In addition to traditional research methods, there are more creative ways to gather data and feedback—for example, using drawings and videos, diaries and storytelling.
These methods are often less formal and, instead of a researcher asking the questions, participants may be asked to document their own thoughts and feelings.
To measure your impact, you can use a mixture of interactive methods to draw out perspectives and feelings that might not be captured by more formal methods or by words alone. Creative methods can be used to understand change over time, or to obtain quick feedback. Such methods can be used in-person or remotely.
There are several categories of creative methods. This guide will focus on arts-based research methods and technology-based research methods, although there are other existing resources that explore creative ways to approach data collection (including participatory evaluation).
In this guide we take you through the pros and cons of using these types of creative methods, the basic principles for use, and we share a selection of methods with everything you need to try them out for yourself.
Why use creative methods to collect data?
- Puts participants in control
- Less time consuming for users
- Makes evaluation more fun and less formal
- Helps you understand the user journey
- Captures different views and perspectives
- Reaches groups who may struggle with interviews, focus groups or questionnaires. E.g. where users are likely to struggle to understand or lack confidence
- Can provide a more engaging record of impact
- Can be particularly useful when working with children and young people
- Self-selection of participants may bias the findings
- Partial perspective, because people choose how to represent themselves. Further contextualisation may be needed
- Can be difficult to interpret visual or other representations
- Aggregating data is difficult
- These methods are difficult to conduct at scale
Principles for using creative methods effectively
- Be clear on why you are doing it, the questions you are seeking to answer and what value it brings to your work and to your users’ experience. When using creative methods, it is important to reflect on the particular needs of your target audience. Use creative methods when they are appropriate, when they add value and when they represent your users’ views more accurately and are more inclusive.
- Creative doesn’t mean quicker. Be realistic about how long it takes. As with other evaluation methods, time should be taken to make sure it is done well, the information collected is meaningful and it is used in appropriate ways. When it comes to analysing the information, interpretation may require a high level of skill and aggregating the data may be difficult.
- Choose methods that are appropriate for your audience. Think about how creative methods could fit into your existing interactions. You might not always be able to do this, but do consider the time implications for the users and be transparent about it. Keep in mind potential challenges of creative methods; for example, some participants may lack confidence in drawing or storytelling.
- Involve users throughout the evaluation process. This might include involving beneficiaries in discussions about the most appropriate method to use, and analysing the data together and discussing the implications of the learning.
- Make sure you are aware of who you could be excluding by using creative methods. Make sure your methods are culturally appropriate and how your methods will impact upon different cultures. You should also explore the accessibility of the methods you have chosen. Do they allow for a range of voices to be heard? Whose voices are not being heard?
- Evaluation methods should improve equity. The methods, process and outputs should lead to greater equity. You should seek out voices that are not being heard and the evaluation should not only look at the individual’s journey, but also at how structural factors influence inequality. This can help drive systemic change.
- Think about mixed methods. Try to complement more traditional methods with creative methods. For example, you could accompany visual methods with semi-structured interviews. Keep checking what works and be open to adapting your methods. As with all your work, you should have a regular process for reviewing the information collected and the processes used.
- Don’t just think about creative methods, think about creative ways of sharing too. Creative collection isn’t always possible. If you have collected data in more formal, traditional methods, that doesn’t mean it has to stay in that format. For example, videos, animations, user created content are creative ways you could share this data.
Creative method cards
We have brought together lots of content to give you ideas for creative evaluation methods. Download and browse our creative method cards to help you decide which methods could be suitable for your work.
This webpage has been adapted from the Inspiring Impact programme, which ran from 2011 until early 2022 and supported voluntary organisations to improve their impact practice. More information about the Inspiring Impact programme.