A number of challenges face arts and cultural organisations in showing their impact on public service outcomes. Jessica Harris examines the types of evidence that commissioners want and looks at how arts and cultural organisations are providing it. This article was originally published by Arts Professional.
'The arts and cultural sector has huge potential to positively impact the health and wellbeing of the population and provide innovative and creative pathways to reducing inequalities in England, but the sector, and commissioners, must be more effective at collecting and using data to demonstrate this in real time.' Dr Justin Varney, Public Health England
For cultural organisations to succeed in winning contracts, they will need to provide evidence that their proposals can help deliver the outcomes that commissioners are looking for. Practices vary from one commissioner to another. They might be looking for a broad outcome, such as improving mental health and wellbeing within a particular demographic group. Or it may be a more specific outcome, such as reducing loneliness and social isolation among a community of older people, and a reduced reliance on the use of pharmaceutical drugs.
To ensure you are measuring the right things, it's helpful to understand the difference between outcomes and outputs. The following definitions, taken from SOLACE's Guide to Commissioning 2012, are useful for this:
- An outcome is the overall end result, i.e. what happens to a service user or population as a consequence of what we do
- Outputs are activities conducted or products created that reach targeted participants, populations, specific audiences, decision-makers or groups of individuals. Outputs are 'what we do' or 'what we offer'.
While it's useful to bear this distinction in mind, it's also useful to be aware that sometimes commissioners themselves are not totally clear on the distinction between the two.