The long road to Oxford

Whilst the journey to Oxford for the launch of Creative Spark Year 2 from our offices near London Bridge was a relatively straightforward one, the building blocks of our presentation on the key findings from Year 1 of IFF Research and Ecorys’ evaluation of the Creative Spark programme began from much further afield; Tbilisi, Georgia, to be precise. Arriving at the conference, it was almost a year to the day that Elizabeth Shepherd and Laura Hilger delivered a presentation on the design of our evaluation approach and the tools we had created to implement it.

In the twelve months between Tbilisi and Oxford, University partners across Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and the UK had been extremely busy delivering activities on creative enterprise and entrepreneurship to students, young entrepreneurs and academics – and were eager to hear how the programme as a whole had performed against the measures shared with them in Georgia.

Celebrating Success

Held in the historic Wadham College, Holywell Music Room (we were told Handel performed there, so nothing to live up to for the presentation…), the environment helped to underline that fundamentally the Creative Spark programme functions to ignite young people’s creativity. During an opening speech by the Prime Minister’s trade envoy, philanthropist, and musician Baroness Nicholson, the audience was invited to reflect on their students’ achievements, enthusiasm and skills developed over the last year. This task was made all the easier by the fact that student winners of the Big Idea Challenge pitch competition (a key activity of the Creative Spark programme) from all 7 countries were sat in front row smiling!

Opening address from Baroness Nicholson

The main body of the conference involved sessions around three main programme outcomes:

  • Exchange learning in Year 1 to inspire all programme partners
  • Ensure clarity on the programme structure, reporting mechanisms and Year 2 plans
  • Create plans for sustainability and embedding of enterprise education in programme countries.

Whilst IFF’s role at the conference was predominately focused on providing information to ensure that the second programme outcome was met, it was fascinating to hear how partners overcame cultural differences as HEIs operating in Central Asia and in the UK, to build innovative and mutually beneficial partnerships to best support their students.

Equally, the delivery of awards to the Big Idea Challenge finalists proved to be a highlight of the event. Finalists had beaten off stiff competition from over 300 student teams from Universities and institutions across Central Asia, and were keen to celebrate each other’s success. Ably accompanied by a four piece-brass brand, the national winners rose to hearty applause when receiving their category awards. For those of you who may struggle for a good night’s sleep here and then, I highly recommend looking in to the overall competition winner’s ‘Smart Pillow’ product!

Creative Spark Big Idea Challenge Award Winners.

Key findings

When delivering the key findings of Year 1 of monitoring and evaluation of Creative Spark, it was important to acknowledge that one important finding was the new partners sitting in the seats in front of us. The programme has now expanded from an initial 37 partnerships in Year 1, to 50 partnerships for Year 2. This expansion represents the high level of interest in the Creative Spark programme from both Central Asia and UK HEIs, but also presents new challenges for the monitoring and evaluation team in delivering an approach that is flexible and scalable. In addition to delivering key findings for Year 1, the presentation also focused on our design for Year 2, involving revisions to the theory of change to account for and measure unexpected outcomes of Year 1, simplification and refinement of online data collection tools and the addition of an ethnographic element to qualitative field work visits.

Given the positive atmosphere of the 2-day conference, it was a pleasure to give positive findings from the first year of our evaluation. Whilst the full findings will be delivered in our full Year 1 report to the British Council, a few main points are highlighted below:

Year 1 Creative Spark in Numbers

Next Steps

Back on the train to London, thoughts quickly turned to our next steps as the launch of Year 2 of Creative Spark also represented the launch of Year 2 of monitoring and evaluation activities. After speaking with partners throughout the event about their challenges and the resources available to them, we now feel better placed to ensure that monitoring tools are efficient, user-friendly and accurate for our audience.

An overpriced cheese toastie later, and we were ready to continue our exploration in to the Central Asian higher education landscape…