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Evaluating place-based funding programmes

Five challenges and approaches

Place-based approaches to funding are nothing new. However, they are becoming increasingly important in the cultural sector, as a way of joining-up culture with socio-economic agendas and achieving long-lasting change.

We recently presented, alongside the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), at the annual conference of the Social Research Association on the challenges of evaluating place-based funding schemes. Here we drew from our evaluation of HLF’s Great Place funding programme in England (jointly run with Arts Council England).

The 16 Great Place projects in England are piloting new approaches that place culture at the heart of communities and local government. Budgets range from £500k to £1.5 million, with all projects running for three years and each designed to meet the strengths and challenges of its local area.

From our work evaluating Great Place at programme level, we identified five core challenges in evaluating such place-based cultural funding programmes:

  • Definition: project aims are broad and approaches very variable. Evaluation needs to focus firmly on outcomes – the change – rather than outputs
  • Complexity: multiple projects with multiple activities. Robustness comes from shared monitoring tools not shared approaches. Our research methodology prioritises exploring how change is achieved – through focus groups, case studies and project manager surveys – not what activities are taking place
  • Data: limited data exists on local audiences, with limited resources to gather data at place level. Changes in local audiences can’t therefore be measured directly but can be addressed through proxies such as knowledge and confidence levels of cultural managers
  • Timeframe: funding is time-limited, but real change is known to take time to deliver. Evaluation timeframes need to be adapted to extend beyond the project timeline
  • Attribution: places will experience change and investment from many different sources. Identifying the impact of any one initiative is therefore problematic. BOP uses logic models and counterfactual studies to help identify the specific contribution of particular projects.

With these approaches we are able to draw learning from place-based funding schemes about the cultural sector’s role in developing local areas.

- Rebekah Polding, Senior Consultant