Mencap is the leading charity for people with learning disabilities in the UK and everything they do is about valuing and supporting people with a learning disability, and their families and carers.
In early 2012 changing cultures was successful in tendering for a contract to evaluate Mencap’s We Dance project. A project that was part of the Cultural Olympiad and the London 2012 Festival in partnership with Birmingham Royal Ballet, mac Birmingham and Midland Mencap. They were looking for someone to measure the impact of the 5 month project to see whether the 7 outcomes they had set themselves were achieved by the end.
There were lots of people involved that needed to be considered: Gus Garside from Mencap as the Lead Project Manager; Lee Fisher from Birmingham Royal Ballet who founded and runs their Learning Disabled dance group Freefall; Keith Youngson from Fox Hollies School, co-founder and leader of Freefall; 8 accomplished dance leaders being trained to lead learning disabled groups; the other project partners; the lead staff and support staff for the learning disabled groups involved; the participates; the participants families/carers and the wider audiences attending 4 days of performances.
One of our skills is being able to go beyond the data collection of evaluation to find and understand the human impact, therefore the unexpected outcomes and legacies of projects.
An evaluation report usually comes at the end of a project, but to have the most meaningful report, evaluation comes first – knowing what is to be measured, why, and what needs to be achieved with the information. From the start of appointment, Claire from changing cultures weaved herself into the project delivery framework to ensure that as much as possible could be learnt from the project. This started with Claire leading a session on evaluation with the project partners and dance leaders at the very first planning session. She looked at visual and kinaesthetic evaluation methods that can work with a variety of groups including with people with learning disabilities that the dance leaders could build themselves into sessions as well as giving them all a journal with key questions to involve everyone in collecting observations.
Claire also attended a sample of the workshops, seeing all the groups at least twice, sometimes three times in order to witness changes in the participants for herself and to speak with them and any family members or support staff observing. She was particularly looking at health and wellbeing improvements, as well as personal benefits such as communication and growth in confidence of the participants. With a dance background herself, she also looked for changes in how they engaged in the sessions and their movement skills in participation. With the dance leaders she was looking for how they adapted to working with a group with learning disabilities and what they were learning from the experience.
On the day of the performances a combination of tally counts, evaluation books, and interviews were used to obtain audience numbers and feedback. By the end of the 5 months there was a wealth of material gathered through conversations; forms; drawings; pictures; photos; film; journals and comments books to be analysed and condensed. The final report looked at how the aims of the project were met; how the 7 planned outcomes were met and to what success; key achievements; unexpected outcomes; the legacy of the project; key areas of learning and recommendations for partners to take forward.
As well as a final report provided for partners and funders, Claire and the project manager Gus Garside were asked to write an article for Animated, a national dance journal http://www.communitydance.org.uk/DB/animated-library-5/we-dance.html?dis=29971]