Upon reviewing a blog entry about The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth study released by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) earlier this month, I ran across a respondent who stated, “It’s great to have all of these studies, but how does it help me and my organization? How can small or midsized arts organizations measure their impact without the resources of large institutions like the NEA?”
The following shares the story of how Changing Worlds, a midsized Chicago-based educational arts nonprofit went from basic surveys and pre- and post-residency exercises to a longitudinal study that improved our practice, reaffirmed the quality of our program, and helped build an organizational culture of inquiry.
In 2003, I became the executive director of a small start-up nonprofit that had little to no infrastructure in place to assess its programs. We had lots of informal data and some feedback from program partners. I knew immediately that if we were going to grow, thrive and succeed, we had to identify our unique niche, solidify our program model and select program inquiry questions we wanted to explore.
From 2003–2008, we went through various renditions of evaluation tools and we even contracted with three independent evaluation consultants. After five years, we learned some new things, developed the basic capacity to measure the impact of our residency programs and invested lots of time. While this helped us gain insight into our short-term impact, it didn’t address the potential long-term impact and implications of our program. Read the rest of this entry »