Theory-based evaluation and the social impact of the arts

Susan Galloway

The well-documented challenges in researching the social impacts of the arts are closely related to key issues in contemporary social research and evaluation, most particularly the problem of causal attribution. The article contends that some of the most common criticisms of the evidence base for the social impact of the arts relate to the successionist model of change which underpins positivist social science research and evaluation. Illustrating this with reference to research on the arts and quality of life, the article considers the alternative generative understanding of causation that underpins theory-based evaluation (TBE) approaches, favoured recently in the UK as part of the “What Works?” agenda. While these approaches fit well with knowledge about the determinants of arts impact, the article considers whether in fact TBE approaches offer an effective strategy for understanding how and why arts engagement can result in social change. The limitations and possibilities of TBE are considered with reference to four recent UK studies of the impact of the arts on individuals which make use of them.

Source: Article Abstract