When you work at a humanities center, you realize quickly that the humanities can be surprisingly difficult to explain, be it to your best friend, a fellow conference attendee, or a stranger at the airport. We like First Lady Michelle Obama’s take: “The arts and humanities define who we are as a people. That is their power ― to remind us of what we each have to offer, and what we all have in common. To help us understand our history and imagine our future. To give us hope in the moments of struggle and to bring us together when nothing else will.”
If the humanities are indeed how we understand each other, our experiences, and the world in which we live, then perhaps literature, history, and [insert your favorite humanities field here] could best be described as ‘tools’ in humankind’s evaluation toolbox! Because we believe it is how one goes about building this understanding – and ultimately what one does with it – that define an individual or organization, the Minnesota Humanities Center is filling its toolbox with Utilization-Focused Evaluation (U-FE) tools. This approach, developed by Michael Quinn Patton, is based on the principle that an evaluation should be judged on its usefulness to its intended users (who are actual people - gasp!), and this attention to use and intended users shapes not only the findings but the process itself.
As Nora Murphy and Jennifer Tonko shared in a recent blog post, “A values-driven, relationship-based approach requires different kinds of evaluation.” UFE helps us as internal evaluators not only to understand the impact of the humanities, but also to live into the values and principles of our work. For example, we build and strengthen relationships with our primary intended users -- who in the case of Humanities Center programs, are often colleagues and program participants -- and we help them understand what is working to amplify community solutions for change.
As you strive to understand the impact of the humanities, we hope people are at the center of an evaluation that reminds you what you have to offer, helps you understand history and imagine a future, and, gives hope in moments of struggle. If your interest in the subject has been piqued, there are great resources on U-FE to match any appetite:
- U-FE checklist
- Utilization Focused Evaluation: A primer for evaluators https://evaluationinpractice.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/ufeenglishprimer.pdf)
- Essentials of Utilization-Focused Evaluation
Utilization-Focused Evaluation (Fourth Edition)