Coventry’s tenure as UK City of Culture 2021 will celebrate our city with events, music, dance, theatre, and large-scale spectacle. More than this, it will put the spotlight on the city and its communities and act as a major catalyst for change in the cultural landscape of the city. A full year of activity will create the foundations and legacy for cultural, social and economic prosperity.
The question is, how will we know if we have been successful?
As a principal partner in delivering a successful Coventry UK City of Culture 2021 (UKCC21) we are providing resources and expertise to lead the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of the UKCC21 to ensure that we provide a legacy of a thriving and prosperous cultural sector that engages all citizens across Coventry.
Working with our partners including Coventry University, Coventry City Council and the City of Culture Trust we will produce an evaluation on a scale and intensity that has never previously been attempted for a cultural or sporting mega-event. Our work on designing and developing our M&E strategy is already influencing future mega-events including the Commonwealth Games 2022 and the Festival*UK 2022 and is highly regarded by the Department for Culture Media and Sport.
In 2020 we published our Performance, Measurement and Evaluation Strategy which like all of our M&E outputs is publicly available. The strategy is based on a Theory of Change model  that includes impacts and outcomes for the City that resulted from extensive consultation during the development of the Coventry Cultural Strategy 2017-2027 and the bidding process for UKCC21. The University played a leading role in both projects. The emphasis in the Theory of Change is on how UKCC21 can contribute to both cultural and non-cultural ambitions for change. How can the year strengthen the local cultural sector and encourage cultural participation and activism? How can UKCC21 contribute to other economic and social outcomes – increases in civic pride, economic investment and health priorities?
UKCC21 was always going to be a different kind of cultural mega-event, even before the pandemic impacted on planning and delivery. The City of Culture Trust has invested in ensuring that every neighbourhood and community in the City has support, access and opportunity to co-create events as part of the programme and participate in the cultural life of Coventry. This includes working with ‘seldom heard’ individuals and communities including the unhoused, refugees and migrants, young people at risk of exploitation and those who experience mental and other health challenges. A key target for UKCC21 is that 80% of Coventry’s residents will actively participate in the year.
So, the evaluation is more complex than simply measuring numbers of tickets sold, visitors and the economic benefit for the City. The evaluation is as much about measuring the processes of co-creation over time and the legacy for communities and individuals. How has engagement with UKCC21 increased levels of civic pride, given voice to the ‘seldom heard’, increased residents confidence to be actively involved in their neighbourhoods and city?
In order to measure the value of UKCC21 the M&E programme will cover the period 2018-2024. It uses quantitative and qualitive methods to capture the numbers but also the stories behind the numbers. External contractors have developed innovative approaches to developing a total value based on both the economic impact and social value assessment of UKCC21.
The M&E is moving from designing and validating the original Theory of Change to telling the Story of Change – the extent to which the theory has been realised in action. The key question to be answered now is how and to what extent were the UKCC21 investments used to develop activity that led to outputs that contributed to outcomes that delivered transformational impacts for the people of Coventry?
Jonothan Neelands (WBS)
Academic Lead for Research and Evaluation UKCC21
 Ebrahim, A., & Rangan, V. K. (2014). What impact? A framework for measuring the scale and scope of social performance. California management review, 56(3), 118-141.