Circulate – Evaluating Differently

Circulate members from across the country gathered this Saturday, 9th May, at firstsite Colchester, to share the evaluation activities they have conducted over the past year and to plan future evaluation processes and activities for all their strands of work, including peer led events and partnership work. The day was full of exciting opportunities, thanks to the active involvement of the firstsite team and members of YAK (Young Art Kommunity) in planning and facilitating the day.

Circulate members gave insightful presentations at this Saturday’s Circulate session at firstsite, about the different evaluation methods and approaches they have devised and used during the last year.

A key theme emerged, for me, from these presentations, which is about ‘difference.’

When Tate Liverpool began their presentation they acknowledged that Circulate members from Tate Liverpool are at the oldest end of the Circuit age range and are mainly post-graduates looking for opportunities to develop professional skills, experiences and networks. They said that because of this ‘location’, writing papers had become a focus for them, in terms of using writing as a process of reflection and in terms of how they articulate their findings. (This experience is similar for members of the Wysing and Kettle’s Yard group in Cambridge.)

Members of Whitworth Young Contemporaries however, have a keen interest and set of skills in film making and so video has become a central tool for evaluation, with a range of interviews and documentaries being produced that articulate the difference Circuit is making for young people in Manchester. Circulate members from Mostyn and firstsite are also using video and photo documentation as key tools in their evaluation processes.

Circulate members from Tate London talked about how they have realised a need to differentiate between ‘external’ and ‘internal’ evaluation and how they have sought to develop processes for evaluation that are reflective of the amount of time and depth of engagement for any one particular person and their level of engagement. Reflective note keeping has proved to generate an in depth set of reflections for those who are engaged in a sustained way, in journals and personal blogs, whereas the development of ‘Emojivaluation’ processes have proved useful for those whose engagement is fleeting.

Nottingham Contemporary members talked about the difference between a personal journal, which can be a highly reflective space for ‘in-depth’ thinking, compared to a group journal, which tends to be more like a record of what has happened. They used this as one example of many different types of activity that are required and which they facilitate, to ensure a range of people can give meaningful feedback about their experiences.

Tate Liverpool have also developed a range of tools and new methods that respond to and suit the needs of the different people engaging in different aspects of their programme. For example, they have developed a process that centres on asking people to choose from a selection of words and images, to articulate their experiences. Tate Liverpool concluded their presentation by talking about how they are developing evaluation activities to ‘fit’ different people.

future evaluation methods

Slide by Sufea Mohamad Noor from Tate Liverpool

These presentations will be uploaded to this website in the coming weeks and video footage of all presentations will also be available to view at the forthcoming Circuit event on 20th June at Tate Modern.

The main strand emerging from across all the presentations, which will inform my own thinking, is about the significance of ‘difference’ and how, firstly, as evaluators we all have a different set of skills and experiences that we bring to the process, as well as different perceptions. Secondly, this set of differences is echoed in the different experiences and understandings of those people whose reflection and insight we hope to evoke. A meaningful evaluation activity for one person is likely to be inappropriate and irrelevant for others. What is important therefore, for people engaged in critical reflection, evaluation and analysis, is not just to have a range of tools, methods and approaches to hand, but more importantly, to be open to continuously developing new approaches, tools and methods, to suit every ‘unique and uncertain’[1] encounter that we have, as no two encounters are likely to be similar, let alone the same.

The presentations from Circulate members will thereby inform how I think about the ways in which we plan future evaluation activities, as I have been reminded of the need for flexibility to be built into such planning, in order to be able to respond meaningfully to each ‘unique and uncertain’ encounter. The presentations will also encourage me to develop ways of utilising and building upon the range of different skills, ambitions, motivations and experiences there are nationally across Circulate.


[1] Schön, D. A (1983) The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. London: Avebury.