ACE SEF review

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Self-evaluation leading to resilience

First of all can I say what a great group of people and lively discussion we had in Manchester last week – thanks too, to the Whitworth for hosting us, what a beautiful new space. We were not all evaluation geeks but there was certainly an enthusiasm for reflection and learning. A few of us who have been involved with Making Culture Work before felt like we were beginning to build a Community of Practice around evaluation.

A couple of things struck me as interesting through the day. Firstly the high numbers of Learning and Participation people (including in senior roles) that are coming to these events. Perhaps they do hold a special place in organisations as champions of learning generally?

Secondly the ‘story of change’ that is emerging (I can’t help myself!). There is an important development that goes:

Self-evaluation > Self-knowledge > Self-confidence > Resilience

Self-confidence is especially important in times of austerity when it’s easy to be blown this way and that. It gives organisations and individuals the strength to resist both the national storms and the local breezes that could take us off course from our unique purpose, whatever that may be.

It was also interesting to hear the wide range of ways people are thinking of organisational learning. We focused in some detail on three different approaches.

  • Strategic whole staff reflection – where days were booked in throughout the year for smaller groups and the whole staff to come together to reflect on how the museum was doing. I’m willing to bet many don’t feel they have the time for this, so it was good to hear. The key learning though, is that it needs to be written down and actions planned as a result.

This interests me, because in my years working on large scale change programmes for Government this was always the real challenge; it’s not coming up with the ideas or even strategic direction, it’s the rolling out and embedding that is hard.

  • A second group talked about a similar approach, but including external stakeholders, in this case from Public Health. We talk about self-evaluation being holding a mirror to yourself. This approach holds up a really honest mirror! It hints at the 360 degree review approach that is probably just as an important part of self-evaluation. We see this in the new Quality Metrics that have been developed in Manchester, including peer, partner and self review.
  • Finally a group looked at one person’s experience of using Learning Outside the Classroom as a Quality Mark that was guiding self-improvement. This was a whole package experience, the benefits of which were that it was nationally recognised, but more importantly that it had been driven by a genuine desire to learn internally. It sounded like a very effective tool, much of the success of which was down to the fact it was well developed. It would be interesting to hear from others who might use this approach? Email us at

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Evaluating ourselves

Last week we ran our first ACE SEF Review event in London and spent the day exploring self-evaluation with a group of brilliant individuals. There was a lot of debate, questions and suggestions leading to shared knowledge, best practice and straight forward networking.

One key thing that struck me as we progressed throughout the day was the different terminology we use and how most people are used to working with evaluation. For this project we are looking specifically at self-evaluation and by that we mean evaluating ourselves, or holding a mirror up to review our own practice. This could be as an individual and sometimes be referred to as self-reflection, or as an organisation which is sometimes called an ‘organisational health check’ but could equally be an informal ‘away day’. The point is that we are giving ourselves feedback on what we do, how we do it and why we exist.

But for some people, self-evaluation is something different. For some, it is about going through an evaluation process by yourselves without the intervention of an external consultant or evaluator but where this evaluation process is focussed on collecting feedback from external sources. What seemed to emerge from our discussions last week is that a tool or resource for this purpose is something very much in demand from the cultural sector.

It was clear that many more people had in depth experience of the sort of evaluation that draws on feedback from outside and that fewer people had experience of a ‘holding the mirror up’ process. It might be that this has not featured in compulsory reporting processes to funders or that capacity has not allowed for this type of reflection.

Some people might argue that these two aspects of evaluation – evaluating oneself and doing evaluation by oneself – should be integrated and that for organisational future planning they should be considered in tandem. What we start to get is a 360° view of ourselves which includes our own viewpoint and that of others. This might be the best way of informing our progress as individuals and organisations. Our focus for this project is to find out and advise on the tools, frameworks and resources that can best support us to do this without it becoming burdensome.

We believe that evaluation – the 360° kind – should be a fluid and embedded part of everyone’s development in the sector and we want to collaborate to find the best way of enabling this to happen.

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Our findings so far

Following desk research on self-evaluation tools and frameworks, we have identified a shortlist of good examples which are relevant to the cultural sector. No tool is perfect, and some have been included because a specific attribute is particularly good – it might be the medium, the message or the content. We also identified policies and strategies relevant to the sector, as self evaluation is often measured against a standard (for the Arts Council this might be ‘Great Art and Culture for Everyone’) We’re keen to hear what you think! Do you use any of these tools? Would you recommend any of them? Why? You can reply to this blog, email or join the conversation on Twitter @makeculture #makeculturework
Prove and Improve
Policy and Strategy

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What’s it all about?

Let’s face it, we are a bit geeky about evaluation – but for good reason. We want us all to live and breathe the ‘plan, do, review’ cycle so that we can achieve better outcomes for our organisations and the people we work with.

This blog is our way of sharing our latest project – a review of Arts Council England’s Self-Evaluation Framework (SEF). The SEF is not a tool that is designed to trip up organisations or give Arts Council a way of monitoring the people they fund. It is genuinely designed to be a useful resource and a live practical tool to help us all do a better job.

We are particularly excited about involving as many people from the arts and cultural sector (you!) as possible to help us with this review. It needs to reflect what is going on out there and be designed in a way that we can all use it for our own benefit.

First up we will be conducting some research into other tools that are out there and what they offer that works well. Watch this space for more news on that front.

Then come the events…we are holding three full day workshops across the country for you to give us your views, test out some ideas and come away with some useful tips for you and your organisation. These will be free to attend and we promise to inject some energy into the subject.

In the meantime, if you want to get in touch then you can by emailing

More here very soon…..