Infusing Arts in Evaluation: putting power outside the box

Gender & Evaluation online Community with Evaluation Community of India hosted an e-consultation on Art & Creativity Evaluation. Members with MEL expertise and creative talent generously offered to host the event. Abu Ala Hasan from Bangladesh provided a theoretical background on the topic with focus on Photography/ painting Chris Lysy from the United States shared how cartoons can relay Evaluation findings Yelizaveta Yanovich from the US brought experience of theatre in facilitation and evaluation. Madri Jansen van Rensburg from South Africa presented drawings to engage children in evaluations.

This started a conversation amongst 70+ attendees on Art as a means to evaluate and report on the results of an approach or programme. Participants shared experiences of using storytelling, using musical instruments, adapting a dance form, role play and improvisation. Faith Foundation from India shared about dissemination of study findings by theatre for youth in indigenous communities.

Art expressions bring out the feelings of the people at a deeper level than ticking boxes and presenting figures. There are many ways where people can express their feeling if words are not easy for them, and in such cases using art can be inclusive. Some are reluctant to draw. Perhaps this has to do with the hierarchy between the evaluator and the participants, or because they feel shy. Then it falls on the evaluator to facilitate a variety of creative tools. Art practices can tap into peoples' imagination and can help bring out insights in ways that connect deeply to people as human beings and not "subjects" of research. Gender transformative evaluation is about shifting power relationships, and creative methods can visibilize different voices/vantage points.

A challenge raised was that art can be interpreted in several ways and there exist individual differences, how can one be sure about the findings? Others responded the diversity has to be valued and arts based methods are interpretive, multi-faceted, and divert from positivist approach. Among those in the webinar, most had used arts to engage with people and said they canbest interpret their product.

Another challenge the participants said is how to get people on managerial level to open up to artsy forms of evaluation. Unfortunately, the funders do not consider art a scientific method. The group felt that arts combined with strong analysis could enrich evaluation. One suggestion was of using art in convincing commissioners of evaluations.

Participants concluded that arts could be easily used without being an expert artist etc. They were inspired to incorporate different forms of art into evaluations as one observed that “we can start thinking of using comics as a tool for research and evaluation.”

Gratitude to the presenters, facilitators and the participants of the webinar for the rich learning and vibrant discussion.

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