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Learning & interpretation: evaluation at the V&A

The V&A carries out evaluation on all new gallery projects and many learning programmes to find out whether ideas are working or need changing. Are plans for a new gallery appropriate and are the learning outcomes the ones that were expected? Any new gallery needs to communicate with its intended audiences and learning programmes need to be fit for their participants. Evaluation, through consultation or prototyping, aims to check that assumptions about understanding, attitudes, beliefs and motivation are valid.

The findings of an evaluation process can:

  • Support funding applications
  • Identify competition
  • Increase the likelihood that project goals will be met
  • Assess the effectiveness of a project
  • Facilitate responsive, informed decision making

What types of evaluation do we carry out?

We carry out evaluation on all gallery projects, exhibitions and events programmes. Several methods and stages of evaluation are used in this process:

Quantitative evaluation

This is a method of collecting statistical information. This type of evaluation clarifies the profile of existing visitors & identifies gaps in the visitor profile. This type of evaluation is less detailed and used with large numbers of people, often using tick boxes or multiple choice. Questions might be:

  • What proportion of your current visitors are interested in this project?
  • How strong is your interest in x amount of alternative themes?
  • Would you recommend this to your friends and family?

Quantitative evaluation uses various methodologies, for example, self-complete questionnaires or phone/face-to-face interviews using structured and closed choice responses.

Qualitative evaluation

This is a method of collecting attitudinal information. It is important in assessing the likely enthusiasm for projects. It identifies barriers and how to overcome them, generates new ideas, tests visual concepts, explores motivations, attitudes and lifestyle needs and compares different approaches. Qualitative evaluation is more in depth and uses smaller numbers of people.

Questions might be:

  • How does this make you feel?
  • How would you describe this to someone else?
  • What are your impressions?
  • How is the project perceived?  What is it for?

This type of evaluation uses methods such focus groups and in depth interviews, with semi-structured and open-ended responses.

Front-end evaluation

Front-end evaluation takes place at the stage of initial concept development. It provides information about the intended audience, partners etc. It determines the direction of the project from the visitor angle.

This type of evaluation is open-ended and asks exploratory questions. It tests the specific appeal of a project and asks about the information people want. Front-end evaluation forces us to question our assumptions about visitors, their understandings, beliefs, attitudes and learning processes. It also initiates dialogue with visitors. It is predominantly a qualitative process.

Formative evaluation

Formative evaluation takes place at the stage of project design and development . It provides ongoing feedback once the project is underway. It is used for gaining a reaction to a proposed design or scheme.

Formative evaluation helps refine and change the application and pinpoints problems. This type of evaluation allows project managers to make informed decisions during development. It is usually a combination of qualitative and quantitative evaluation.

Summative evaluation

Summative evaluation is the final assessment of the effectiveness of the project on completion. It documents the impact of the project on the intended audience. This type of evaluation determines the extent to which project goals were met. It is usually a combination of qualitative and quantitative evaluation.

Meta evaluation

Meta evaluation can be used at any stage of project development. It identifies trends and patterns, quality control criteria, potential competitors, areas for development, potential sponsors etc

This type of evaluation is useful for comparative data and it can be widened to look at things like census information. It is usually secondary or 'desk' research.

What happens to the findings of the evaluation?

The evaluation Findings are reported back to the project teams or programme managers and used to inform the project and future planning.

Copies of each report are placed in the Learning & Interpretation resource centre where you can come and see them by appointment.

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