Edinburgh Napier welcomed Leeds Metropolitan's Prof Rhodri Thomas for a handful of sessions last week. Rhodri sits within the UK Centre for Events Management at Leeds Met, hosts of 2010's Global Congress that I wrote about in these here posts.
Without repeating too much of the talk, the title 'The Politics of Events Evaluation' alluded to the role of academics and others in evaluating the apparent success of festivals and events. That while the terms of the debate have shifted towards measures of success that are often sold as objective, dispassionate and methodologically rigorous, the terms used are inherently political. 'Investment' is a loaded term and politicised at that, with the decision-making process often opaque.
The evaluation of events is now a justification of policy decisions by those in positions of power and those doing the research can be complicit in this.
There was discussion within the group of the ways the current orthodoxy within the literature promotes a particular agenda: that events are good for growth and good for development, these being defining objectives of the neo-liberal project. Academic texts which subscribe to this model are often very effective and well produced, though there will be some who don't subscribe to the message being retold, who don't share the same underlying presumptions. To many observers this is the language of the private sector being imposed on the public sector, in order to make sense of the awkward cost-benefit decisions that funnel money into circuses when others are losing their jobs.
My favourite line from the afternoon was that 'this isn't evidence-based policy it's policy-based evidence'. The evaluation of events is shaped and guided by the need to support the decisions of those in positions of power and responsibility. Potentially a murky business.