Before commencing work on a project, whatever it is, it is important to articulate what you hope to achieve with it.
The process of discussing possible project outcomes, agreeing on a set of key goals that are worthwhile but achievable, and recording them for later reference is a valuable way to begin a new collaboration.
What is achievable will be shaped by factors such as time, money and other resources. It doesn’t matter how small the project goals are, so long as you know yourself why you’re doing the work.
One important but frequently overlooked goal is: ‘To still be on good terms with collaborators at the end of the project.’ No matter how disastrous a project outcome may be, as long as you still like each other, you can take a breath and then try again.
Articulating your project goals then prompts other questions to consider, such as: How can you measure whether or not you achieve your goal or progress towards it?
There are many different ways in which to judge the success of a project. For artistic projects, success can include positive critical reviews, audience numbers, money from ticket or artwork sales, or offers of new opportunities.
In the science world, success is sometimes measured in terms of data gathered, coverage by media, research papers published and number of citations.
For projects seeking to have some kind of social change impact, it is important to articulate how you think that change might take place. This involves answering questions such as: What drives social change in the system you’re interested in? How will this project result in the change you are hoping to see?
These intended social change outcomes might be measured in changes in government legislation, media coverage drawing attention to the issue, or public surveys to determine whether peoples’ attitudes have changed.
It is harder to measure the success of projects with longer-term social change goals, because the changes they hope to effect are a long way off in either case. In those situations, Frank Davis argues that the project team should create a ‘Theory of Change’.
‘A Theory of Change says “If this project is successful in achieving these long-term changes, the first steps out of the gate immediately after this project would look like this…” You can assess within a short time whether those first steps are being taken or not, and therefore whether the project is still on track.’
For science-art projects, quantitative metrics may be less important than the qualitative metrics.
Andrew Giger, CEO of the Singapore Science Centre, highlights the value of qualititative measures in curating science exhibitions for the Centre’s young audience.
‘My priorities for our exhibitions are the qualitative experience – does the participant get something from it that they wouldn’t get anywhere else? My success stories are individual observations of a kid who is really engaged with an exhibit.’
He gives the following example: ‘In our climate change exhibition there’s a wall of ice. It’s a refrigerated metal plate that collects moisture and freezes it over. It’s a bit like an iceberg, and it allows visitors to experience and touch ice.
‘I once observed a kid who spent at least 20 minutes at the exhibit, scraping off the ice and trying to find different methods of harnessing the ice and collecting it without it melting, including making a paper container to collect his ice shavings.
To me that was fantastic – he learned so many things about how to insulate, how ice regenerates, including social interactions – but it wasn’t intended. For reasons like that, I try to remember in our programming to leave some space for people to find their own experiences.’
The lesson I take from this is to take time at the beginning of the process to clarify your project’s goals and how you will measure its success.