Evaluating for Adaptive Action Toward Systems Change

Evaluating for Adaptive Action Toward Systems Change

Creative CityMaking, Minneapolis

The Project

Creative CityMaking (CCM) advances the City’s “One Minneapolis Goal” of eliminating economic and racial disparities through systems change, and by creating better engagement and services for communities. CCM places experienced community artists into collaboration with staff in City departments, to work on projects that focus on internal concerns, such as transforming agency culture, and on agency work within communities. For more on CCM, see this snapshot.


  • The City of Minneapolis’ Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy (ACCE) program
  • CCM was initially developed in collaboration with Intermedia Arts (IA), which administered the program for the first few years. CCM is now fully a program of ACCE.
  • Multiple artists working in various departments
  • Rainbow Research research and evaluation consultancy

Funding for Evaluation

The Kresge Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and support from the City of Minneapolis (for the period of 2014-2016).


This Evaluation in Action profile draws from the report “Creative CityMaking: An Adaptive Action Evaluation,” by Rainbow Research.

Evaluation Focus

  • Understanding team perspectives. Teams of municipal staff and artists are key to achieving CCM goals. The evaluation focused on the different perspectives each member held, how the team functioned as a whole, and how it was situated within the municipal and community context.
  • Building a shared foundation. Rainbow Research observed how the teams and communities interacted, their tension points, needs, strengths and opportunities, and identified what was necessary to build a shared foundation for challenging systems-change work.
  • Change on all sides. The evaluation explored the strategies and activities that were needed in order for lasting change to happen within municipal culture and in communities.
  • Creative engagement. The evaluation sought to understand the effectiveness of strategies adopted for promoting change: engagement approaches, the artists,artistic methods and tools; and what was created.


Organizers decided to use Developmental Evaluation, a dynamic approach in which data is collected and feedback is given in real time, so that project decision-making can adapt to better reflect complex stakeholder needs. A developmental evaluator is embedded early on in the project, and their role is to be engaged more often than detached. Rainbow Research’s role was to collect data, information, and stories (through focus groups, observation of meetings, and community events); and to observe patterns to share back with the project teams and CCM staff on an ongoing basis, to support cycles of adaptive action. Evaluation questions within CCM’s three phases included:

  • 1) Discovery: Articulating the Model
    • What is the description of the project opportunity?
    • What is the context of the department and the issue at hand?
    • What patterns in this issue has the team identified or targeted?
    • What is the pattern of collaboration between the artist(s) and City staff?
    • What is the pattern of community engagement around the issue?
    • What patterns of community engagement would the team like to see?
  • 2) Sense-making: What are we learning?
    • What does the project mean to the artist/engagement team? The City staff? The community?
    • What changes in the patterns identified in the Discovery Phase are you seeing?
    • What opportunities are there for deepening or strengthening those changes?
    • What has surprised the teams (regarding assumptions or expectations)?

  • 3) Action Cycle: What can we do?
    • What can the Team act on next? Has this changed from the original plan? Why?
    • What additional information should be collected? What don’t we know?
    • How will the Team know if the action selected was useful or successful, and if it “worked?”

Impacts & Lessons Learned

Rainbow Research’s report highlights four areas of change:

  • New models of engagement tested and new people engaged
  • Individual growth
  • Departmental change
  • Community cohesion and activation

Personal transformation and strengthened relationships were a major contributor to program outcomes in these four areas, and to fostering an important and critical dialogue around racial equity.

The following challenges and adaptive actions are detailed in Rainbow Research’s report, and are of particular value to effective partnerships:

  • Collaborating across work cultures.
    City staff and artists had different ideas and expectations about relationships to authority, hierarchy and workplace rules. Artists felt, for example, that reporting mechanisms were stifling, didn’t accurately capture their work or time, and did not support moving the work forward. Conversely, team convenings which featured team-building, reflective, and theater-based activities made many City staff uncomfortable. Even though it was a programmatic challenge to build structures that supported multiple work styles, a key success factor was the ability to stay engaged and productively work through tensions.
  • Need for additional City staff engagement.
    As CCM progressed, it determined the need for more opportunities to connect City staff across projects, and for projects to be better integrated into the participating department. CCM built monthly opportunities for City staff across projects to convene to share challenges and insights. The core team also articulated sustainability plans so that city staff could envision a future for their work.
  • Building a mutual understanding of what it means to promote equity.
    Artists expressed concerns that City departments were not as ready to engage in equity work as initially expected. This included a lack of a specific racial justice framework to work within. CCM adapted by building a racial justice framework into training events and other team gatherings.
  • Deliverables vs. lasting departmental change.
    Success can be measured on two main levels: tangible, useful results for city departments and communities; and lasting departmental change to work culture, policies and/or practices. Sometimes only one of these measures of success was present in a CCM project, but both are important in supporting overarching City goals for equity.