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Nine dimensions for evaluating creative practices: what they’re for and how to use them

The CreaTures project has developed a tool for evaluating creative practices, and how they connect to transformative change. The 9 Dimensions can be used by funders, policy makers and researchers, as well as by creative practitioners themselves. So what is it, and how do you use it?

Nine dimensions

Ways to talk about creative practice and change

The Nine Dimensions tool. Image layout: Margot Stoete

If there is one thing that has become abundantly clear in our three years in the CreaTures project, it is that creative practitioners seeking to stimulate transformative societal change often have incredibly rich understandings of what change looks like. They draw these understandings from their own practice experience, from inspirational exchanges with other creators, and from diverse writings and theory.  

However, they have told us that they often struggle to translate this richness to the more limited or specific requirements of funding calls and other resources that they need to tap into in order to do their work. Similarly, our conversations with creative practice funders and policy makers also showed that they draw on rich insights about the change potential of creative practices – but that they struggle with the same limitations of funding requirements. Often, the language or structure is not really there to have more meaningful and multidimensional reflections about creative practice and change.  

To help with this challenge, CreaTures has developed a new tool: 9 Dimensions for the reflective evaluation of creative practices. The 9 Dimensions tool has been developed through a structured interview process with a number of our creative practitioners; through dialogues with funders and policy makers; and through extensive engagement with different literatures that provide understanding about the links between creative practice and change – including insights from across sociology, psychology, anthropology, human geography, political science, and sustainability and complex systems science. It has been an amazing journey through these different literatures to put this work together! For more on the research that led to the tool, see here.

Each dimension provides a different way of looking at a creative practice and how it seeks to engage with change. The dimensions are not meant to be understood as a single indicator or target, but rather as an entire world that can be investigated and reflected on. Many more specific questions can be asked about each of these dimensions.  

Click ‘read more’ to find a number of elements for each dimension.

  1. The core question – what this dimension is helping to investigate
  2. Key links between this dimension and societal transformation – why does this dimension make a difference, what do we know about it?  
  3. Descriptive questions – what happened in a project in terms of this dimension?  
  4. So-what questions – how do we know what happened mattered? And for whom?
  5. Potential methods to research this dimension
  6. Research background – a longer version of the ‘links to transformation’ text, with full references to the relevant literature.

Here are the 9 dimensions, organized by three overarching types of change:

Creative practices can stimulate changing meanings

Creative practices may focus on new ways of embodying which allows for people individually and together to tap into the full intelligence of the body, the senses, and experience to engage with the full complexity of life and understand different realities first-hand.

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Creative practices offer unique opportunities for learning. Deep assumptions and worldviews can be questioned through creative practice; and new ways of seeing, being and doing can be learned.

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Creative practices can help in imagining different futures in ways that can be vivid, emotionally resonant and challenging; and imagination is a component in all change actions.

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Illustrations by Komulainen Milja

Creative practices can help change connections

New ways of caring for each other and the world open up the safety, support and empathy needed for better futures, as well as for finding the energy and courage to work toward them together.

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Complementing care are the ways in which creative practices might stimulate new ways of organizing – new communities, networks and support structures that can help create change.

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Finally, creative practices can be core to inspiring action way beyond their immediate interactions by providing emotional energy, ideas and examples.

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Illustrations by Komulainen Milja

Finally, creative practices can help stimulate changes in power

Through the co-creating of creative works, people can harness the power of creative practice to imagine new futures together; to learn new skills, to understand each other's perspectives, to define problems, and more.

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Creative practices can be empowering by raising and strengthening voices and perspectives in systems that normally don’t have any space for them; and people can find new sources of agency and power personally through creative practices.

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But since it is not enough to only build new systems and many current systems have to be dismantled, creative practices can also be used for subverting, symbolically but also practically, broken existing systems and ways of doing things.

Read more
Illustrations by Komulainen Milja

Of course, most creative practices don’t engage with all of these nine dimensions. They might focus mostly on embodying or imagining, for instance; or on learning and care. But they provide a useful multidimensional space for reflection at different moments. Creative practices offer building blocks towards intended outcomes. Framing the focus of projects along some or all of these nine dimensions significantly opens up the space for creative practices to pursue different change pathways, something that will be important for funders.  

The 9 Dimensions can be used to organize and interpret data – for instance from interviews, focus groups, questionnaires or observation notes.  Of particular interest is understanding what happened through the course of the creative practice that was unexpected, and even happened in dimensions that were not really a focus for the creators. How do the insights about what happened compare to the original intentions of the work?

When creative practices are started or funding calls designed, they offer building blocks for a theory of change to help work out what is intended, and in what dimensions change is hoped for. For funding calls specifically, framing the focus of requested projects along some or all of these nine dimensions significantly opens up the possibility space for creative practices to pursue different change pathways.

When creative practices are ongoing or completed, the 9 Dimensions can be used to organize and interpret data – for instance from interviews, focus groups, questionnaires or observation notes. Of particular interest again, is understanding what happened through the course of the creative practice that was unexpected, or occurred in dimensions that were not an initial a focus of the creators. We hope the 9 Dimensions can help you think about the creative practices you’re involved with. Maybe you’re designing a funding call, reviewing work that has recently wrapped up, or thinking about how to present your own ideas to funders? Let us know!