Investigating a new educational landscape with Creative Spark

New Frontiers

Social researchers are used to handling data from a many diverse sources. In the space of a project timeline, a member of our team can, for example, gain a full understanding of a schools’ funding system, the main issues around racial harassment in UK higher education institutions (HEIs), or be able to recite the Graduate Outcomes Questionnaire word by word (one of us can do it backwards). Over many years of work within the HE sector, IFF have become experts in all kinds of areas within higher education and the broader education sector.

Every once in a while, though, a project comes along that feels particularly exciting; a true venture into unknown territory. IFF’s work, in partnership with research partner Ecorys, on the evaluation of the British Council’s Creative Spark programme very much fits this bill.

Whilst HEI portfolio development, partnership building and recruitment strategy are key areas that IFF work within, the evaluation of the Creative Spark programme, involving HEIs in the UK partnering with counterparts in Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Armenia and Ukraine engaged us in the investigation a new educational landscape.

Meeting the Creative Spark team

The creation of Creative Spark began with a report conducted by IFF research on behalf of the British Council published in May 2018. The report looked at the potential for partnership growth between UK and the wider Europe HEIs in the field of ‘creative enterprise’, making recommendations on the formation of a higher education enterprise programme that could facilitate and structure these partnerships.

Fast forward to November 2019, and Elizabeth Shepherd and Laura Hilger from our HE team presented findings from this study, and the monitoring and evaluation approach at the launch of Creative Spark programme in Tbisili, Georgia.

The Creative Spark Programme

Creative Spark is a British Council-funded programme involving the seven Wider European countries mentioned above. It is ambitious both in terms of scope and intended impact, funding 38 partnerships between UK HEIs and Wider Europe HEIs in the first year; with an initial year one aim to reach over 10,000 students and young entrepreneurs via Train the Trainer sessions, curriculum development and wider university strategy development to improve local capacity.

In addition to its overall objectives, the Creative Spark programme emphasises the need for partners to reflect and act upon local social issues when considering the design of their activities, and selection of beneficiaries.

The programme represents therefore a truly a multi-disciplinary approach, focusing on enterprise education for students and young entrepreneurs, raising awareness of the creative industries on a national level, and facilitating beneficiaries to tackle the most prevalent and challenging local social issues in their entrepreneurial activities.

Monitoring and Evaluation for year one

Seven Countries. 38 Partnerships. 88 individual organisations. Two researchers conducting qualitative fieldwork visits (with a few days of Russian Duolingo to help).

The scale of the programme was certainly a key challenge in developing an evaluation approach in collaboration with our colleagues from Ecorys. In development of a theory of change and analytical framework, the following monitoring & evaluation (M&E) objectives formed the bed rock of our approach:

  1. Assessing effectiveness of Creative Spark and sustainability of its outcomes and impacts over time
  2. Demonstrating long-term outcomes and impacts on programme countries’ economic growth, regional stability and engagement with UK culture and trade, in line with the British Council’s M&E responsibilities to its funders
  3. Demonstrating how the programme supports social inclusion and gender equality
  4. Building evaluation capacity across the partnerships and the British Council
  5. Helping track programme / partnership progress in a way that is consistent across partnerships and countries

Whilst designing the evaluation tools it was important for us not only to consider cultural and language barriers, functionality and design of online surveys and suitable timing for data collection, but also to acknowledge that the monitoring and evaluation for years 3, 4 and 5 of the programme would be led by the British Council project teams in each country. It was therefore essential for us to design an M&E programme that could be useable by the British Council following IFF’s involvement.

Learnings from year one

Now this would be giving it away a little! Next week we’ll be presenting the key findings from year one of Monitoring and Evaluation of the Creative Spark Programme at Queens College Oxford as part of the year two launch.  As testament to the strength of the programme, the British Council have announced 12 additional partnerships which will be launched at the conference. More to come on that next week.

In the meantime, we will leave you with some pictures of the qualitative fieldwork visits across the seven Wider Europe countries which give some idea as to the enthusiasm, passion and dedication that partners and beneficiaries had for Creative Spark.

Visiting Kazakhstan

For more information on IFF’s work on monitoring and evaluation for the Creative Spark programme, and research within the HE sector please contact Elizabeth on Elizabeth.Shepherd@iffresearch.com

…And if you ever find yourself in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan waiting for a delayed flight, make sure you try the Laghman.

Author: Daniel Salamons, Research Manager