(UK) London – evaluation report (compiled by Janet Hetherington)

This is a summary evaluation report compiled by the UK leader for the UK Study Trip and incorporating the feedback from the Polish, Lithuanian and UK groups and leaders.

  • Organisation of the study trip

The preparation meetings attended by the UK group served as a good way for the group to get to know each other and become co partners in the delivery, planning and evaluation of the project. Information was readily exchanged amongst the group and the group were engaged in discussions from the start of the planning process about how to design a study trip which they were able to engage with and learn from, as well as ensuring people from other countries learned about their practice and were able to engage in the study trip model.

The UK group responded well to the reading and throughout the project was engaged in critical conversations regarding future research and developments regarding links between Localise and their own practice. The preparation meetings with the UK group worked very well. They had a chance to get to know each other, discuss their study questions and learn more about each other’s work in advance.  They also helped review the itinerary and had opportunities to include projects, places and contacts, which were linked to their professional practice.

Information about the participant’s work and biogs was shared with partners at an early stage and a preliminary programme was distributed. In addition communication between the project leaders worker effectively and ensured some of the practicalities were resolved and al participants were familiar with the focus of the study trip and each other’s interests from the start of the study trip process. The communication between the project leads during the planning stage worked well. Email and skype were used effectively to convey important information. One challenge we faced regarding accommodation in London was that we needed to book rooms early in advance, therefore it was important to know how many people were attending.

The partner groups received the full information about the trip at a very late stage in the planning process. Details regarding preliminary costs, the information costs and required expenditure for each country needed to be shared sooner. Obviously there are some practical issues concerning this relating to some aspects of the visit having to be reorganised at a late stage, but nevertheless planning information needs to be sent sooner. The group also felt it would have been beneficial to have access to the addresses of the visits. As we had not expected the groups to travel independently, we initially felt this information was not required, but given the change in circumstances it would have been useful, as well as more information about the organisations.

We are aware there was some confusion regarding the reading pack with the other groups, and some language implications in some of the documents. It would have been useful if we could have provided a summary/ podcast explaining the content of the trip and key vocabulary being referred to. We are aware of there were some technical problems in accessing the timetable, but we are not sure how these occurred, but in future it could be worth agreeing upon a compatible format which all partners can access.

From a UK perspective, we need to consider the roles and responsibilities of the UK project team. Working as a collective in the planning stages, poses some specific challenges, and raises interesting questions about how part time staff are involved in the planning and delivery of a study trip.

 

  • Practical coordination

Planning a study trip in an area outside of the geographical area in which the UK team worked, posed some specific challenges for the organisation of the project. We felt it was important to include the South East of England as part of the study trip, as it has a very strong tradition of using community arts for a range of purposes, and we also had some strong links with organisations and artists in the region. We were pleased that we managed to get a balance of visits to grass roots and national organisations, and appreciated the generosity of all of the hosts for theses visits. The opportunity to attend the Connected Cultures Conference also presented a good opportunity to access and hear about an even broader range of contemporary and participatory arts practice.

The London trip posed some specific challenges during the planning stages, namely because it was outside of our working area and we planned it without a local project partner. In the early planning stages we had envisaged that there would be more opportunities to meet and work with some of our regular contacts in the South East of England, however unfortunately due to the present funding climate (causing events to be cancelled) and changes to people’s schedules, this proved difficult to organise.  An unexpected challenge was the limited amount of community arts work and relevant cultural/community events taking place during the period when we were visiting. It was suggested that some organisations were doing more work in the forthcoming Easter holiday period, and as a result the cultural calendar was relatively quiet (for London!) during the period when we visited. As a result some of the visits were planned at a very short notice. If we were to repeat a visit in future, then it would be useful to work in partnership with an organisation, both for support, contacts and room hire.

