Measuring our impacts – qualitatively AND quantitatively

We have put a great emphasis on being able to quantitatively document the impacts of our programs during our work planning process, and I’m extremely pleased with the progress we have made in applying that rigor to our planning and reporting. At the same time, sometimes the full measure of our program impacts has a very compelling qualitative aspect as well. We can take surveys, compile statistics and write reports, but if all we report is numeric data, we may miss the changes in attitudes or habits that some programs bring about.

 The Michigan 4-H China Project is a global education program that often uses the arts in both in-school and after-school experiences. In the Michigan 4-H Children’s Art Exchange, Michigan children create art that is sent to Chinese children. Chinese children in turn send their artwork to Michigan children.

 But it’s not just about the art. Chinese and American children learn about the similarities between their lives and develop awareness, understanding and appreciation of other cultures.

 Andrea Caron, Michigan State University Extension 4-H program instructor, joined in with the fifth graders when Gina Jacques started the 4-H art exchange in her third, fourth and fifth grade classrooms in the Soo Township Elementary School in Chippewa County. The fifth graders spent the hour talking about the project and art and the feelings and thoughts that the art brought out.

 As Andrea tells it, “In the last moments of class, when we were taking ideas and questions about the program, Anthony, a fifth grader, raised his hand and said: ‘So? Instead of taking anger out on people, they can use art to express themselves?’”

 Andrea goes on to say, “I was so amazed at his observation from the project and art – perhaps it was tied to us discussing what the Chinese children were trying to express to us and our associated feelings about it. I wanted to share, because this is surely the impact we hope to have but can’t always capture.”

 I agree. We can’t always measure the impact our programs have in statistics. Often it’s in the comment of a child or client that we can see proof of success.

 View a selection of Michigan artwork from the 2011 Michigan Children’s Art exchange traveling exhibit:

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