Well, what does evaluation have to do with our work in the Suitcase? We do exploratory methodological work with audience experiences and we are by no means interested in evaluating the art. Instead, we study the effect of the art experience and from this perspective we can learn tips and tricks from the field of evaluation.
Furthermore, it is our impression that when we look to other professions and see how they work with various types of experiences, we are able to look at our own processes, and perhaps become aware of some of our own blind spots. When comparing our practice to others’ we naturally start a reflection on what we do, and how and why we do it. And if we are lucky we may even be inspired to try something we would otherwise never have thought to do.
Who did we meet and what did we learn?
At the seminar hosted by Danish Evaluation Society (Dansk Evalueringsselskab) we were surrounded by people (primarily from consultant companies or various municipalities) working specifically with evaluation of different project primarily in the public sector. Their approach and challenges were in many ways different from the ones we face when trying to explore the nature and value of art experiences.
Nevertheless, there were central themes and concerns that we have in common:
For instance, “giving back”. Across the different fields represented in this seminar it was evident that citizens, users, audiences, or guests – whoever you are working with – like to feel that their feedback matters and makes a difference. The institutions have to give back to the individuals in one way or another and provide them with knowledge for their evaluation.
Another discussion revolved around the paradox between the necessity of a clear evaluation question (what do we want to know something about?) and the possibility of innovation (perhaps we don’t know beforehand what questions will be relevant to focus on). Of course it varies from project to project how structured a process and evaluation has to be, but it became obvious that the Suitcase’s exploratory approach to information gathering is very privileged and it allows us to sometimes get side tracked, to make mistakes, AND to figure out what makes the audience respond and relate in an interview situation.
So, as I am leaving the seminar and waiting for the train I wonder if these insights I take with me are a bit sugar coated and simplified – like a pretty rainbow with no real treasure at the end. Perhaps this seminar was an example of a side track. Still, by placing the Suitcase in the midst of people who evaluate processes and initiatives from our everyday lives (residential accomodation, education reforms etc.), it accentuates yet again, that art experiences are something out of the ordinary. That is exactly why we – when exploring these experiences – have to turn to methods that are extraordinary.