Welcome to our Director’s Blog
Jen, our Creative Director, and Carl, our Executive Producer, will regularly post discussion points and talk about issues related to media empowerment education and capacity building through digital media for marginalized communities.
More questions than answers: Change Media’s thoughts on CACD evaluation in the age of Big Data and social media
We practice innovative disruption, the art of creatively disrupting experiences to evoke change, our collaborative artworks record and reflect these creative iterations – so evaluation is a playful fabric of our work.
And then there is project evaluation. We don’t put much faith into the old evaluation models that are mostly used for community arts and cultural development in Australia. Our concern is that the information gained from data is treated as ‘objective’, yet it is always interpreted through someone’s cultural values. We see the information gained as a constructed narrative, which we believe can be better told by all the stakeholders, specific to each project, a dynamic, iterative, subjective, in-situ, responsive representation, which may have relevance for other projects. We call it ‘agile trans-formative evaluation!’
As part of our Change Media methodology, we use a variety of performative indicators, positive and negative as well as recording delivery and milestone notes, with the aim that they all will support innovation. The most poignant evaluation appears to be in rich media content. We incorporate this into the creative process, and advise project participants that they can actively participate in the collection / production of this feedback, so they are directly contributing to and informing the process and outcome with us. This includes text, photos, video, images, concept prototyping storyboards/ artworks, website feedback, recording participant feedback rounds, filming themselves to create training tips and in action ‘behind the scenes’. We also document our management process to monitor project patterns to see if we can improve our delivery to surpass the aims and outcomes of each project, using standard issue ‘positive indicators’ such as participant numbers, workshop duration, aims, challenges, feedback recorded against outcomes/ milestones.
Agile trans-formative evaluation means for us, that we constantly review our process and methodology to check our assumptions. However, even if we use a 3-point model combining quantitative and qualitative evaluation methods with rich media outcomes, we still struggle with the problem of pseudo-objective data collection and interpretations – in short: we can make any statistic look and say what we or our clients want to hear, unless we look at evaluation in the narrative and socio-political context of the work: This is where our evaluation can disrupt our experience to evoke change.
Whose story is it, who benefits, what are the needs, assets, and how can we determine equitable process and outcomes? What is the aim for – and who needs the evaluation – our funders, partners, participants – and for what purpose?
Where is the power in the room, what is the risk and for whom? How can we reach excellence while working towards an equitable process and outcome?
Trying to answer these questions over the last years led us to view our creative process as a series of critical yet glorious failures, the cracks and gaps that arise from social innovation, opening our practise to new possibilities and renewed thoughtfulness.
How can we apply our findings to the co-creative process as soon and directly as possible?
Change Media conducts feedback sessions each day during workshops and we record behind-the-scenes materials (video and photos), which is often done by our workshop participants as a part of the co-creative process and skills transfer.
The review of feedback videos and behind-the-scenes documentation feeds into the next days process and invariably into the final art work. The inclusion of the collaborative process into the creative narrative invites the audience into a sophisticated meta-level appreciation of the creation and is an evaluation highlight for community partners, funders and clients.
We find ‘negative indicators’ are a much more challenging yet effective tool set to build and apply. We try to ask questions that reveal our own ignorance, challenge our assumptions, to question the validity of our work and our clients desires:
Who is benefiting from the workshop? How do we determine creative control, power of influence, equitably shared benefits across process and outcomes? Do skills really get transferred? What are the obstacles? How sustainable is it for the participants, ie what can they use by themselves once we are gone? What are we not seeing/hearing? Where/ what is ‘the elephant in the room’? What would happen if we or the participants don’t share their stories? How is our liberation bound up with the participants? How relevant is the outcome for an audience? Have we, as co-creators, grown through this process, have we been challenged, embarrassed, appreciated – and if not, why not?
These questions guide our innovative disruptive processes and remind us to constantly reconsider our co-creative approach, through all stages of the art production:
Who is the target audience – is it relevant for them? Why are we doing this? Where is the drama, the humour and the conflict in our narrative – this applies across all art forms, but especially to digital media…
Does the project build capacity beyond anecdotal evidence – do we see resilience growing in the community? Have we asked participants what they need, what they have already and how they see this fit in with their future outlook? What are the delivery items they need to proceed and excel?
