I wanted to spend some time thinking about how I know that I’ve made a good piece of work (or hosted a good process, if I’m not dealing with an object as an outcome).

I went back to the evaluative document I wrote for the final research project of my MA a couple of years ago. (Like a dissertation, but different.) There’s a section in it where I describe the things that signified to me that I had made something worthwhile:

I knew I had done a decent job with this project, but I was blown away by the responses of people at the exhibition. Many first reacted with disbelief and suspicion as I explained “each pod is connected to the place in its story; walk with the pod and when you are facing in the direction of that place it will respond and let you know”. Some later explained that this was because it was just made from paper and they didn’t think it would really do anything; that they thought I was lying to them. Throughout the three days I repeatedly watched people stop dead in their tracks and facial expressions change to astonishment and delight.


Some people chose to walk with a single pod around the whole room, others spent twenty minutes or so spending time with all of the stories. Young, old, darting about, in wheelchairs and everything in between.


Many times I saw people call over family members to share the experience.
Many times I heard conversations starting “That was really interesting!” as groups left the room.
Many times I was told that this stood out for being the only interactive thing people had encountered throughout the whole degree show.
Many times I chatted to people about the project and the overlaps with their stories.


I recognised a few people making return visits over the three days I was there. The most striking for me was the student who discovered the pods on the Friday evening, then on the Saturday made sure he brought all the groups he was leading for the Open Day guided tours in to have a go. On Sunday he came back with his father.


I can’t remember if I made anyone cry with that project, but that’s another sign that I’ve done well, albeit one that always feels a little bit perverse.

I’m trying to categorise these responses now: provoking wonder; exceeding expectations (or being completely different to expectations); connecting to something in/of the people who encounter it; starting something; being something that people want to share with others.


I think these indicators of success would hold true for any of my self-initiated projects, but commissions are usually have someone else’s engagement agenda attached – usually more or different audiences. [Thinks: have I ever encountered a brief about the same people engaging differently?]

One thing that’s already occurred to me regarding that is that I’ve never really had the chance to assess things at the beginning so I have a before and after state against which to measure change. I’ll get told that they want to attract more ‘Adventure Families’ or whatever, but I won’t have much more information beyond that. In an ideal world, that should probably change…


Back in May, when I was just starting to think about this research into evaluation and to mention it to people, I was put in touch with Ann-Marie Carey: a research fellow in the School of Jewellery at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design.

Our mutual contact recommended her on the basis of the impact statement Ann-Marie produced for work on the Cheapside Hoard of jewellery from the late 16th and early 17th centuries and how that successfully demonstrated the value of the project.

The project centred around the use of digital technologies such as digital scanning, CAD processes and rapid prototyping in producing detailed replicas of objects from the hoard, and how, when this was combined with knowledge of contemporary craft techniques, new light was shed on how the pieces were originally produced. Having replicas of some of the jewellery also gave the Museum of London the opportunity to use a handling collection and for audiences to relate to the artefacts in different ways.

Here’s a video from the university website going into a bit more detail: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pmty7koBVxQ

Ahead of our meeting, Ann-Marie sent me a copy of a Research Excellence Framework impact case study document. Probably I’ll be delving into what exactly they are and the criticisms of that system later, but for now it’s enough to say that I was expecting our conversation to be about the hoard, the research and the impact statement.

Things went different!

I’ve left this a stupidly long time before writing it up, so I can no longer remember the details, but what’s stuck with me since has been how we started off in student:teacher mode with Ann-Marie asking me to describe my practice and what’s important to me about it, then a colleague of hers happened to bring in an (I think) 3D printed pendant. A casual question from me asking if this was it in the green state or if it needed to be sintered revealed my previous training in metallurgy and suddenly the conversation became much more animated.

It’s got me thinking now about how much those moments of animation mean to me in my practice generally: when an encounter with a stranger lights on a shared experience or viewpoint and everything gets shifted into a different place and a different gear.

This week I’ve been talking with people about a planned residency for next year and at one point described my job as being to find the hooks and springboards to help facilitate meaningful connections between people’s experiences and the museum’s collections. I think maybe the animated states are the indicator of the hooks coming into play, so I’ll have to think of a way of recognising that process in evaluation.