The Evaluation Learning Lab

(Photos by John Borstel)


In 2014, Animating Democracy launched the Evaluation Learning Lab (ELL) in collaboration with the Art x Culture x Social Justice Network, and the Nathan Cummings Foundation with a goal to promote evaluation that embodies values and practices congruent with arts and social justice work—equity, inclusion, understanding context, and the role of arts and culture. ELL engages arts practitioners, evaluators, and funders to build practical knowledge and resources for measuring social impact, evaluating artistic/aesthetic dimensions and equalizing power in evaluation. [See Theory of Change].


What needs to change?

Currently, evaluation practices for assessing social and aesthetic intentions and outcomes of arts and social justice work are not always adequate to perform relevant, ethical, equitable, and realistic evaluation (assessment) of the work. Evaluating the social and aesthetic efficacy of arts and social justice work requires that we replace an oversimplified paradigm of success and failure with a more realistic view that acknowledges the iterative and long-term nature of movement building and social transformation and includes incremental as well as cumulative measures of success. And it requires disrupting evaluation practices that undermine or distort the connections among art, culture, and social justice. It means: 

  • Identifying and adapting evolving assessment practices from social justice and other fields
  • Equalizing power relationships 
  • Ensuring cultural competence in evaluation 
  • Elevating qualitative evidence and narrative discussion in tandem with quantitative measures 
  • Articulating criteria for artistic, as well as civic and social, efficacy. 

Frameworks for Review

At the 2015 Grantmakers in the Arts Conference in Los Angeles, Animating Democracy introduced two ELL frameworks in working draft form for comment and feedback. Download the introductory documents below and e-mail to request review copies of the draft frameworks.

  1. A Framework of Aesthetic Characteristics and questions to help assess aesthetic process and product/experience of art, culture and social justice work. Introduction (PDF)
    To review the Aesthetics Framework, E-mail
  2. A Framework of Values and related questions to help arts practitioners, evaluators, and funders plan and implement responsible and ethical evaluation and be intentional about evaluation practices that reflect values congruent with social justice. Introduction (PDF)
    To review the Values Framework, E-mail

Also check out...

Evaluation Learning Lab Blog Salons on the ARTSblog:

  • Dispatches from the Evaluation Learning Lab [Oct 26-30, 2015]: 10 lab participants shared their thoughts, questions, experiences, and suggestions for crafting successful evaluation, as well as reports on their development of the new frameworks.
  • Evaluation & Social Impact  [May 4-9, 2012]: Growing interest in capturing impact of many types of programs has resulted in escalating discourse and developing practice-based theory about the social impacts of the arts. 18 smart evaluators, researchers and practitioners weigh in.

The Evaluation Learning Lab is organized by: Pam Korza, Barbara Schaffer Bacon, and Alicia Gregory (Americans for the Arts), Maurine Knighton (Nathan Cummings Foundation), and Carlton Turner (Alternate ROOTS)

Participants and Affiliations:

Kiley Arroyo, Executive Director - Cultural Strategies Council
Andrea Assaf, Founding Artistic Director - Art2Action
John Borstel, Senior Advisor, Humanities - Dance Exchange
Denise Brown, Executive Director - Leeway Foundation
Chris Dwyer, Senior Vice President, RMC Research
Rahwa Ghirmatzion, Development Director - Push Buffalo
James Kass, Founder & Executive Director - Youth Speaks
Lisa Yun Lee, Director, School of Art & Art History - University of Illinois @ Chicago
Jose Serrano-McClain, Community Organizer - Queens Museum
Keryl McCord, Director of Operations - Alternate ROOTS
Stephanie McKee, Artistic Director - Junebug Productions
Wendy Morris, Director, Creative Leadership - Intermedia Arts
Judy Nemzoff, Program Director, Community Investments - San Francisco Arts Commission
Lisa Marie Pickens, Independent Consultant
Erin Potts, CEO - Revolutions Per Minute
Nick Slie, Co-Founder, Co-Artistic Director - Mondo Bizarro
Jessica Solomon, Director - Art in Praxis
Mark Valdez, Theater Artist (former ED of Network of Ensemble Theaters)
Risë Wilson, Director of Philanthropy - Robert Rauschenberg Foundation