smARTplaces (SP) is a project aiming to revolutionize the way culture and art can be perceived and consumed, using digital technology and new forms of cultural mediation. A partnership of eight museums alongside research partners BCU and University Oulu, the project explores new approaches to audience development and engagement, co-creation, capacity building within the institutions, international exposure of art exhibitions and new creative works. With a coherent and multi-layered use of digital technologies, adaptive storytelling concepts, joint exhibitions and on- and offline activities, the partnering institutions will become smARTplaces, enabling them to communicate with and engage audiences across Europe.
BCU takes the role of research institution for this long-term project, responsible for originating and implementing research methodologies and, through M and E Lab, the evaluation of the smARTplaces project against key criteria. While the M and E team in their evaluation role will work at some critical distance from those other BCU researchers involved in the project, it is worth noting across the board our extensive experience of audience research and understanding of digital cultures and knowledge exchange methodologies to gather and disseminate project data. As with many of our projects, our evaluation process focuses on those partners where transformation is hoped for, in this case the eight museums, and their wider beneficiaries and audiences.
This project is at an early stage but it is clear that this allows us to determine ‘starting positions’ in those institutions, to then benchmark against as the project progresses. This allows the project team to adjust methods or approach accordingly, as well as evaluating the contribution of the work against project aims. These evaluative processes are likely to include interviews with partner organisations and audiences during events, but also assess quantitative change such as increased or diversity of audiences.
As evaluators, we will take an integrated approach from the outset to produce iterative research evaluations capturing and disseminating findings regarding practice, manifested in monthly blog dispatches, social media activity and two annual interim reports. This open and accessible approach to evaluating the effectiveness and impact of research is in itself impactful in ways that are conducive to the project’s themes of public engagement. Such reports and evaluation of project activities will also be disseminated to stakeholders, cultural and academic networks in ways appropriate to those parties e.g. conference presentations.