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Author: John Knell

Arts Council England (ACE) has recently announced their new Investment Principles. Many of the key messages in the new Ambition & Quality Investment Principle resonate incredibly strongly with how we have seen arts and cultural organisations use the Impact & Insight Toolkit (Toolkit). The inherent flexibility of the Toolkit gives you lots of options in how you can use it to get a powerful 360-degree perspective on your work.

For example, let’s take the emphasis on Ambition in the Investment Principles – ‘the formulation of what you want you want to achieve and how you plan to achieve it.’ The whole premise of the Toolkit is that it is a powerful tool to encourage cultural organisations to dig into their creative intentions for a piece of work (what you want to achieve), and then consider how those intentions can best be measured through the various outcome measures within the Toolkit.

So, at its simplest, the Toolkit helps you measure and evaluate individual pieces of work in ways aligned with the Investment Principles. But crucially, it can also help you measure ambition and quality overall. By articulating what your core mission and purpose is and evaluating intentionally, those individual evaluations you carry out will build an account of your work that allows you to show how the impact of your work is greater than the sum of those individual parts.

We know from the work that National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) did in the Toolkit’s Strategic Development Strand, that cultural organisations have a keen interest in evaluating the quality of what they do across a wide range of mission driven activities and impacts, from their work in talent development, to their participatory work, to how they are impacting in particular places and communities.

The Toolkit has the flexibility to help you measure all of these things, so please do talk to us about the range of outcome measures you can successfully deploy in the Toolkit.

For example, it was great to get the chance to support the evaluation work undertaken by Talawa Theatre Company as they sought to engage with artists and creatives during the April 2020 lockdown, working out how best the Talawa team could support other creatives through a mixture of one-to-one support sessions alongside group masterclasses in Directing, Writing & Producing.

The Toolkit gave Talawa important feedback on whether the artists taking part felt that Talawa’s offer was relevant to them, and on whether their voice was being heard and mattered. This is a good example of how the Toolkit can therefore help an organisation explore how and in what ways their talent development programmes are aligned with, and contributing to, their overall mission and ambitions.

The Toolkit can also help you expand where you generate your feedback from. The growth of the Toolkit’s database of registered peer reviewers, also known as the Peer Matching Resource, allows you to reach beyond your core audiences and immediate circle of contacts in sourcing vital feedback on what you do. We know that cultural organisations increasingly seek feedback from peers from other creative disciplines and areas of expertise, from gaming to other key parts of the CreaTech sectors.

In this sense, the core methodology of the Toolkit (e.g. comparing the views of your own staff, your audiences, and your creative peers on your work) is central to the importance of ‘understanding perceptions’ in the Investment Principles. In the Investment Principles, ACE talks about how building up a clear understanding of external perceptions of your organisations and your work, and why and how they may differ from your own, is critical to improving everything you do. The Toolkit methodology is designed to deliver just those insights, by gathering insightful feedback from your staff, artists, and partners. You could even use it to develop an organisational perception survey to gather more general insights about how you are perceived by those within and outside of your networks.

We know that arts and cultural organisations are impatient to physically re-open, and to put into play everything they have learned under lockdown about how they can engage with audiences and talent, whether online or in-person.

For further information on how to do this in practice, take a look at the follow-up blogpost ‘Demonstrating Ambition & Quality with the Toolkit‘.

Get in touch if there is anything we can do to help you evaluate your refreshed ambitions and plans, and to really get under the skin of the uniqueness of your work.


Image credit: Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

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