In my last blog, I started to discuss some of the criticisms levelled at research such as ours - and how our study is trying to address them.
One further issue to discuss is this. How can research demonstrate ‘cultural value’, ‘benefits’, ‘effects’, etc., especially if other arts practitioners would like to deliver the same type of activities?
Our study is addressing this from a number of perspectives. The value that I am personally interested is the impact on the individual. Somehow, we have to measure/capture/document that impact to demonstrate its value. In the first instance, it is good to think about how and why taking part in one of our art programmes might ‘work’. In other words, develop a theory of the mechanisms.
We did quite a bit of this during the development of our research. Since then, we have done a lot more.
We have surveyed a range of stakeholders for their expert insights into what they thought was necessary for an art programme to be successful, and also their experiences of what not to do.
We have looked at the limited literature, using a methodology called realist synthesis. This approach critically examines other research and evaluations to understand how, why and in what circumstances art programmes for people with dementia might be successful, without the focus on effectiveness. It uses literature to develop a programme theory.
We have had a workshop with our artists, talking about the findings from these two approaches and exploring their practice, asking some provocative questions such as ‘how do you know what you do is having an impact?’
All of this has led to the development of our draft ‘foundations for excellent socially engaged visual arts practice’ which sets out best practice for our research.
Our artists from Nottingham Contemporary, Equal Arts and Denbigh Council Community Arts are now busy delivering the arts programme in community settings in North Wales, an NHS assessment unit in Derbyshire and care homes in Newcastle. Our research methods, which combines numbers, narratives and visuals will aim to demonstrate the impact of our work.