How can we evaluate what we’ve done?
Although evaluation is often thought of as something that’s done at the end of a project it really needs to be planned at the start
and embedded throughout. Evaluation captures the learning and impact from an Urban Room to inform ongoing placemaking and any further engagement that follows on. Building a thorough and robust evaluation strategy that captures all aspects of your Urban Room will help to provide the project feedback required by your funders and the evidence that will help you to secure further funding and support.
Evaluation is the means to demonstrate that the Urban Room (hopefully) fulfilled its objectives. It is also a way to capture the more unexpected outcomes from your Urban Room, things that you couldn’t have predicted at the start but that have proven to have been very useful, impactful and meaningful for your visitors, partners and for the local area.
Your evaluation will rely upon the collection of two types of data:
qualitative outcomes that result from the UR activities and conversations, such as changes in people’s perception, their growth in knowledge and change in behaviour
A combination of facts and figures, testimonials, quotes and images can offer compelling evidence of the success of your UR and the impact it has had in building better relationships between people and place. As you evaluate your Urban Room you should continually be answering the question ‘so what?’ - that is, what difference did your Urban Room activities and events actually make to the people who contributed and to the place you explored together? It’s in identifying this difference that you can demonstrate the impact of your Urban Room and make a case for the next one!
Here are some further suggestions from URN members from their experience of evaluating Urban Rooms:
give proper time and resourcing to a rich documentation of both the process and outcomes of the UR - use a wide range of tools
to record the activities, encounters and conversations in the UR, e.g. photography, video, audio, online archives, interviews, quotes, stories, drawing etc.
align your evaluation with the requirements of your funders and anyone you wish to gain support from in the future in terms of funding or commissioning criteria, KPIs or performance targets
be clear about the different aspects of the UR that you can evaluate - for instance make sure you capture informal as well as formal interactions, the process as well as the outputs and how the UR has impacted upon its participants, its partners and your organisation
remember to record how the environment around the UR changes while it’s open - a UR is not only a place for engagement about
the built environment, it can also transform the place in which it is located. URs act as prototypes for new types of community-focused functions and activities on the high street and it is important to evaluate their impact upon their place as well as the people who use them.
are there any experts in your networks who you can commission to evaluate your UR - bringing a fresh pair of eyes to the process at the same time?
the Theory of Change model can be a very useful framework to structure your evaluation around - it prompts you to assess clearly the outputs and outcomes of your UR in relation to your initial aims and objectives for the UR