We then aim to build DIY training tool kit productions into the creative workflow of most of our projects – if our budgets allow – so that participants train each other once they learn a new skill and ideally record their newly acquired skills in simple training videos that they produce themselves. Ideally the final artwork links all these aspects together by showcasing some of the process involved in creating the work – or offers clear links to access training content and separate documentations, available on our website or delivered to clients and participants directly on DVD or flash drives.
Depending on budget and timeframes of the projects, we then follow up before each scheduled workshop to get an idea what we need for the next stage of the project, to develop the next narrative together with the participants. For this we usually use email correspondence and when people don’t have web access, by phone. This process usually requires strong partnership development with our on-ground partners, to do follow up work with the participants, ideally it is an email to all participants.
The democratisation of media revealed a digital fantasia, connecting community arts to the world. And with it all the gremlins of hyper-connectivity, digital noise, a million flies doesn’t mean it’s not shit ‘trends’ and the evaluators nightmare, what to do with all that data? We have concerns about the commercial aspect of social media and the commodification / use of data that is accumulating. Just because some content trends well on social media sites, which are run by privately owned companies, doesn’t mean that we as creative instigators or as members of a community get a more authentic view on what people really think or feel about our work.
But we do use hit rates on Youtube and Vimeo, data on website traffic, e-newsletter click-through rates and other statistics to monitor our range of social media tools.
We believe the most effective digital media tool is narrative literacy: the reflective co-creative production process and critical media literacy through de-construction of media narratives plus documentation of process as part of the final art work. Showing how it is done and why, reflects directly on social exclusion, ability and access of our participants – and on our ability to deliver on our funding promises…
Another important aspect for us is the proliferation of excellence through digital media. Social media networks are great for spreading stories, raising awareness and participants can now see what is possible and will be less susceptible to the practise of lowering expectations. We have often heard comments like: ‘they are marginalised, they won’t know any better, it is too hard for them, lets not disappoint them any further’. As arts practitioners we are now better equipped to raise expectations by showcasing what community collaborations can achieve and share our process and outcomes from our projects, globally, which we have seen can increase self confidence and awareness for our participants. Especially important is the notion of local relevance – seeing your local community members achieve makes it so much more accessible than to watch highly produced content made abroad or in a completely different context. We have seen participants ’switch off’ and consume when we screened amazing films made by internationally acclaimed artists, but then seen their engagement explode when the content was clearly made by people they could relate to or knew.
In short: we believe there is no cookie cutter solution for authentic community arts and cultural development work, every project requires specific evaluation to effectively support social change.
And finally, we would be superhuman if we didn’t feel uncomfortable and challenged by our own methodology, we are constantly unsettled as we hit walls of our ignorance… For us the value of reframing our evaluation is to explore how we can co-create equitably, so that everyone will feel they have a seat at the table where they can experience the malleability of power lines and the value of their own power.
For more details please use our thought piece on digital media in community arts in the last post below or at http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/artforms/community-partnerships/opinion_piece
11 November 2011
Here is the link to the Australia Councils official version, which we submitted in March 2011, accompanied by thoughts from our colleagues from CuriousWorks, Feral Arts and other artists and organizations.
Please add your comments below.
Get Off My Back – a strategy for equitable digital media across the creative community arts and cultural development sector, in a damaged world – to improve quality, accountability and independence.
If you are working in the creative community arts and cultural development sector, [CACD], there is a fair chance that you are engaging in story theft.
In a world where our social model survives on wealth generated from resources, stories represent a vast territory open to plunder. And digital content, created by communities for ‘free’ has become a thriving trade for artists, support organizations, broadcasters and governments.
This theft may arise from the best of intentions, but too often the owners of the stories feel misrepresented, hoodwinked and de-powered by the experience.
So how do we build equitable, sustainable community empowerment – with shrinking funds, vague guidelines, new demands for digital media across all CACD practice, and hordes of experts from other arts sectors flocking to CACD coffers?
Working in the CACD sphere is – and has to be – risky business, as we negotiate the power-relationships that arise from the economic disparity our work is addressing. Community Arts practitioners derive an income because communities are disengaged/ marginalized. So, in a cross-colonial context, we need to constantly review our role in perpetuating exploitation of these groups.
