Why programme evaluation is crucial

Alessandra Valerio

Writing in the March special feature, ‘Why should philanthropists fund the arts?’ Michelle Coffey expressed rebellion ‘against the idea of designing metrics to validate the impact of arts and social justice’.

In the last years Fondazione Cariplo has given significant support to the interaction among artists, cultural operators and the public. At the same time, we have invested considerable resources to allow the practice of performing arts at schools and to demonstrate how it helps youth express their creativity and develop their cognitive, emotional and relational skills.

The investment in creativity, particularly in the creation of start-ups, can be a powerful tool to boost youth employment in the cultural sector and to stimulate the offer of innovative cultural services and products; we believe that ultimately more traditional cultural institutions can be positively influenced by such dynamics and novelties. Italians’ participation in cultural life is far below the European average, so we have also been encouraging cultural institutions to tackle this and to transform themselves into places for meeting and exchange, and for looking beyond borders; places that stimulate growth in a civic sense and generalized (other than self) awareness; places where new cultural synthesis can be conceived. In this belief, we see the need to put cultural institutions on a firm basis by encouraging and supporting sustainable managerial approaches, empowerment and capacity building.

‘As Michelle Coffey says in her article, we cannot definitely weigh imagination, but it may be worthwhile trying at least to capture the related dynamics.’

In principle, programme evaluation is crucial for at least three reasons: first, to improve transparency and accountability with stakeholders; second, for the foundation itself for operational purposes (that is, to allow for the introduction of adjustments if required); and last but not least, for the validation of effective programmes, if a foundation wants to transfer and/or scale up successful models of intervention. Evaluation, however, must not consist of the mechanical application of a predetermined model; it implies, on a case-by-case basis, a thorough analysis and prior definition of the expected change and a well pondered identification of the tools, qualitative and/or quantitative, to achieve it and a consideration of how far they have done so.

Besides the complexity or even feasibility of assessing less tangible achievements, we are well aware of its costs and benefits, and among the former we include the efforts demanded of our grantees, in terms of skills, time and financial resources.

As Michelle Coffey says in her article, we cannot definitely weigh imagination, but it may be worthwhile trying at least to capture the related dynamics, the forms and ways it reveals itself and the goals achieved when it is nurtured.

Alessandra Valerio
Programme officer, arts and culture, Fondazione Cariplo

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