-term impacts.
Working in three groups, the around 20 participants worked to conceptualize a project that could be evaluated in a new, ecologically minded, framework. By discussing and using images to think about new fields and concepts to evaluate projects in terms of, the groups reflected on the prescriptive and limiting nature of existing evaluation frameworks. Two groups moved away from McKenzie’s framework, choosing to look at the categories they felt they should be beginning to evaluate projects in terms of.
What emerged from the discussions was the realisation how many outcomes are inter-related and the surprising synergies of aims that outcomes can highlight. For example, a project to make a sustainable sofa was termed as having a positive health outcome for its creator in the physical work she put in, as well as a mental health benefit for the user in having a sofa designed as a place for conversations relating to mental health to take place.
The ARTS Project sees synergies and partnerships as one of the key features of transition to sustainability. Models of evaluation like Bridget McKenzie’s may bring us closer to seeing more projects with aims and outcomes that interlink and compliment eachother, which may in turn lead us towards a more sustainable future. But we still have a long way to go to convince project-leaders to begin to move away from established and comfortable methods of evaluation to those that embed thrivability and sustainability in a project from the offset.