Creative evaluation uses arts-based methods (e.g., visual art, storytelling, drama) instead of traditional methods (e.g., surveys, interviews). This evidence update provides:

  • an overview of the strengths and limitations of creative evaluation methods,
  • a description of four creative methods: photovoice, digital storytelling, painting/drawing and theatre/ drama, and
  • provides useful tools and examples that can support you to use creative approaches in your practice. 

Why is creative evaluation useful?
Creative evaluation methods include drama, poetry, music, digital storytelling, film, and visual arts such as drawing or photography. Creative evaluation methods can be used to:

  • explore lived experience (e.g., experiences of stigma) 
  • examine community members’ experiences with a program or service (e.g., mental health services) (1),
  • increase knowledge and skills (e.g., drama-based sexual health education) (2),
  • advocate for change (e.g. art exhibit to raise awareness of sex worker issues) (3).

Creative approaches are particularly useful when traditional evaluation methods (e.g., surveys, interviews) are not suitable, such as with marginalised groups or people with low literacy. Findings from creative methods can be combined with findings from other evaluation methods to provide a comprehensive overview of a program’s impact (4). Utilising creative methods can make evaluation fun, engaging and accessible to all community members.

How did we explore it?  
We undertook a rapid review of the peer-reviewed and grey literature to identify review studies and examples of creative evaluation and research methods used in public and community health. For a detailed overview of the search methods, see here

What did we find? 
Creative evaluation methods can:

  • Empower community members by enabling them to make sense of their experiences and share their perspectives (5).
  • Provide meaningful and rich descriptions of community members' experiences (6).
  • Highlight new insights and perspectives that may be missed by other methods (7). 
  • Provide an alternative to traditional forms of evaluation such as surveys or interviews that may not be suitable for use with some groups e.g., people from culturally or linguistically diverse backgrounds, young people or people with low literacy levels (5, 6).
  • Be incorporated as part of the program and, therefore promote participant engagement in the evaluation (2).
  • Be used to share evaluation findings or program messages (e.g., art exhibit) with policymakers, service providers and the broader community (3, 8, 9).  

Challenges of creative evaluation methods include the fact that:

  • The creative process can be emotional and re-traumatise community members. Therefore, appropriate support is required throughout the process (1, 5).
  • There is a need to consider ethical issues such as how to gain informed consent, who owns the creative product and how to maintain community members’ right to confidentiality. Maintaining confidentially can be difficult in some creative methods such as digital storytelling (1, 6, 10, 11). The creative process is dynamic and can change over time (12); therefore ethical considerations should be revisited throughout the process. 
  • Creative methods may require participants to have a level of artistic or creative skill or ability (13). Confirming the method is accessible and appropriate with community members before implementation can support an inclusive approach (11, 14).
  • It can be difficult to interpret evaluation findings (6). How findings are interpreted varies depending on the creative method used and there is no standardised approach (13, 15).
  • Social desirability bias may occur as people know their creative product can be viewed by others (12). In addition, confirmation bias may arise if the creative output (e.g. painting) is not interpreted in the way that was intended by the participant (16). The use of multiple sources of data (e.g. arts methods and traditional methods) and participant verification (12) can address these challenges.

Creative evaluation methods: Overview and links to practical tools and examples
This section describes how you can use four creative evaluation methods that were most commonly identified in our review: photovoice, digital storytelling, painting/drawing and theatre/drama. Within the description of each method are links to tools and examples to support your evaluation practice. 

For further ideas on creative evaluation methods, we also recommend the My Peer Toolkit (17).

Photovoice is a participatory method that involves community members in taking photos that reflect their experiences (18). Community members then chose the photos that are most meaningful to them and tell stories about them (18). This is often done as a small group where community members discuss and reflect on the photos (18). A facilitator might ask questions such as ‘What does this photo mean to you?’ or ‘How might others interpret this photo?’ The SHOWED technique (19) provides six questions you could consider asking in a photovoice activity (9).

Photovoice strengths and considerations 
As most people are familiar with photography to some degree and have a camera on their phone, photovoice can be an acceptable and accessible method. Photovoice is a powerful tool to describe a person’s experience, communicate diverse perspectives, promote discussion and raise awareness of an issue (3). When undertaking a photovoice exercise, it is important to establish what is/is not appropriate to photograph with participants, such as only photographing people who give their consent and not taking photos where the person is identifiable (9).

