Rethinking Models of Evaluation: Sustainability as the Goal of International Cultural Organisations

Bell, Simon; Gillespie, Marie and Wilding, Colin (2016). Rethinking Models of Evaluation: Sustainability as the Goal of International Cultural Organisations. In: International Sustainable Development Research Conference, 13-15 Jul 2016, Lisbon, Portugal.


The purpose and conduct of organisational evaluation is variously defined and understood. With the shift to the ‘new managerialism’ and the steady advance of audit culture in the public sector, evaluation models have proliferated but they are often narrowed to crude measures of impact and performance. They subject people to unhelpful, top-down forms of appraisal and accountability in the interests of transparency and economic efficiency with little respect afforded to the multiple perspectives and divergent goals of the actors involved. There is often a lack of clarity about what is being evaluated and from whose perspective. This paper traces the development of the Cultural Value Model (CVM). It was developed as part of UK-wide research programme aimed at rethinking how we assess the value of cultural activities. The primary objective of the CVM is to provide an analytical and methodological framework for re-conceiving models of evaluation. In particular, it shifts the frame of analysis away from impact to value. Our project aimed to deliver a robust, evidence-based understanding of the changing cultural value of the British Council (BC) and BBC World Service (BBCWS). These publically funded international organisations are an integral part of the UK’s diplomatic infrastructure and subject to stringent accountability measures to satisfy diverse stakeholders. They are experiencing rapid and convulsive change in response to financial, technological and geopolitical forces and their purpose and value is being questioned. In the paper we argue that the CVM, in fostering a more engaged, participatory approach to performance evaluation challenged and even subverted existing practices but with mixed results. In the case of the BC, it generated a high degree of interest and engagement to the extent that it is currently being adopted and integrated into organisational practices. In contrast, the BBCWS were more resistant to innovation believing that their audience ratings and internal reviews suffice. The flexible adaptability of the CVM presents an opportunity for other organisations to move from away from top-down performance and impact assessment towards a more inclusive, reflective and sustainable model of value. However we need to get a better understanding the organisational constraints that obstruct innovation if more participatory models of learning, monitoring and evaluation are to intervene in social and organisational processes and achieve sustainable models of good practice.

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