Inspired by her recent work with the Wellcome Collection's youth teams, Ashleigh Hibbins walks us through her tried and tested tips to engaging young people with evaluation.
Most cultural organisations understand how important evaluation is for improving programming, securing funding, and understanding impact. Here at The Audience Agency, we support arts and heritage organisations to evaluate their projects, and we often hear the same concern: it can be difficult to get audiences to participate in evaluation when they don’t see a direct benefit for themselves, especially when it comes to under 16-year-olds.
We recently worked with the Wellcome Collection to create an evaluation toolkit for their youth teams, which was a great opportunity to share how evaluation can be an enjoyable experience for young people. Here are 5 of our favourite ways to get young people to love evaluation:
1. Tell them what it is
This might seem like an obvious one, but when your head is deep in evaluation mode it can be easy to forget that your audiences might not even know what it is. The word ‘evaluation’ can sound intimidating to younger people, conjuring up images of tests or school reports. Before you begin an evaluation workshop or survey, emphasise that evaluation is about what your organisation can learn from them, and how valuable their perspectives are.
2. Be stealthy
No, this doesn’t involve dressing up like a ninja or James Bond (unless that’s your thing), but using more subtle evaluation techniques. This means methods like structured observations of a group, keeping track of the most common questions, and recording most/least popular activities. These are simple ways of embedding evaluation data collection into your daily activity, without interrupting the flow. If your project or programme gets young people to produce any kind of content, don’t forget that you can also use this to analyse what they’ve gained from it.
3. Reflect what you’re evaluating
There’s a lot more to evaluation than just standard feedback forms and focus groups. Cultural organisations are creative by nature, so why not make your evaluation methods reflect what your organisation or project is actually doing? If you’re evaluating a visual art project, you could get young people to create structured drawings or collages about their experience. If you’re a dance or drama organisation, you could use some of the physical and spatial forms of evaluation described in this resource. When your evaluation methods reflect the topic or activity that attracted your young audiences in the first place, they’re more likely to want to join in.
4. Make it worth their while
Even with the most exciting and creative evaluation methods, you might still need to sweeten the deal a little more to encourage more young people to participate in your evaluation – especially after the main activity is already finished. Incentives don’t have to be financial (and probably shouldn’t be if your audience is under 16). They could be something as simple as snacks and refreshments, prizes, a sneak peek behind the scenes, or emphasising the skills they are developing whilst giving feedback (this could be interviewing, listening, filming, creativity, etc).
5. Put them in the driver’s seat
If you really want your younger audiences to feel empowered by evaluation, why not actually give them some power? Peer evaluation is a great way to get young people invested in the evaluation process. You could get young people participating in a project or activity to interview and record each other using prewritten questions. This method can also encourage young people to be more open about their views, because they won’t be worried about offending you as a member of the organisation, or intimidated by speaking in a large group.
It’s useful to be aware of the Market Research Society's guidelines when conducting research and evaluation with under-16s.
Want to know a secret about these tips? They don’t just work for young people – you can use these strategies to make evaluation more appealing for any audience.