Since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, large sums have been invested in community theatre projects in Northern Ireland, in the interests of conflict transformation and peace building. While this injection of funds has resulted in an unprecedented level of applied theatre activity, opportunities to maximise learning from this activity are being missed. It is generally assumed that project evaluation is undertaken at least partly to assess the degree of success of projects against important social objectives, with a view to learning what works, what does not, and what might work in the future. However, three ethnographic case studies of organisations delivering applied theatre projects in Northern Ireland indicate that current processes used to evaluate such projects are both flawed and inadequate for this purpose. Practitioners report that the administrative work involved in applying for and justifying funding is onerous, burdensome, and carried out at the expense of artistic activity. This is a very real concern when the time and effort devoted to ‘filling out the forms’ does not ultimately result in useful evaluative information. There are strong disincentives for organisations to report honestly on their experiences of difficulties, or undesirable impacts of projects, and this problem is not transcended by the use of external evaluators. Current evaluation processes provide little opportunity to capture unexpected benefits of projects, and small but significant successes which occur in the context of over-ambitious objectives. Little or no attempt is made to assess long-term impacts of projects on communities. Finally, official evaluation mechanisms fail to capture the reflective practice and dialogic analysis of practitioners, which would richly inform future projects. The authors argue that there is a need for clearer lines of communication, and more opportunities for mutual learning, among stakeholders involved in community development. In particular, greater involvement of the higher education sector in partnership with government and non-government agencies could yield significant benefits in terms of optimizing learning from applied theatre project evaluations.
|Journal||Music and Arts in Action|
|Publication status||Published - 2010|
Bibliographical noteReference text: Arts Council of Northern Ireland (2006). Review of Five Year Plan: Final Report April 2006.
Retrieved, 15 June 2007, from: http://www.artscouncil-ni.org/news/2006/ACNI - Final Report -
Final April 2006.pdf
Arts Council of Northern Ireland (2007). Art Form and Specialist Area Policies 2006-2011.
Retrieved 4 December 2006, from: http://www.artscouncil-ni.org/artforms/artform_policy.pdf
Baños Smith, H. (2006). International NGOs and impact assessment. Can we know we are
making a difference? Research in Drama Education 11(2), 157–174.
Barr, F. M. (2006). ‘Project Environment: Socio-Economic Conditions’, Off the Streets Community Youth Initiative. Retrieved, 10 November 2008, from: http://www.offthestreets.org/project.htm
Cultural Ministers Statistics Working Group. (2004). Social Impacts of Participation in the Arts and Cultural Activities. Sydney: University of Western Sydney.
Earl, S., Carden, F., & Smutylo, T. (2001). Outcome mapping: Building learning and reflection
into development programs. Ottawa: International Development Research Centre.
Etherton, M., & Prentki, T. (2006). Drama for change? Prove it! Impact assessment in applied
theatre. Research in Drama Education 11(2), 139-155.
European Commission Office in Northern Ireland. (2004). EU Programme for Peace and
Reconciliation. Retrieved, 20 October 2006, from:
Greater Shantallow Community Arts. (2008). End of Year/Project Report, Arts Council of Northern Ireland Lottery Application, Reference No.: ACNI 1209. Unpublished report. Derry: Greater Shantallow Community Arts.
Jennings, M. (2009). Playing Your Role: Identity and Community-Based Performance in
Contemporary Northern Ireland. About Performance 9: Playing Politics: Performance, Community and Social Change, 103-125.
Leeuw, F.L. (2009). Evaluation: A booming business but is it adding value? Evaluation Journal of Australasia 9(1), 3-9.
McCormack, M. (2008). Final Evaluation Report: Crossover 3 Community Theatre Project.
Monaghan: Border Action.
Maguire, T. (2006). Making Theatre in Northern Ireland: Through and Beyond the Troubles. Exeter: University of Exeter Press.
Mark, M. (2001). Evaluation’s future: Furor, futile, or fertile? American Journal of Evaluation 22(3), 457-479.
Matarasso, F. (1997). Use or Ornament? : The Social Impact of Participation in the Arts. Stroud:
Matarasso, F. (1998). Vital Signs: Mapping Community Arts in Belfast. Stroud: Comedia.
Matarasso, F. (2006). ACNI Review of the Strategic Plan 2001-2006: Summary. Belfast: Deloitte MCS. Retrieved, 28 September 2006, from:
Merli, P. (2002). Evaluating the social impact of participation in arts activities. International
Journal of Cultural Policy 8(1), 107-118.
Moriarty, G. (2004). The Wedding Community Play Project: A cross-community production in
Northern Ireland. In Boon R., & Plastow J. (eds.), Theatre and Empowerment: Community Drama on the World Stage (pp. 13-32). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Peter Quinn Consultancy Services (2008). The Playhouse Derry: The Arts Yard Project Final
Evaluation. Enniskillen: Peter Quinn Consultancy Services.
Poulter, C. (1997). Children of the Troubles. In Jennings, S. (ed.), Dramatherapy: Theory and
Practice 3 (pp. 304-314). London: Routledge.
Ryan, B. (2003). Death by evaluation? Reflections on monitoring and evaluation in Australia and New Zealand. Evaluation Journal of Australasia 3(1), 6-16.
Taylor, P. (2003). Applied Theatre: Creating Transformative Encounters in the Community.
Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
- Community theatre
- applied drama
- Northern Ireland
- conflict transformation
- project evaluation
- EU funding