Given the challenges we faced in arranging the itinerary, it would have been beneficial if time allowed for the project lead/ project ambassador to conduct a preparation visit to London, to personally meet and brief contacts and to clarify situations regarding meeting rooms and transportation. In the UK, there is an expectation and a need from some organisations to charge for their visits/ workshops, and in some cases these were higher than expected and resulted in us deciding not to visit some places.

During the study trip, the location of the hotel ensured were in a central location in order to travel to all of our destinations, as well as be able to easily access tourist attractions and places to eat. The meals served as a good way for the group to get to know each other, and for (almost) all meals the group mixed and the opportunities for free time enabled the group to get to know each other in a more relaxed context. Feedback suggests that everyone was very appreciative of the efforts made by the participants from the host country to make people feel welcomed and comfortable throughout the study trip.

The UK group led daily creative challenges and this was effective in terms of helping people to think about their research questions for the trip but also to set a focus for the day. There were challenges in not meeting or having access to a meeting space, fortunately the nice weather allowed us to meet informally in outdoor spaces, and whilst not ideal, this did provide space for the group to engage in creative tasks designed to get them to think differently about their experiences. At the same time, the UK group said it helped them better understand the differences and similarities betweens different cultures, as well as provide them an opportunity to get to know the group better.

I had the full support and help of the other project leads and the participants and this was really appreciated throughout the entire study trip. The UK project lead is grateful for all their encouragement, support and enthusiasm. The UK group also offered additional support, and their experience and enthusiasm helped ensure we could adjust the programming and they were able to take additional responsibilities. Obviously this trip presented a new issue, whereby someone needed to go home. The arrangements for this were straightforward, however the situation did reassert that it is important for the host country to have an emergency contact person within their organisation at all times.

 

  • Positive aspects of the study trip

The visits were varied in terms of quality and experience, but overall presented a balance of work, which was occurring. It was good that some of the organisations chose to invite other people along to find out more about the Localise project, and the feedback from all of the organisations which we visited was immensely positive and all of them expressed a desire to remain involved in the project, and enjoyed meeting the participants and hearing about different perspectives. Clearly there were some unexpected challenges with some of the visits- we had briefed every organisation and conducted telephone meetings with every partner, however we discovered it is impossible to control every aspect of the trip! We perhaps could have pre-informed the hosts in advance more about our expectations of each study trip, and offer guidance and support regarding how they facilitate the visits. In addition, the opportunities to visit the city worked well, but it would be useful if we could have considered whether we could have used this free time more effectively.

The accommodation and food was generally good and the warm weather was hugely appreciated! There was a really nice atmosphere within the group and it felt like the group bonded well and people were comfortable in working with people from other countries (apart from the unfortunate situation in the fish and chip shop- sorry!). The balance of free time/ study trip seemed to work well for some and less well for others!

Overall the feedback was that everyone was pleased to have visited a diversity of place and people including small and large organisations. The visit to Art in the Park was particularly well received as it was a good example of community arts both a s a practice and as a tool for social change.

 

  • Areas for improvement

There were some obvious issues, which we would try and address in future, study trips. Firstly the lack of permanent base presented, administrative and creative challenges. We are conscious that we did not have adequate space for preparation, reflection and evaluation work; in addition it was difficult to carry out unexpected administrative tasks.

We would also be interested in exploring how we could work better with the larger organisations in the context of a study trip, as whilst these visits were interesting, I felt we could have got more from them. We were pleased with how the community based visits went, especially Art in the Park. The main disappointment was the Albany visit and this did not feel like the best way to finish the week. We had liaised with the theatre and the company but on the day it was difficult to develop the visit further.

Some organisations did not present their work effectively. There could have been more opportunities for the group to share their practice and engage in dialogue. Some hosts had many commitments, and we are uncertain regarding whether it was time restrictions or uncertainty about how to host a study visit, but a couple of the visits lacked a clear focus and did not provide enough time for reflection. This was a shame as most the group felt their work was engaging and wanted to find out more, however it was difficult to restructure the timetable of the visit once it was in operation.

