This month has been a big month for the world of event evaluation, so much so it is hard to keep track. Here’s what we’ve got our eye on!

First, the OECD have published new guidance on measuring the impact of major events. At the launch event, there was a real sense of ambition about the move to standardise indicators, increasing the ability to compare between events. We’re excited about the potential for pooling data across events, too – which is why we’re currently funding FRY Creative to bring together data from Unboxed, Birmingham 2022 and Coventry 2021. We expect the work will highlight some of the challenges of comparing data directly between events, and support attempts to streamline data collection in the future. The OECD resource should also provide a strong basis for UK Sport’s review of Event Impacts, which is currently underway. 

There is a risk however, that increasing comparability actually compounds one of the main problems of event evaluation – the tendency towards boosterism rather than honest sharing of learning. We know, particularly in this current financial climate, event organisers and commissioners are under pressure to justify money spent, which can lead to evaluations that favour big numbers and moving case studies, even pitting one event against the other rather than looking at collective impact.

As well as shared indicators, we need a shared vision for what events can achieve. The power of Theory of Change was another theme from last week’s OECD launch. But we think we need to go beyond individual events.  Event Scotland’s strategy to 2030 – which has been open for public consultation this spring – does just that. And we are excited to be working with Warwick Business School to create an ecosystem theory of change for events. You can read more about that here – and we’ll be looking for people to share their views as it evolves.

The evaluation reports published last week for the Rugby League World Cup and the Women’s Euros demonstrate that it has now become standard to think about social as well as economic impact. The Rugby League World Cup, under the leadership of Tournament Director Dean Hardman, worked with eighteen host localities to create tailored plans for what the tournament could achieve in each area – placing that long term vision at the heart of all their plans. For the Women’s Euros there was a clear and consistent focus on what the tournament could for the profile and take up of the Women’s game – rather than promising a single event could do everything, this focus has allowed them to meet or exceed many of their goals a year on. There are some fantastic achievements in the report published last week, but this is definitely a celebratory report rather than a critical examination.

On Friday 14 July, we’ll see the first headlines from Eurovision at the Modern Music City conference in Liverpool. This evaluation which will be explored in more detail at a conference in the autumn is pioneering in many ways. We’re proud at Spirit to be playing a small part in this through our funding for the wellbeing evaluation.

Also upcoming is the final evaluation for Coventry City of Culture 2021. The difficulties of Coventry City of Culture Trust should not overshadow the achievements of the year, of its pioneering evaluation, led by the University of Warwick, University of Coventry and DCMS. Leeds 2023 and the Centre for Cultural Value are also taking an innovative approach to the evaluation of their year of culture, and many of us in attendance at the Born In Bradford Fest last week are excited about the potential of Bradford 2025 to make use of this globally-recognised Cohort Study. There are plenty of signs that DCMS is increasing its rigor around major event evaluation, perhaps building on Harman Saggar’s Valuing Cultural Capital work. Their current areas of research interest include development of a standardised baseline monitoring and evaluation framework for major cultural events and analysing and quantifying, in economic and wider social values metrics, the legacy benefits of large-scale sports events.

And all this is likely just a fraction of the work going on around events evaluation. It’s certainly hard for decision makers, event organisers and academics seeking to understand how to maximise the power of events. Whilst the OECD and Event Impacts will give us the measurement practice, and we hope WBS will give us the vision, we at Spirit of 2012 think there is somewhere to go to find the latest evidence and research: a data observatory for events. It was one of two main proposals emerging from our events inquiry published in January, and we are currently seeking responses to our ITT for a formal scoping study to get this started. I’d love to hear more about the work going on in this space – including what I’ve missed. Please contact me at [email protected].

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