What can we learn from past experiences of peer-led evaluation?

Reflecting on the Plus Tate Learning Project…



One of the many initiatives that informed Circuit was the Plus Tate Learning Programme (PTLP) which took place in 2011/12.  The project involved all the Plus Tate partner galleries and aimed to enable young people to plan and take part in a programme of learning activities centred on visual art in a creative, stimulating and self-directed process and, perhaps most relevantly here, to evaluate it for themselves.

As with Circuit, the PTLP aimed to equip young participants to devise methods for assessing their experiences of taking part in visual art activities in galleries.  The twenty projects that made up the PTLP trialled a huge range of approaches to gathering data and making visible the successes, challenges and learning that happened during the programme.

© Dave Davies

© Dave Davies

At the culmination of the project Dr Bernadette Lynch (the Critical Friend to the programme) and myself worked with the young people and organisations involved to identify a set of guiding principles for young people-led evaluation.  I thought it might be timely to revisit these principles and consider how they might support the evaluation of Circuit, so here they are:

Creativity:  Wherever possible, art practice should directly support the reflective process in a seamless manner.

Time: Young people should be allowed ample time to engage with evaluation, to see its relevance and take ownership of it.  Adopting a gentle pace at the outset ensures that the evaluation process is a positive, productive and authentic experience for all.

Trust:  Enabling young people to take the lead in evaluating a programme requires genuine trust to be established between the participants, the gallery staff directly involved in the programme and across the organisation more widely.  Without this trust an honest appraisal of a project cannot take place.

Flexibility:  A ‘one-size fits all’ model is unrealistic.  Evaluation led by young people relies on understanding the needs, interests, ambitions and capabilities of all the individuals involved.  Evaluation should be set in motion and overseen by and for the young people themselves.  The group should identify the expected outcomes from the outset.

Rethinking language:  Given the potentially negative associations the term ‘evaluation’ can have for young people and others, it can be more useful to frame this activity as reflective practice (with its focus on creative and critical thinking skills), while not forgetting that the overall process of assessing a project can also involve monitoring (i.e. continuous data collection and examination) and evaluation by participants and others.

Co-constructed knowledge: Although the young people should take the lead, gallery professionals must not put aside responsibility for guiding, supporting and challenging them, when appropriate.   Best practice involves professional development, mutual respect, sharing skills, recognising expertise, and dialogue between gallery professionals and young people.  Evaluation then becomes less to do with assessing content – what we did- and more about how we can learn to learn and adjust actions accordingly.

Connectivity:  A creative, enjoyable and productive methodology should enable critical reflection and analysis by all participants.  This should be embedded in the process from the start, not ‘bolted on’ at the end of the project in the form of collected data.  The process should be integrated, with reflective practice complementing other quantitative and qualitative forms of evaluation.*

Tate St Ives workshop
Reading through these I am struck by their ambition, but also by how much of what they advocate is being taken up and implemented within Circuit.  Time, trust, flexibility and creativity are clearly vital to this essential process, but the ‘evaluation’ work that young people and partners are undertaking with the support of Roz Hall (Circuit’s Critical Friend) manifests many of these principles.  As Circuit progresses into its third year, this work will become increasingly powerful in shaping the ongoing development of the programme and accounting for the project’s progress to date.

*These principles are taken from the Plus Tate Learning Programme text which was published by Tate in 2013.