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Sistema Scotland evaluation

11 Sep 2013 | Chris Harkins

I am absolutely thrilled to be leading the evaluation of Sistema Scotland’s newly initiated Big Noise programme in Govanhill in Glasgow, and the established Big Noise programme in Raploch in Stirling.

Who are Sistema Scotland?

If you haven’t heard of them, Sistema Scotland is on a mission to transform lives through music. They are a charity set up in the belief that children from disadvantaged backgrounds can gain significant social benefits by playing in a symphony orchestra. Based on the Venezuelan El Sistema model, Sistema Scotland use music making to foster confidence, discipline, teamwork, pride and aspiration in the children taking part, their families and across their wider community.

If you are thinking ‘that sounds like a great community-based project’ then you are not quite getting the scope of what Sistema are trying to achieve. Richard Holloway, the chair of Sistema Scotland describes the Big Noise programme as being in these children’s lives virtually from when the umbilical cord is cut.  He speaks of the programme as initiating ‘long-term, deep, organic change’, enabling the children to become a more confident, disciplined and more fulfilled version of themselves.

The Big Noise Raploch programme provides music classes for babies right through to when they will be leaving secondary school. The programme also provides class trips, afterschool and holiday care, free healthy meals and so on. The Big Noise provides a varied and rich set of experiences for the children involved and the programme’s presence is omnipresent and unwavering in their lives; a constant, no matter what else is going on. The benefits to the children, their families and the wider community are intuitively obvious.

The evaluation

So why does Sistema need to be evaluated, why are the GCPH doing it and what can we add to things? Well, in terms of health, Sistema represents a targeted, early intervention which has the potential to impact on several important determinants of health. It is vital to know if the programme does impact on the future health trajectories of the children involved, and if so, we must understand what it is about the way Sistema work that can make these changes to health and wellbeing.

Furthermore The Big Noise embodies a programme which recognises that there needs to be improvement in the way we deal with the social problems which affect our society and which have a strong bearing on our health. These problems are embedded in people’s sense of inclusion or exclusion and can result in high levels of suicide, addiction, mental health issues, crime and so on.

It is clear that current approaches are not adequate to deal with these issues. Approaches such as Sistema’s may provide part of the solution. Through Sistema’s approach, aside from the benefits to the children participating, there is opportunity for a new dialogue, a new dynamic or a new set of relationships to be fostered between ‘services’ and ‘the community’.

Such learning and insight is vital to the emergent thrust of public policy with which we are all wrestling with; asset-based approaches, responding to the Christie Commission etc. This work also invokes discussion as to the wider role the arts can play in society and the debate as to whether the impacts of the arts can and should be measured. These are just some of the reasons why this work is important.

The evaluation will be undertaken with complete rigour and objectivity and all findings will be reported in a clear and transparent manner in keeping with the standards expected of the GCPH. There will be positive findings but there may also be some learning from what didn’t work as well. All of this learning will be of national interest and is also vital to Sistema as they move forward from what is a one-off phenomenon in Raploch towards a model of service delivery in Govanhill; issues in relation to replication and up-scaling will be explored with this in mind.

There is a lot to be learned from this evaluation but also much to be learned as to how it is evaluated. A senior, multi-disciplinary evaluation steering group has been established and has met already. I am drafting the evaluation framework and have begun the fieldwork already.  So there is a lot to do!  Wish me luck and please get in touch if you have any ideas or comments you would like to share.

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