Our company, Tallstoreez Productionz, has received great accolade for our digital media empowerment program, Change Media [formerly known as the Hero Project]. We have run hundreds of workshops with thousands of participants since 2004 and set up digital media hubs with many communities – but we still feel at a loss as to what exactly makes good projects work.
Instead of raving about our award-winning projects and glorious failures [check them out at: www.changemedia.net.au], we would like to explore what we, the practitioners, can do next, what we can improve, what risks we take and who really benefits from our processes and the products created.
For better or for worse, digital media helps create a lasting, mobile story about each community and is literally a lens that reveals the cracks in CACD practice. Now most practitioners use digital media as an integral part of their projects. Yet it is still perceived as scary, too complex, too time intensive and needing extravagant budgets for incomprehensible tools. And so it is often used as an after thought, as poor quality documentation, inappropriate video/ websites or fobbed off to external providers who parachute in to ‘capture’ the community.
We believe this often well-intended, but non-the-less ignorant practice further widens the [digital] gap, fails to change the imbalance in power, reinforces misrepresentation, lowers the quality of work [and therefore overall reputation of the sector] and doesn’t lead to equitable partnerships.
So here’s our thought piece. Get Off My Back – a strategy for equitable digital media across the creative community arts and cultural development sector, in a damaged world – to improve quality, accountability and independence.
“I sit on a man’s back choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all means possible….except by getting off his back.” — Leo Tolstoy
We developed Get Off My Back during the national CACD leadership lab run by the Victorian College of the Arts Cultural Partnerships in 2010 at Mount Eliza, in discussion with our colleagues from CuriousWorks and Darwin Community Arts.
The ideas below are discussion starters; we are trialling them throughout our projects. The sub-chapters are interdependent and the order of appearance doesn’t matter [imagine a chart of connected circles of influence].
The guidelines are to support CACD practitioners – to question why you are involved in CACD. Your answers must be actionable, built-in to daily practice as a tangible and visible process reflected in the outcomes. It is about raising expectations, to push for excellence and to let go at the same time. This process is always evolving and inherently challenging…
Did we mention your practice is dangerous… marginalized people don’t see themselves as marginalized, their life is their centre of influence and experience. They – like all of us – deserve the best. Be the best, and then improve some more.
CACD work must aim to constantly devolve power and support communities to maintain control of their stories. Decisions need to be made with your participants, not for them. Yes, you are more skilled in a few areas, but so are they. What do you really know about their lives and challenges?
Even during one-off projects, think about long-term sustainability: offer different levels of social business models and employment educational pathways, according to expressed needs.
Support your participants to locate and voice their unique needs and utilise what they already have. This is where your area of expertise sits. Use it.
Voice / Story
What is your creative input? How do you appear in the work? Why? Why not? How is your liberation bound up with that of your participants, community and project partners? Build co-creative explorations as mutually engaging relationships.
Most CACD projects are cross-cultural collaborations: Be aware of context and the power struggles that fuel injustices: place of origin, ethnicity, gender, social background, age, ability.
Ensure the skills you bring are clearly acknowledged. We have found that when our mentor input is not credited in the final outcome it results in the community being heralded as ‘the unusually talented few, the special ones, others, not me’. This contradicts the reality that other communities can tell their own stories if they have access and appropriate support.
Your final products will be digital at least in part [photos taken, website inclusion, blogs, twitter, video, DVD, slideshow presentation, funding reports, radio feature etc…]. So from the start of your project: Think digital and viral, learn the basics, share pipelines and access mainstream, fringe and open source networks.
From Day 1 identify your target audience / end user and the final product – it supports participants to clarify why they are involved, what they want and what they will do.
Raise the bar across your art forms. Don’t subscribe to the view that Community Art is the poor cousin of Art. It ain’t.
Digital media is not just video and web, but more immersive experiences, authentic and deeper community engagement, performative evaluation, better sound, enhanced vision… Digital media is about changing how you work, not just new technology.
Train the Trainer
Train yourself out of a job – you should be obsolete after the project is over. Build local skills to a level so the community can do it themselves. This is what you promised in your funding submission… And yes, this needs more time, but even on short programs, you can start the process and plant a seed for future initiatives.
