Art Works Blog

Taking Note: A Progress Report on NEA Outcomes Measurement

As we welcome the new year, the Office of Research and Analysis (ORA) would like to take a moment to reflect on progress made toward two of the goals and outcomes emphasized in the NEA's strategic plan.

One goal is "to engage the public with diverse and excellent art," a key outcome of which is that "Americans throughout the nation experience art." Regarding this deliverable, the NEA has embarked on a two-phase pilot study of how we might effectively report, for a cohort of grantees that mount live exhibits or performances, the percentage of audience members who demonstrate that they were "affected" by these events. As part of the first phase of this study, the consultant Wolf Brown produced an extensive review of published works that examine measurements of "affect," especially regarding arts participation.

This review was completed in October 2011, and has proved foundational for the NEA's attempts to realize a long-term strategy for measuring audience affect in a pragmatic, cost-effective way. A report from the review is available here on the NEA website.

In addition to measuring audience affect, we are also working to acquire a more in-depth understanding of where NEA-funded arts events occur, and who benefits from them.

In 2010, the NEA committed to a significant upgrade of its processes and technology for collecting location-specific project information from NEA grantees. This investment is now starting to pay off. Because we require grantees to report street-level addresses for the venues where their NEA-sponsored arts activities have taken place, we are in a position to understand the agency's full impact in ways that previously were unimaginable. For example, the following graphic of project activity locations (for the NEA's fiscal year 2010 grants) depicts the geographic reach of NEA grantees:

Another major goal of the Arts Endowment---one that supports and reinforces all of the agency's other activities, in fact---is "to enable the NEA mission through organizational excellence" so that, among other outcomes, the "NEA is an efficient and vigilant steward of public funds." The following bullets cover two initiatives underway that will help us meet this objective:

  • The NEA recently conducted its first survey of grant applicants. The survey revealed a broadly positive response to the periodic public webinars the agency hosts on grant application guidelines. A majority of survey respondents who had viewed a webinar said it helped them better prepare their applications. Consequently, the NEA is expanding its webinar efforts. If you are interested in applying for an NEA grant, we hope that you'll join us for a webinar that suits your schedule between January 10 and February 12, 2013. To participate, please go here.
  • In early 2013, we expect to launch an advanced search page for grants awarded by the NEA. This new search feature will allow applicants, grantees, researchers, and other interested members of the public to more easily access grant records and obtain additional information that was previously unavailable through the NEA's website. The search page will also provide an option for downloading data tables, allowing stakeholders to conduct their own analyses of the agency's grant-making activities.

These projects, along with other ORA efforts to advance the collection, analysis, and distribution of arts-related data, have sparked an increased appetite for information across the agency. Over the past six months alone, ORA worked with discipline staff on program-specific analyses; provided agency-wide guidance on analytic tools; and presented data to our state and regional partners.

As we continue to improve our internal data-sharing and collaboration, we are also working to make the agency more transparent. This February, the NEA will have a home on the performance.gov website. From this portal, the public will be able to link to our strategic plan, budget submissions, and annual performance reports. Throughout 2013, we plan to share additional information on agency metrics, results from data visualization projects, and, with luck, some success stories on our uses of measurement.

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