Impact story: A new collaborative way of working

Macrobert Arts Centre, based on the University of Stirling campus, offers a busy programme of live, film and creative learning events across the Forth Valley. Macrobert Arts Centre shares their learning from creating a new collaborative way of working, and a thematic approach to evaluation. 

Context and drivers

Historically, monitoring and evaluation at the Centre was driven largely by funding requirements – leading to established process and data collection in some areas of work (notably creative learning, which attracts the majority of grant funding), and relatively little embedded strategic monitoring in other areas.

However, the organisation has an open, reflective culture that welcomes learning and discussion. Staff are keen to learn and develop, and there is generally a willingness to recognise challenges and areas for improvement.

In June 2015 Macrobert recruited a new Artistic Director (Chief Executive), as well as new Development Manager (Head of Fundraising). This provided a new impetus to refresh the strategic plan, to think again about goals and intended impact, and look at how the organisation works collaboratively across teams. The timescales associated with this process aligned well with the Inspiring Impact Embedding Impact Practice Group that Evaluation Support Scotland (ESS) planned to facilitate in 2015-16 and so the Centre became a member in November 2015.

Development of impact practice

At the outset of the Embedding Impact Practice Group, Measuring up and the Embedding Evaluation Diagnostic Wheel tools provided a stimulus for discussion about the current status of monitoring and evaluation.

It was notable that each team’s perception of current status was quite different, reflecting the reality of a series of teams that operated relatively independently from one another.

This process encouraged the teams, to reflect on how all parts of the organisation could unite to work together toward a common goal. As an immediate step, the organisation restructured the way activity was planned to theme each ‘season’ (4 month period) around ‘a central idea of compelling interest to our life and times’.

This approach brought together the teams to set objectives and plan outcomes for the season as a whole – stimulating activity to be generated from an intended outcome, rather than using activities as a starting point.

Working collaboratively in this way provided a key opportunity for logic modelling to be introduced to the organisation. It was used as a tool to bring together collective thinking and activity, and in doing so helped to overcome some teams’ fears of the tool becoming additional admin, paperwork or ‘jumping through hoops’. It also helped provide structure and discipline in embedding the practice of starting the planning process from intended outcomes, rather than activity.

The benefits of good impact practice

Already, the improved impact practice has helped the teams at Macrobert Arts Centre to work together more coherently, and to develop closer working partnerships across the teams. This has had significant funding benefits, with funders more able to understand and appreciate the entirety of Macrobert’s activity within a particular season, and therefore to encourage investment in the organisation, as opposed to more restricted funding attached to a particular activity. This, in turn, has enabled Macrobert to reach out to new audiences, develop new partnerships, and test new ways of working.

The increased focus on outcome-led planning has helped all members of the organisation to take a more strategic view of longer-term decisions, and to consider a wider range of organisational objectives in making decisions. Decentralisation of some of these decisionmaking tools has helped a greater number of staff members to play an active role in decision making.

Challenges or the future

1. How to embed good impact practice as the cornerstone of planning and evaluation.

The organisation is relatively new to impact measurement, and the last year has encompassed significant change in terms of senior leadership and strategic planning. As such, the Embedding Impact Practice Group has provided a grounding and test period within which to introduce, test, and become familiar with the tools.

The next challenge for the organisation is to establish impact measurement as a core tool used throughout all aspects of the organisation. The first stage will be to use the 2016/17 strategic plan to develop clear indicators and measurement tools for across the organisation’s remit, then to regularly review and reflect on these to monitor progress.

2. How to gather feedback from audiences who don’t, can’t or choose not to engage with the organisation.

However good Macrobert become at monitoring and evaluating the impact of their work, there is a consciousness that there will still be a large part of the local population who are not using their services. Macrobert is keen to connect with these groups and to understand who chooses not to engage, and why.

To address this, a community roadshow is planned for 2017 – a series of free events in underserved communities with a fun free creative offer. The roadshow will not only provide tasters of Macrobert’s provision, but will also enable the team to gather information and direct feedback about what local people would like their local arts provision to look like, and to understand current barriers to provision.

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