ACA Week: Rob Horowitz on Resolving Dissonance in the Improvisatory Rhythm of School Collaborations

Hi, I’m Rob Horowitz. I do research, evaluation and consulting, primarily in arts education.

Maybe it’s because I’m a musician, but I often think of dissonance and consonance in my work. You can hear the beats of dissonance, if you carefully listen to the overtones of any group of tones. Dissonance in music provides tension and leads to resolution. Its creative use provides structure to composition and improvisation and can give the listener a profound aesthetic experience. Think of blues notes played over a major tonality.

Because my work often has to do with evaluation of arts partnerships – collaborations between public schools and arts organizations – I’m familiar with the occasional need for improvisation, in program design, implementation, and data collection. Saying that, I’m also familiar with how the improvisatory rhythm of public school collaborations easily leads to dissonance, both on the programmatic side, and on the evaluation front.

There are many moving parts, collaborators, competing agendas, time issues and budget realities. There are institutional requirements, standards. There are differing conceptions of learning, artistic experiences, and how we gain knowledge through research.

Music-dissonanceThings can easily get out of whack. Off track.

And while dissonance might be pleasing in a musical context, it can wreak havoc to a partnership program and to an evaluation design.

Lessons Learned:

So…lessons learned, from experience:

  • Help evaluation clients maintain consistency (or consonance) across program elements, with their objectives aligned with programmatic components. Resources, funds, and activities should be carefully oriented towards achieving program goals. Help keep everyone on track. Be alert for dissonance, and only encourage it if it’s leading to creative innovation.
  • Be consistent in developing and conducting the evaluation. Overall research design, instrument development, data collection, analysis and reporting should all be integrated in an iterative and consistent way, with each part of the evaluation process serving the other parts. Make revisions to the design as needed, but keep the reporting audience in mind from the beginning. Make sure that all the pieces of the evaluation efforts are oriented towards reaching the intended audience. Or, more likely, in the case of arts partnerships, the multiple audiences.

Resolve dissonance.

Sounds obvious. And easy. I wish.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Arts, Culture, and Audiences (ACA) TIG Week. The contributions all week come from ACA members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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