If I were evaluating the success of a fry-up and someone returned to the kitchen a plate with nothing but the mushrooms, would that point to:
a) breakfast was a success because everything was eaten, apart from the mushrooms, a calculated loss?
b) breakfast was a partial success because the plate wasn’t clear?
c) neither, because I would need further evidence to evaluate the situation properly?
Presumably, in this case, the best way to judge would be to speak directly to the diner and so from the participant, find out whether they judged the meal a success. I might learn, aside from their mushroom allergy, it was the best fry-up they had ever eaten. Or I might discover that actually their child had eaten the food and they had no personal opinion. I might hear about an even better fry-up down the road and be given tips on how to improve mine. And, with just one customer, this might be possible. But scale is important. If 100 plates came back, all with mushrooms left, it would be much easier to conclude that the mushrooms were in fact a problem. It would also be less easy, though conversely there might be less need, to talk to all the diners.
For colleagues in the arts and youth sectors, evaluation of our work is familiar and key to that is collecting both hard and soft evidence. But in our analysis of this evidence however objective, self-reflective and critical we may be, there are inevitably different stories that can be told about the same experience, with narration often driven by internal and external agendas. For example, if we want to find out about a young person’s experience of a workshop, we can at best embed creative evaluation to measure learning outcomes. Fairly easily, a story can be built. We can also gather the artist’s story, although some might argue it is in their interests to ultimately agree with the funder’s story.
But can we begin (and end) with the story? Let’s construct a learning experience around a young person’s existing story, meaning we need to facilitate it’s telling before even creating a project and then continue to adapt it around the development of their story as it changes in response to our intervention. So by placing it center stage, there is more chance the project is relevant, has impact and the story will be heard.