Evaluation Exchange: Coming Together around the Iroko Tree
By sejjgpi, on 29 November 2017
For this blog post, IROKO and the UCL research team each offer their perspectives on the first months of the Evaluation Exchange. The Evaluation Exchange is a venture between UCL Public Engagement Unit and Aston-Mansfield, which sees groups of researchers from UCL working together with a voluntary sector organisation in east London to solve an evaluation challenge. Find an introductory blog post on the UCL Culture blog.
IROKO is a theatre company that uses traditional African theatre, storytelling, and the arts to advance the education, skills, health, and wellbeing of people from all backgrounds. One of their current projects, Reaching Out, uses African drumming to enhance social communication and quality of life for people with dementia and their carers.
Carol Edozie and Alex Oma-Pius, IROKO Company
A question that has always been at the back of our minds when we finish a project is: what actually happens to all the evaluation documentation we produce? Does it get read with any real interest or is it shelved or binned? On our side, are we making the most use, indeed any use, of it as a way of improving and promoting the services that we offer?
For us, attending the Evaluation Exchange training sessions (where we met our teams for the first time, started planning our projects, and in the latest training session had various troubleshooting sessions alongside reflecting on our experiences) and having the three UCL researchers work with us, has proved to be the most valuable part of the process. It’s enabled us to look at things anew, as well as making us feel inspired and invigorated in our approach to tackling difficult evaluation challenges, e.g. attempting to measure the qualitative impacts of arts and wellbeing work.
The fact that our three researchers are coming from different disciplines and together offer a unique outlook into IROKO’s evaluation processes. This outlook has allowed the process of looking at different aspects of our evaluation processes to be free from pre-conceived thoughts and ways of doing things.
One of the new evaluation tool being trialed for the Reaching Out project is the ‘IROKO Tree of Discovery’. This has been inspired by the name of the company, which refers to a type of tree found in West Africa. The tree enables evaluation by having participants hang different coloured leaves on the tree indicating levels of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with a given service. It’s a quick way to discover how our users feel and think. Hopefully the ‘IROKO Tree of Discovery’ like the Evaluation Exchange, will be long lived!
UCL Research Team
We are a team of three: Kyle Lee-Crossett (PhD candidate in Heritage Studies), Fernanda Garcia Alba Garciadiego (PhD candidate in Civil and Environmental Engineering), and Mandy Ho (PhD candidate in Experimental Psychology).
Since formed, our research team has faced several challenges. Although the evaluation of data and evidence are a core part of conducting research all disciplines, some of us had never done anything like this and had to learn from scratch what it means to evaluate workshops and nonprofit services.
The ‘IROKO Tree of Discovery’ is a solution we’ve proposed to a number of evaluation challenges posed by Reaching Out’s African drumming workshops. First, the evaluation needed to be user-friendly and sensitive to the needs of people with dementia, as well as their carers. We had to consider that some users may experience limitations preventing them from engaging with conventional evaluation methods. Second, the project, which travels to a number of venues, has new participants each time. The evaluation needs to capture the value of relatively short engagements with participants who might not have had a chance to build relationships with the IROKO team. Third, we wanted to address service users’ general reluctance to fill out extensive survey forms. So, with the ‘IROKO Tree of Discovery’, our goal was to create an effective one-off evaluation method that is easy and fun to use for people varying abilities and experiences.
To collect additional qualitative data from those who want to provide more feedback, we have also devised a short survey with four questions that can be completed within minutes. This is intended to help us understand more specifically how users have benefited from the activities, and their interest in similar activities in the future.
We will be piloting our new evaluation tools in the beginning of December and we’re excited to see how users will engage with them.
The Evaluation Exchange is an ongoing project. All the placement teams will be coming together in mid-January for the third and final evaluation exchange training session, to share what they been working on and to get ideas from each other. We are three months in to the programme now; watch this space for further updates!’