It would be good to have included more community-based activities. Interestingly, we did try and organise more community based visits but the charges for these were very high, but in future it would be good to consider how they could be included.

The week needed more opportunities for reflection and sharing, as there was not enough time on the last day to do this effectively. This was a challenge partly because we did not have a main base and were unsure of some of the travel times, but also we had not scheduled in enough time to accommodate a level of discussion, which allowed everyone to contribute.

 

  • Study trip as a model of research

The interesting thing about using as study trip as a model of research is experimenting with the right balance, of study trip visits, reflections, sharing of practice and fun.

The creative reflection activities led by the UK group worked well as an interim activity, however there was limited time to follow these through, as well as share practice. All of the groups reflected that they enjoyed having an opportunity to use the creative challenges to think differently about what they had seen and experienced during the different visits. Through this process, we heard that people developed their thinking around different aspects of community and participatory arts and they also were able to (healthily) challenge each others views. The UK group said this made them think and feel differently about their experiences of community arts in the UK and had not expected their views to change. In addition hosting organisations also reflected that the study trip approach provided them with a challenge in terms of think about how best to reflect their work and engage the group in critical discussion. As community arts is quite established in the UK, some host organisations said they were familiar with representing to funders or participants, but this new audience provided them with an opportunity to critically reflect upon their stories, and in particular in many cases said it helped them to reevaluate their practice.

The study trip model allowed for flexibility in the programme including social events, and this was well received by the group as they said it allowed them to extend conversations and feel free to talk about ideas and future research as they thought about new ideas. This study trip also involved participants of different ages and experience, and again the study trip model provides a platform for people to work together as equals, and the group felt the model gave them an opportunity to work and talk with people that they may have not normally engaged with.

The study trip model is sensitive to the environment within which it is carried out in. Hosting in capital city presents some interesting questions regarding the role of tourism in the context of a study trip, and in the context of this project it was also important to ensure we could access London as a place where people lived and not just as an attraction.

In terms of research, many people in the group said the study trip model  inspired them to either further research specific areas of practice and collaborate on further thinking about critical issues concerning community and participatory arts. The drive for continuing the research process grew very naturally during the course of the project, and the group felt comfortable in considering a range of approaches to further research and collaboration, many of which may all outside of a traditional academic model or reflection. The study trip model provided the flexibility for the group to develop research questions as the week evolved and develop in confidence in terms of how they could approach their research, using non-traditional methods in the future. At the community arts conference there was a call for community arts practitioners to give more effective accounts of their work, and in many ways the study trip is a good way of accessing and interpreting the many different accounts of community and participatory arts work. In addition, the feedback from the UK group said that it was interesting how the study trip had revealed the importance of the breadth of people involved in the community arts workforce ranging from administrators to creative deliverers. The study trip model provided a framework for the group to deconstruct how the industry was organised.

 

  • Future Developments

We are developing a “post visit’ pack form the participants which will include any reading information which people requested during the study week.

The UK group have met to discuss how they will develop their research questions which they posed at the start of the study trip, as well as continue to engage with the participants from Lithuania and Poland. The participants have also reviewed their relationship with Staffordshire University, and the project has served as an effective tool to consider how they develop partnerships with the university in the future.

Ideas for developing the study trip model in the future including creating opportunities to put thinking into practice, and the UK group felt that it would be interesting to engage in collaborating and producing some community arts activities with participants from other countries, in order to reflect upon the differences between theory and practice. This would also provide a vehicle for exploring differences in approach, focus and terminology between the host countries.

The UK group has identified some specific pieces of research, which they are interested in developing following the project:

  • Exploring the relationship between the individual and the institution both on the context of community and participatory arts, but also in relation to the study trip structure (e.g. the role of the university, host organization, etc.)
  • Examining the language of reflection in the context of a study trip associated with community and participatory arts
  • Creating a large-scale creative challenge to review all of the study trips

 

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