Old notebooks, different versions of concepts, an archive full of possible PR photos, short and long biographies, videos of each rehearsal and run. Documentation of each creative process is important – from the first concept to the application for funding, from rehearsal process to premiere. Not in the least because documentation enables evaluation. And, as these two key terms are so intertwined, we discuss them in relation to each other.
Whether you are an independent artist or an artist supported by an institution, it is relevant to think about documentation and evaluation. It is becoming increasingly common as a requirement to receive support to have both documentation and evaluation plans in place and which covers the full duration of the project. For funders this is a way to see how your work develops and to get an idea of the impact and its’ results: it serves as proof that they got a return on their investment made. It also signifies a move towards more qualitative measuring by funders, as they increasingly focus on gathering more anecdotal and case study examples of the intrinsic impacts of the arts. So we can see that this kind of work has a wider advocacy function for our funders to secure a better future for our art form and, we would hope that in the majority of cases, providing this level of documentation is not mere ‘form filling’.
More importantly, both documentation and evaluation are ways to continuously sharpen your skills and insights as an artist into your own practice and where it sits in the landscape of contemporary art and contemporary society as a whole. With regards specifically to communication, a robust documentation and evaluation practice can help you to evaluate the effectiveness of the communication strategies your employ to promote and disseminate your work.
Documenting your practice can help to develop a picture of your identity as an artist over time, for example, in review, it may highlight persistent themes or tendencies, or longer lines in research throughout different projects.
With all of these respective benefits, documentation and evaluation should be a core part of your toolbox. This practice can help identify whether personal goals are reached, and what the life of a work was; how often was it presented and where. It can also help to identify unhelpful tendencies which are destructive to having a successful creative process, so that you can troubleshoot more easily whenever an issue might arise, or design a strategy to help you to avoid encountering a problem again that you may have come across in a previous process. With regards to PR, old photographs may come in handy when you need to deliver imagery to festivals or dancehouses before your current creation process has even started. In addition, documentation can be used to share your artistic identity in a more in-depth way with potential collaborators, funders and partners, or your audience members who are interested to know more as these materials can live on your website as a curated archive which reflects all of your past activities.
Being an independent artist it may not always be possible to include a documentation and evaluation plan in your communication strategy right away. However, acknowledging the relevance of holding on to certain material and reflecting upon it from time to time may be of help to you in the future. Keep it close at hand. Many strategies for documentation and evaluation may already be part of your practice.
The best and easiest way to be ready for evaluation is to think of evaluation as a constant process, rather than something that happens at the end of a project. As we mentioned above, evaluation helps to consistently assess how effective you are in executing areas of priority to you, to identify issues and correct your course accordingly to increase efficiency in your process, and will ultimately increase the likelihood of the experience being success and positive. Documentation of your experiences during this time provides the data to support your evaluation process.
With this in mind, it is wise to include both documentation and evaluation in your process, and as a core part of your communication strategy from the very start. If you have to do these things to satisfy the requirements of the funder, you might as well make them an integrated, and integral part of your practice, so that the action forms some value for you! Documenting your working processes and other activities (on a website or in a cloud) is a possible method, but there are also many other possibilities. You can find a list of strategies here.
When you decide to document your process, the following questions may help you select what information to document and in what way:
Remember; when thinking about how best to document a process, the questions ‘to whom’ and ‘to what end’ you are communicating remain valid. Returning to your answers on the questions about artistic fingerprint may also be useful when answering the above questions.
Like documentation, evaluation can happen at any point in your timeline and planning of communication. The professional dialogue around your work is on-going and implies reflection upon every stage or phase within the creation process.
More specifically though, funding bodies often do ask for evaluation on paper, generally half way or at the end of a project. They tend to use specific formats, requiring both quantitative and qualitative feedback.
Quantitative evaluation is generally feedback in numbers, and reflects how effective your communication strategy has been. This includes the likes of audience numbers, ticket sales, number of visitors to your website and social media followers. These are all important to keep track of. Qualitative evaluation is more related to your development as an artist. It may be about whether a project changed over time, for example, and how and why. Or they may ask you to describe whether you overcame any barriers and how, and thus zoom into your working methods. You may feel resistant towards sharing your process with funding bodies, but remember: if they do not exist, you do not exist. Therefore our advice is: engage in a constructive relationship with them. How can they guide or structure your documentation and evaluation strategy? How could they possibly even become insiders to your process?
It is important to inform yourself about the formats funding bodies propose for evaluation and tailor your strategies of documentation and evaluation accordingly, to save your time and energy in meeting their requirements, as well as making it a useful part of your creative process.
Even when documentation and evaluation at first glance might feel as though they are aspects of your work that are generally required by others, we hope that by now, as we are approaching the end of this text, you will consider the relevance of both in a wider context. First, documentation helps us as dance professionals to build a shared legacy for the art form and to keep track of all the different individual definitions of contemporary dance alive within the field. This is something that to us feels urgent, as outlined in our first chapters. It is a way to widen the audience notion of what dance is and can be, and in the long run functions as a track record for the development of the art form and its’ impact.
Secondly, besides learning how to deal with the evaluation that is required, it is even more productive to consider what could change if you actively start inviting feedback in. By asking colleagues and audience members for their response – be it to a show, when you are an artist, or to a program, when you are a representative of a dance institution, you can gather a lot of information that can boost your development as a dance professional. Of course, to evaluate and invite feedback in can be vulnerable. Someone might hold a negative opinion, or is not willing to accept your invitation to provide feedback right away. It is an exercise in being uncomfortable, as well as in generosity. But when you want to be in the driver’s seat and take responsibility for your own professional development, it is a crucial step to take.