Research Reports, Professional Articles, and
Shifting Expectations: An Urban Planner’s Reflections on Evaluating Community-Based Arts [PDF]
by Maria Rosario Jackson, Ph.D.
Summary: Based on 13 years of national research on integrating arts and culture into concepts of healthy communities, Senior Research Associate with the Urban Institute Maria Rosario Jackson observes how sound and worthy community arts programs with social and civic intention are often saddled with unrealistic expectations about the impacts that they might have on a community and the ways in which such impacts might be proved. In this paper, Jackson argues for a shift toward more realistic expectations of social impact and evaluation of arts-based civic engagement both on the part of practitioners and funders. She cautions about common “traps” and suggests countermeasures such as getting clarity about the context and possible constraints within which funders work; gaining a good grasp about what the arts organization actually is poised to do towards the ultimate goal, rather than making claims for impacting conditions over which it has no direct control; and establishing correlation with an intended outcome rather than trying to prove causality. The paper also provides recommendations for practical ways of moving towards and operationalizing that paradigmatic shift.
Civic Engagement and the Arts: Issues of Conceptualization and Measurement [PDF]
by Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert
Summary: Based on a literature review drawing from the social sciences, humanities, and public policy, Stern and Seifert of the Social Impact of the Arts Project at the University of Pennsylvania suggest documentation and evaluation strategies that artists, cultural and community organizations, philanthropists, and public agencies could take to improve the quality of knowledge about the social impact of arts-based civic engagement work.
Part 1 of the paper explores definitions, key concepts, and theories about civic engagement, the arts and culture, and the relationship between these two spheres of community life. The authors discuss three theories of action—didactic, discursive, and ecological—that is, ways that the arts could influence patterns of civic engagement.
Part 2 offers practical considerations for evaluation in areas of methodological issues and data collection strategies based on a set of challenges in moving from theory to actual measurement of change. Stern and Seifert describe these challenges: unit of analysis—what or whom to study; causal inference, the relationship of the arts-based engagement activity to effects; selection bias or understanding compared-to-what; retrospective data, the limits of data gathering via methods that rely on the unreliable faculty of memory; and obtrusiveness, the impact of an intrusive methodology—such as an audience survey or pre/post-test—on one’s findings. The authors assess the major data-gathering strategies of social science and recommend that collectively these methods can be used to build a body of evidence on the role of the arts in civic engagement and social action.
In Part 3, Stern and Seifert offer recommendations for evaluating effects of arts-based civic engagement at the program, regional, and initiative scales.
Written for Animating Democracy's Arts and Civic Engagement Impact Initiative Working Group, this 14- page paper presents a conceptual framework (or logic model) for arts-based engagement. It offers a discussion of the components of the framework, and a list of questions to guide research explorations. It defines and gives examples of each element: programmatic initiative in terms of the core arts element and related civic/social purpose; context; implementation choices and actions; intermediate effects (individual, collective, and community capacity building); and social and/or civic impacts. In the discussion of the framework, Dwyer gives a number of suggestions tailored to arts and civic engagement work. She describes social and civic capacity as encompassing: the knowledge and expertise of content and process; access to human and material resources; systems for collecting, organizing, using, and disseminating information; leadership; and common expectations.