First let me say that we are still working to figure out how to evaluate the impact of Design Studio for Social Intervention (ds4si) and our various unusual approaches to creating change.
We would love to think with practitioners, funders, artists, and other allies on this issue and use it as a way to build solidarity, increase the breadth and creativity of evaluation approaches, and further spread any new insights we uncover. (Unfortunately, the current climate is one where evaluation frequently creates distance between practitioners and funders. It would be interesting to explore this as a cultural practice as well!)
One of the ways we want to explore evaluating cultural practice is in gauging an intervention’s resonance within the situation it’s hoping to affect. Resonance might be a way to make a distinction between our social interventions and those artist-led practices that aren’t informed by and in embedded solidarity with a population’s or organization’s desire for a particular change.
We aren’t saying that social practice art projects that aren’t deeply informed as such shouldn’t happen, but that they might be considered differently that those that are.
Let’s take the projects we designed working with youth activists on youth violence. We have designed and tested three different interventions since we started this work with youth over four years ago.
One of these interventions was aimed at disturbing the social practice of “grilling,” which is the term for the glare which takes place when two youth make eye contact and immediately infer danger from each other. To us, we found resonance when youth across the board stated that “you can’t stop the grill.” In fact, the emotional investment and intensity with which youth thought they couldn’t affect this practice was what made us pick it.
Like “The Grill Project,” none of our social interventions around violence has been in easy agreement with youth activists or their organizations, as this kind of approach to social change is still new to grassroots groups in general. But as we collaboratively found points of culture, practices, and discourse to investigate towards change (like the grill), we found that youth and organizations would start to understand how the point of culture was indeed problematic in terms of keeping the problem intact.
While a traditional approach to evaluation would only evaluate whether our project: decreased youth grilling and decreased youth violence, we feel that using resonance as a measure of impact could point to how our work is helping to surface and change the field of knowledge within the youth organizing field around social violence.
Indeed, it would help us see if and how each intervention has helped youth understand how cultural practices play a role in keeping social problems intact, as well as what sorts of cultural strategies they could imagine to address them.