donderdag 1 oktober 2009

Of measurement and knowledge

In her comment on my last post Marian Kat highlighted an area of concern to me: namely that many good and excellent professionals in the museum and library world hardly have time to reflect on their work amongst others because of money and time constraints. One dimension to her comment I think deserves attention: the dialectics of grants.
Part of my work consists of fundraising for educational projects for museums and libraries. When you – like I do – so strongly feel that (non formal) education is important, you have to make it possible I believe. And thus coincidentally I found myself developing knowledge and skills on funds and fundraising for this goal. As such I have noticed that over the years the demands of grants and subsidies have shown a strong tendency towards SMART(ER)-ness. As far as I am concerned this in large part is understandable and to some extent justifiable.
But lately I do feel that we are completely going overboard. We want to be able to measure anything and everything, and we increasingly tend to limit our knowledge to what we can and do measure. Anything else is "esoteric" "spiritual" or, the most deadly of all "irrelevant". Simultaneously we do acknowledge that there are still so many things that we do know and which we cannot measure. I consciously do no put “yet” in that sentence. Because to me that would imply that being able and capable to measure everything is the goal of our activities. And that is something I do not agree with, not in quanitative research nor in qualitative research. To me there will always be space between words and interpretation to numbers that are vital to make meaning.
Having said that, the dialectic of grants does pose interesting challenges to especially non-formal education. Because in order to prove their worth and work, non-formal education programmes have to adhere to the logics of formal education, to toolbox logics and SMART-formulations of goals. Ironically in order to obtain funds to demonstrate their true value. It’s a difficult position: proving your worth via a logics that is not inherent to your activities, vision and goals. Moreover: that you basically at least in part oppose. Many non-formal educational programmes and activities (aim to) go to the heart of education: to the attitude of children and adults. But how do you measure a change in attitude? This is the question that many museums, libraries and science centers see themselves confronted with. It’s something that I struggle with for clients.
Recently while browsing the library of the University of Humanistics, where I take part in an inspiration course on Meaning and Power in organizations, I stumbled upon one of their newly acquired publications: Getting Involved. A great read, I am only half way still (lack of timeJ) but this is a truly inspirational book. In the chapter Pedagogy for Citizenship Ruth Deakin-Circk explores how in different studies the impact of pedagogical methods such as debates, narratives, role-play etc on the attitudinal level has been demonstrated. The overviews in this article would provide grand assistance to anybody looking to for scienctific foundation for their work and, maybe more importantly, for any professional in doubt of the contribution of alternative teaching methods. Methods which often form the core of non-formal education. In a further chapter in this book I read about how narratives have been successfully used to measure impact at the attitudinal level. Both the overview provided and the attention paid to narratives as instrument for measuring have inspired me. Hopefully anytime soon I will get an opportunity to put this inspiration into practice. In the meantime, I would love to learn from people who have done reasearch into this or who would be interested in this type of measurement. Maybe we can form a team and provide museums, libraries and science centers with a valuable road ahead! 

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