Metrics…a necessary evil

October 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

I stumbled across an interesting article within an article while reading about a recent initiative called "ArtPlace", which is focused on ”groundbreaking work in creative placemaking" (with the help of significant funding from a variety of large national foundations). The link to the initial article is http://www.artsjournal.com/artfulmanager/. A primary goal of "ArtPlace" is to develop "vibrancy" in communities across the country. But how will people know if a place is more "vibrant" than it was before this initiative? Fear not! "…an evolving set of Vibrancy Indicators related to people, activity, and value," will provide metrics for a highly qualitative adjective that hopefully will describe these improved communities. I was a bit skeptical about these vibrancy indicators, so I checked out the link to find out more about them (this is the article within an article I mentioned earlier, http://www.artplaceamerica.org/vibrancy-indicators/).

This article states, "The ability to attract and retain talent depends, in part, on quality of place. And the best proxy for quality of place is vibrancy…ArtPlace is developing a new set of measures to understand the impact of our investments on vibrancy. We call these measures “Vibrancy Indicators.” These indicators will be used to assess the level of vibrancy of different areas within cities, and importantly, to measure changes in vibrancy over time in the communities where ArtPlace invests." Ok, this makes sense, especially the part about needing to justify all of the money being poured into the project, but trying to measure something as intangible as vibrancy is a bit problematic. This all brings to mind our recent discussion in "Arts & Education" about the biased Likert scale questions on the successful impact of an arts initiative (notice my strategic placement of "successful" right before impact….). The questions leave no room for any conclusion other than success. This is the same case for the vibrancy indicators. These indicators are not labeled, "Indicators of Effectiveness" or something more objective, they are "VIBRANCY indicators". I think the desired impact on these communities is pretty clear.

However, at least the designers of these indicators have somewhat of an idea how dicey it gets when assigning metrics to something so subjective and qualitative. The author goes on to say, "We define vibrancy as places with an unusual scale and intensity of specific kinds of human interaction. While we are not able to measure vibrancy directly, we believe that the measures we are assembling, taken together, will provide useful insights into the nature and location of especially vibrant places within cities." The bottom line to the whole process of trying to measure the immeasurable is the need for funding. The majority of people agree that arts, creativity, and yes, vibrancy, are all great things to have in communities. But these things all cost money, and it is our job, as arts administrators, to convince people to cough up the money for "vibrancy". And I suppose it is also our job to come up with things like "Vibrancy Indicators" to obtain this money.

-Anna

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