Offer mentoring in art/craft and producing [management, structure, legals etc]. These are potentially the boring bits, the invisible stuff – but this is where the ability to ‘do it again’ hides. Bring it forward; explain how it works. Let your participants take over and have them teach each other as soon as possible.
And while you are training and creating, record the process, make tailored peer-produced resources to leave behind. These tools are invaluable when you are gone. And no, they don’t necessary travel well, so keep it regional and peer-produced. There is no market for cookie-cutter empowerment tools, sorry.
Build evaluation into your project from Day 1, record your process, record feedback from your partners, participants during all stages, it will change the work.
Think of your project as a cyclic model: From Development, to Hands-on project practice to Post-production, to Distribution …to the Next pitch/ funding submission to Development. Then think backwards from delivery – what do we need to pull this off? Why are we doing this?
And film and review how you pitch /present your next project. Push yourself to raise the bar of your sector and the expectations of your partners. We all deserve it.
This one is tricky: expose yourself, self-embarrass. When you build in evaluation of the project from Day 1, you might see different results in your community’s engagement, as you will need to share your thoughts, processes and finding in a way that is truly useful for your partners and participants.
Make your process visible in the final product. Rise to the challenge. What is stopping you [us, me]? Often we feel afraid to lay open the structures of our success and failures – why? Perhaps we’re afraid we’ll lose funding or be found out as spin doctors for embellishing our stories and outcomes, so what? Nobody can really steal our means of engagement; if you are that good people will copy you anyway – and it is incredibly hard work to actually empower communities. So why worry about competition? There should be more of us, and better. Let’s develop better evaluation tools that are actually relevant to our work now AND to our funders later. And remember, yes, it is a risky business – you are potentially benefiting from other people’s misery.
Offer and push for transparency from Day 1 on copyright and legal processes. Outline your chosen legal set up in the rights & responsibilities of your Community Partnership agreement. Don’t start work without it, as it always leads to misunderstandings or worse.
And while you are at it: All of this is negotiable. Always. Why not??? A broadcaster may think differently, but hey, so can you. Make sure the ownership reflects the nature of the project and its partner’s investment, be that money, in kind, ideas, traditions, power of influence. And keep this process open.
A crucial part of an equitable agreement is that all partners and participants benefit. So think creative commons, moral rights, new ways to manage and share IP and copyright. This space is evolving, but most people are scared of legalese and so the old structures of control and ownership survive unchallenged. Keep it simple and build real trust. We see too many ‘15 minutes of fame’ promises being made that don’t change a thing. Broken promises just reinforce feelings of disempowerment, however low the budget. Deliver what you agreed on, based on an open process and transparent negotiations. Over-delivery is even better.
Provide access to gear and skills, ideally in a non-threatening/ non-restrictive environment. They must be dreaming? So use what you have, open source if it works, high-end if you can. Broker pathways to access new funds, bring agencies together, create knowledge archives, new alliances, think out of the box where to get the extra $5000 so the community can continue working with their own gear.
We are all using the catch phrase ‘capacity building’ [hmmm sounds just like ‘sustainability’…] – What does it mean to you? How long does it take to reach ‘capacity’ to do…what? This can only be determined by/with each partner community. But there’s urgency if we are to see social change in our lifetime. We only have now, here, with the means available to us. Source them.
This is always a conversation killer amongst colleagues in a competitive – exploitative environment. People are often outraged at the idea that budgets, expenditures and incomes should be transparent. Why not? Are you being overpaid?
Chances are that you receive public funds to do your work – these budgets are open to public scrutiny anyway. And yes, this is where it hurts. How do we transfer control and include our communities in budgetary decisions? Mostly we think we don’t need to – ‘They’ don’t want to know. But guess what, ‘there is a budget in my art…’ iiieeeeeehhhhh. So let’s talk about money. More often, and with the people you are delivering to. Budgets are blueprints for creative work, spreadsheets are our friends and need to be invited to the party.
All these points are dependent on each other and this one is crucial for all future disruptions and innovations.
