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SACO: M&E key to realising SA’s creative potential

The art for art’s sake versus the art for market debate has raged for more than 100 years – but is not mutually exclusive.

The South African Cultural Observatory’s (SACO) Monitoring and Evaluation Framework for Measuring the value of publicly-funded arts, culture and heritage projects is a tool to ‘count culture’ and identify some tangible, quantitative value, says Professor Jen Snowball, SACO chief research strategist and cultural economist. We need art both for its intrinsic value and for its market value. This is increasingly evident in global and local statistics on the socio-economic impact of the cultural and creative industries (CCIs) and the arts, culture and heritage (ACH) sectors.

The 2015 EY report, ‘Cultural Times’, the first global survey quantifying the global economic and social contribution of the industries, found that CCI revenue generated globally accounts for 3% of the world’s GDP or a total of $2,250-billion. It also creates a total of 29.5 million jobs worldwide, 1% of the earth’s actively employed population.

South Africa is aligned with this trend where in 2014, according to some early mapping of the sector, South Africa’s creative economy contributed over R90.5-billion to the national economy or 2.9% of the GDP in 2013/14, exceeding, for instance, the contribution of agriculture to the GDP (2.2%). In this context, publicly funded ACH projects, events and organisations play a vital role in South Africa’s economic growth, development and job creation. However, this strategic function is often underestimated. Drawing attention to the growing impact of the CCI’s on South African socio-economic development, requires that artistic practitioners, researchers and funders alike critically evaluate the overall impact and cultural value of their projects. Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) is a management tool that allows creatives to track the progress and gauge the success of their projects. It also plays an important role in helping public and private funders understand the value of CCI projects. As such, M&E is increasingly recognised as an essential tool for assessing, and expressing, the impact of arts and culture projects.

Despite its growing importance, CCI M&E is not always simple – because of the complicated indicators involved – various social and economic values, and the intrinsic values that arts and culture generate. For example, measuring the intrinsic value – individual and personal responses, the importance of art or performance to a community and in a public space – is very different to measuring the economic (e.g. ticket sales) or social (e.g. education) values. The benefits of some cultural activities, like archiving and preserving heritage, may only become apparent over time, and are thus not suited to short-term valuation methods. Nevertheless, all three of these values make an important contribution to the overall value and impact of ACH projects – and South Africa has long been in need of a framework to support this type of measurement. Enter the SACO, the cultural statistics research arm of the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC), which recently developed a ‘Framework for the Monitoring and Evaluation of Publicly Funded Arts, Culture and Heritage’ to do just that.

Based on international best-practice and guided by the funding guidelines of the Mzansi Golden Economy (MGE), the framework allows artistic practitioners and funders to express and demonstrate the value of their projects.

Using ACH-related themes and indicators, the framework sets a clear path for creative practitioners to evaluate their CCI projects’ contribution and express project successes. The framework can assist various performing artists, art managers, researchers and many more to identify, present and measure their values. Aligned with national policy goals, the framework presents five broad themes that can help creatives to track and evaluate their projects. These include: Audience Development & Education; Human Capital/ Professional Capacity Building; Inclusive Economic Growth; Social Cohesion and Community Development; and Reflexive and Engaged Citizens. These themes speak to a mix of economic, social and intrinsic values and are supported by a range of indicators that can be used to measure different values.

For example, when measuring the value of Audience Development & Education one could use indicators related to ticket sales, media coverage, and workshops. Similarly, when measuring the impact of a project on Reflective & Engaged Citizens, one could look at the project’s influence on appreciation of diversity or generating empathy. In terms of monitoring, the SACO framework highlights a ‘Logic Model’ recommended by the Georgia Council for the Arts, which focuses on an examination of how inputs, activities, outputs and outcomes contribute towards achieving a projects goals. The diversity of the CCIs requires that M&E frameworks are adaptable to the nature and purpose of individual projects. The SACO framework recognises this diversity and fits projects with different aims, expected impacts and expected beneficiaries. This means that even small craft skills development projects, or local dance groups can use the framework to evaluate their project impact and value.

This allows projects that have limited economic or ‘market-impact,’ to demonstrate their alignment with the DAC’s strategic goals in terms of their social and intrinsic values – a key component for securing future public funding.

Also, from a funder perspective, tracking impact of funding on the cultural sector can assist DAC to monitor policy and funding effectiveness and identify potential high-performing sectors. It can also help ensure DAC’s funds are allocated to projects that are most closely linked to realising its strategic goals and vision. From a practitioner perspective, apart from providing the data needed to apply for public funding, the M&E Framework can be used to demonstrate practitioners’ abilities to achieve stated aims, evaluate marketing strategies, help funders to understand projects’ goals, demonstrate accountable use of funds, engage stakeholders (artists, audiences, funders) and demonstrate the value of the arts to communities and funders. With a focus on facilitating partnerships and collaborative capacity-building, the framework provides creatives with a straightforward tool to clearly measure and evaluate the success – or failure – of their projects. This is something that has not been available to the industry before, and a tool that can help us better understand an industry that has vast socio-economic potential still to be understood and realised.

The SACO’s ‘M&E Framework for Publicly Funded Arts, Culture and Heritage’ is available free online.

By Professor Jen Snowball (pictured above).

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