Evaluation Exchange: Wac Arts empowering young people to change their world through the arts

ISIKLE’s Evaluation Exchange is a partnership between UCL and voluntary and community sector organisations in Camden and East London that aims to improve evaluation practice. This blog highlights the work of Wac Arts, an inclusive, multi-disciplinary arts charity whose mission is to empower young people.

Wac Arts is an inclusive, multi-disciplinary arts charity whose mission is to empower young people to change their world through the arts. For over forty years, Wac Arts have provided high quality arts training for young people aged 5-26, with a commitment to those who face physical, social and/or economic barriers to opportunity. The year-round programme provides creative opportunities enabling young people to explore their creativity and cultural identity, tackle important social issues, while building transferable life skills.

People dancing around with arms raised

Wac Arts identified the need to develop a cross-organisation evaluation approach to enhance their impact measurement having already completed a Theory of Change. Moreover, face to face uptake had been affected by the pandemic and they were in need of new, effective and creative evaluation tools.

The UCL team assigned to work with Wac Arts included David Rypel, a PhD student at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, Isobel Pagendam, a Geography PhD student and Hazel Baxter a PhD student at the Institute of Education.

COVID and the busy Christmas season sadly limited the teams’ initial desire to hit the ground running but after many virtual meetings, the UCL team were able to fully understand the evaluation needs of Wac Arts and the challenges they face when working with such a range of programmes. David and Hazel were honoured to attend one of the impressive and inspiring sessions which helped the team gain a deeper understanding of Wac Arts’ work and their evaluation needs.

The UCL team decided to focus on designing evaluation tools which could be used effectively in Junior Wac Arts (weekly classes for children aged 5-14), Senior Wac Arts (weekly classes for young people aged 14-26), Wac Nites (weekly sessions for young people with profound and multiple learning disabilities aged 11-30) and Wonder Wac (sessions for young people with additional needs aged 11-18, referred to Wac Arts by Camden Council).

A range of evaluation tools were designed to evaluate the progress of the four main aims of Wac Arts:

  • To develop young people’s skills in an art form
  • To facilitate a space where young people can form healthy and collaborative peer relationships
  • To improve the well-being of young people
  • To empower young people to be creative decision-makers

These tools included an accessible questionnaire to be completed by the young people on an annual basis, an emotion-tracker tree on which participants place colour coded leaves depending on their feelings before and after the sessions, and a bullseye tool on which young people place stickers to illustrate their answers to key evaluation questions. 

Some of the UCL team visited Junior Wac to pilot these ideas which proved to be an incredibly useful experience for all involved. The session tutors were delighted with the more visual, interactive tools and saw the potential for their use on a regular basis. The questionnaire was accessed successfully by the Junior Wac participants. Reflecting on this pilot, the UCL team recognised the need to adapt these tools further to enable access for all young people. Wac Arts managers have been pleased with the findings of the pilot and intend to include the new tools into their evaluation approach.

It has been a hugely rewarding experience working with such an inspiring organisation.