It sits at the heart of our work, just at the edge of our consciousness, as the missing link in our storytelling. What if your community doesn’t want to tell their stories? What if you stopped making sense? What if you turn this idea upside down? Or these guidelines inside out?
Unknowable things constantly rock our world. The ‘Or Not’ factor is our pressure valve, the delete button, the time for self-reflection without navel gazing. What if we imagine this from a different angle? What if creative communities are at the heart of social well-being? What if we are the gatekeepers, the wardens of possibilities? What if you suddenly had the power to change something? What if suddenly you become obsolete?
Build it into your practice: What have I missed? Am I engaging in critical practice or repeating the same old? Are my failures and successes measurable and how, for whom? What is needed now, what is not there yet? Show me the way to the next paradigm shift.
We are keen to build this with anyone interested. Email us at email@example.com
Jennifer Lyons-Reid & Carl Kuddell
26 July 2010
Hi everyone – please excuse the gap between entries… we have been incredibly busy and there was always one more thing to add to the news list – it feels great to have such good news, winning the Kookaburra Award 2010 and receiving more and more feedback for our work.
During the Communities in Control conference, it hit me how much we [as society at large] have become accustomed to delegate our control of storytelling. We were approached many times to explain our secret ingredients, as to how communities can reclaim control of their storytelling.
Working for years now in the creative industries, I have experienced a growing desire for authenticity across the board. But more and more I wonder how these 2 sectors are compatible: the spectacle of media produced for consumption and the need for authentic representation of culture and its narratives.
Each time when we collaborate with a disengaged community and produce high quality outcomes, suddenly this weird thing happens: the ‘story’ gobbles up the authentic process, the real experiences gets swallowed by the desire to be entertained – somewhat entranced by the idea that THIS community / group / story is something especial, that those people have special powers [those Indigenous / poor / outback [insert special interest stereotype here] people have something to share that the rest of us lacks.
And I feel uncomfortable about that we seem to reinforce this believe system with each successful project. Like a balloon, the story floats and gains altitude and leaves its protagonists behind – and leaves their lives all too often unchanged. And I also know that sometimes these stories can act as beacons and inspire people to take action, to try something new, outside their comfort zone, but I wonder how much is this part of our wishful thinking, our media mythology?
To overcome this dilemma, we need to strengthen the connection between the people, their and our creative work and process, while still producing beautiful, spectacular stories that take off and inspires others.. How do we do that?
For me the trigger is… drum roll… control, ownership of ones story. Very simple, yet exceedingly difficult. Imagine a media landscape that is populated by powerful stories and their empathetic tellers, where the news worthiness doesn’t pull their humanity over the counter, where the makers and enablers feature and resonate, commoditised only by mutual arrangement. These kind of works could populate story commons, shared spaces of engaging, intertwined narratives, that have the listeners [aka consumers] and storytellers [aka producers / creators] connected through a new understanding of ownership and, more importantly, a trigger to enable the understanding that you can do it too… The missing link for me is this knowledge, the ability of telling your own story – not, oh, these people must be special / different = not me.
Every project that we do as Change Media aims to reclaim a part of this connection, this understanding.
Before I fully disappear into my own little world – here is the pitch: for every piece of media produced, there should be a how-to guide, a blueprint delivered, that supports people to see and create for themselves. Yes sure you don’t have to [it’s a free country, no?] but you could get empowered to read stories differently and understand how the spectacle has been served up. It’s about healing through owning ones story. Its about media literacy on many levels – how can you fully own this process if you don’t have access to tools, skills, time and training?
Over time, the need to control might even become obsolete, as our stories are being created and shared in the commons. But for now, we keep producing stories, that shrink back in the shadow of a spotlight, a selective beam of an all consuming stage show, that thrives on our acceptance. We get so easily caught in the underlying assumption that most of us must be mediocre, have nothing to say and are utterly ‘untalented’. And then, boom, we are caught in that beam, like rabbits in headlights. Now suddenly this MUST be good. Success. Worthiness. Acclaim. Don’t get me started on talent… more on this next time… And the beam quivers, moves on and the shadows grow again. Back to normal.
For now: Turn off your TV for a week and see what happens to your life.
If you want to add some feedback or comment on my ramblings, post a comment below or contact me via email here.
Change Media Kommandant