…how wide and long and high and deep – measuring creativity

A authoritative study into the commercial value of Creative Partnerships (a body the government is scrapping for economic reasons), came to the conclusion that £1 spent on the scheme translated as £15 of value to the economy. details here   

Creative stuff is tough to measure, but it only goes to show that even seemingly immeasurable things like creativity must be counted in order to survive. 

“Now Miss Browning, can you quantify your love for me?”  

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach”.

“Bit vague, can you give me an exact figure on that reach thing?” 

Three artists, me being one, met with a group of teachers yesterday to begin to answer the question, how do we evaluate creative ways of learning? What we were searching for was a body of ideas – ways of questioning or observing – that would give us something measurable.

In my session we filmed a scene from ITV’s Coronation Street  – vintage 1979 – with teachers taking the parts of two actors and a director.  The challenge was to learn the lines, plan the moves and get the shots in 20 minutes. It was all about communication, teamwork and practical problem solving.  You might like to try it yourself, here’s the script


Once our little drama was over we asked questions about what the team had learned and what they had felt about the exercise.  We looked at the dynamics of questioning, giving feedback and the value of using video to help review the exercise. It was clear that a powerful way of understanding creative value is through story telling.  

We heard about a radio project in which a shy child could not bare to listen to his own voice  – and in fact hid under a table when his voice was played back.  After the encouragement of peers he now takes a leading role in the school radio station.  Numbers can be taken out of context and sometimes manipulated but stories, I feel, work a little deeper. Stories of human achievement must be the ultimate measure, surely.

Maybe, and here’s a thing, we are not even recognising – let alone measuring – the important experiences. Failure, for example, is rarely seen as a positive thing and yet the presence of failure can lead to some wonderful outcomes.  

A couple of nights ago I heard Ellen MacArthur speaking at the Ilkley Literature festival. She wanted to become a vet but her teachers said she wasn’t bright enough. This judgement spurred her on to study hard but at a critical time she was taken ill. During her illness she had time to reflect on what was her real passion, sailing. Had she been smarter and not become ill, she may not have achieved as much as she has.

When I was eleven I knew I wanted to be in broadcasting. When I was seventeen I was advised that it was too competitive and that I wouldn’t make it. Two years later I was working for the BBC.  The encouragement of my drama and english teachers, contrary to the school’s assessment, was not measured and yet it made all the difference.  As Ellen MacArthur said this week, being ready is not enough, you’ve got to have a burning passion. 

So how do we measure the contribution of creativity?  Perhaps it’s by looking for the passion that is ignited out of truly creative and inspiring experiences – whether good or bad. Maybe we have to wait until the story is complete before we can know if we have been successful.

The poem, “How Do I Love Thee” by Elisabeth Barrett Browning is, of course, inspired by the text from Ephesians.  

“…you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge”

Published by Mark

Mark Waddington is a former BBC broadcaster and producer. He now works for the Diocese of Leeds as Urban Mission Officer. If you would like to get in touch email mark.waddington@leeds.anglican.org