work in progress
Our project is looking at what counts as the impact of community theatre and how it might be documented.
We began our project with some assumptions – these came from our own research and our reading. We started thinking that:
(1) Most evaluations of community theatre practice are conducted as a form of accountability to funders. They happen immediately after a performance has finished and generally report on the numbers of people involved as participants and as audience. There is then often a survey or interviews with participants to find out their views of of the benefits that resulted from their participation. This can take the form of a pre and post survey. There is also often some kind of survey of the audience which asks for their comments about the actual performance.
(2) What is evaluated is usually what funders require. This might be something related to individuals such as:
There may also be more general social outcomes such as the growth of community identity and pride, building social capital and developing an ongoing civic agenda. (In the third post we talk about the research evidence in general.)
But we have heard many practitioners say that it is the process that they use that is as important as the final performance product in producing benefits for participants. This led us to think about the possibilities of a different kind of evaluation.
What is required by funders is a summative evaluation that happens at the end of a funded project. We are interested in thinking about what might be gained from a formative evaluation, that is carried out during the project.
The easiest way to think about the difference between these two kinds of evaluation is to think of an exam, when a teacher might ask students to answer to a particular set of questions on a particular day at a particular time and in a particular place. This is a summative evaluation. Some of the students might have studied up on other questions or be more informed about others. They might be terrified of exams and not perform at their best. Or they might just have had a bad night last night. These are the reasons why some teachers look for other ways to find out what students know and can do.
A formative evaluation is when the teacher looks for ways to find out how students are learning along the way. They try to find ways to construct a running record of what the student is doing, through observation and through collecting and analysing the things that the students make and say. This approach often means that there is a wider group of learning recorded. As well, teachers can adjust their teaching if they can see that some students are not getting onto the things that they ought to/need to. The downside of formative evaluation is that it can be more work.
We are not interested in making more work for community theatre practitioners. We are interested in how the idea of formative evaluation might connect to the kinds of documentation practices that they already do. We know that there is a lot of record keeping and note taking and conversation that already occurs as part of community theatre process, and we are interested in thinking about how this might become a formative evaluation practice.
Does the idea of formative evaluation make sense to you? Does it sound possible?