Photovoice tools and examples
For a comprehensive overview of what photovoice is and how you can use it in your practice see the Community Tool Box (20). 

You can view examples of photovoice projects via PhotoVoice (21) and an article on photovoice with women resettled as refugees in Australia (22) and with sex workers (3).

Digital storytelling
A digital story is a short (3-5 minute) media production that tells a story or presents an idea. Media may include images, video, audio, social media (e.g., TikTok) or text and interactive elements (e.g., interactive maps [23]). Digital storytelling is a collaborative approach whereby community members share their stories in a safe and respectful space and have a say on the medium, narration, imagery and music used. 

Digital storytelling strengthens and considerations
Digital stories provide alternative interpretations of the world which can argue against dominant worldviews (5) and are a powerful tool for activism and advocacy (5, 10). Therefore, they are particularly useful to tell stories of marginalised groups or issues (10). Developing stories can be an empowering and transforming experience for participants (10).

Digital storytelling tools and examples
A detailed ‘how to guide’ with resources to run your own workshop is available, see The Alliance Digital Story Telling Toolkit (24). For recommendations on good digital storytelling practice, see a scoping review examining digital storytelling in relation to sexual health and well-being (10).

The StoryCentre (25) has lots of examples of digital stories for inspiration. 
Drawing and painting 
Drawing and painting are a type of visual art. When utilising drawing and painting for evaluation, community members are invited to represent their experiences and perspectives through the art they create. Once the drawing or painting is complete, participants can reflect on what they did and their perceptions of the art. This process can be undertaken individually or as a group (e.g., group mural painting). 

An example of a drawing-based method is ‘rich pictures’. Rich pictures are a systems thinking technique that provides a way for a small group of people to illustrate their understanding of a system or issue (26). Rich pictures include drawings, text and symbols (e.g., arrows) that show relationships between factors that affect an issue (27). Rich pictures can help define an issue and reach a shared understanding or consensus of a situation. However, they are not a good tool to use if you want to know what has changed as a result of a program, although this may come up during discussion (27).

Drawing and painting strengths and considerations 
Once the art is created, a discussion about the art in relation to the issue occurs. In this way, visual art methods offer an opportunity to prompt discussion and can open up conversations on sensitive issues (28). Furthermore, the visual art may then be publicly displayed to raise awareness of an issue or to demonstrate the impact of a program to stakeholders (3). 

Visual art tools and examples
For examples of a wide range of visual methods (e.g., scrapbooks, maps, murals, models) see this slide deck by Jumblies Theatre (29). 

Art Reach Toronto created a toolkit (30) that describes how a variety of creative methods (e.g. group mural drawing, journey drawing) can be used at different stages of a program (beginning, during and end). 

Better Evaluation (27) provides an overview of rich pictures with useful tools and resources, including this instructive video (31) on using rich pictures in evaluation by Judy Oaken.  

Theatre and drama
Theatre can be used in a variety of ways in program evaluation (32). Program participants can participate in role-playing exercises to express their perceptions or experiences of a program or issue. Alternatively, productions can be created with actors who communicate pre-reported evaluation findings (e.g., results of interviews). Once the production is finished a facilitator can guide a discussion with the audience.

Theatre and drama strengths and considerations
Theatre and drama productions can present multiple perspectives that may even contradict each other, in an understandable and entertaining way (33). Because of its ability to present divergent perspectives, it is an excellent communication tool that can facilitate stakeholder and community dialogue, understanding, and action (33).

When theatre-based evaluation is incorporated as part of a program, it connects evaluation to the program activity leading to increased engagement in evaluation. This was demonstrated in the Sharing Stories project which delivered youth drama workshops to improve sexual health knowledge, attitudes and confidence (2). 

Theatre and drama tools and examples 
The Sharing Stories (2) project evaluation provides insight into how theatre-based methods can be used in sexual health. 

The Better Evaluation (32) website provides an overview of theatre-based methods with examples. 

Please CLICK HERE for the references and a brief summary of each article. For more context and detail on methods and findings, please read the complete publication by clicking on the hyperlink.