Anra Kennedy considers the role digital culture and technologies play in wellbeing

January 16, 2024
Photo of the author - Anra Kennedy

Anra Kennedy

The deadline (1 Feb) for sign-ups to Let’s Get Real: Using digital to add value, is drawing near which has got me thinking about one of the angles I’m most interested in exploring.

Our team holds regular knowledge exchange sessions and in the latest our focus was measuring wellbeing. As we discussed the ways we see cultural partners and clients thinking about the impact of their activity on wellbeing, and how we can support that, my thoughts turned to the role digital culture and technologies play in this context.

In the cultural sphere, organisational missions and visions are peppered with words like ‘enrich’, ‘enjoy’, ‘empower’, ‘pleasure’ and ‘meaningful’ alongside ambitions to support happiness, mental health and wellbeing. Policymakers and funders too have long been making connections between culture and wellbeing, for instance in Wales, Baroness Andrew’s Culture and Poverty report from 2014 (the foundation of many programmes, including Fusion which links culture, employment and wellbeing); Scotland’s Culture Strategy Action Plan and Arts Council England’s Investment Principles. Organisations of all kinds have worked in pioneering ways for years to develop their audiences’ and communities’ wellbeing.

Concurrently, the cultural sector’s digital transformation has been lurching along in fits and starts. Progress varies across different strands of the sector, dependent upon a wide range of contextual factors including levels of digitally literate leadership, digital skills, digital confidence and organisational capacity.

Despite the great work already undertaken, the cultural sector is still on a learning curve when it comes to reliably measuring and evidencing our impact on wellbeing. It’s so personal, context dependent and hard to pin down. Reliably measuring the impact of digital is also challenging, whether the digital tool or channel is supporting an analogue experience, or the activity is a wholly digital experience.

Fast-changing digital demands and opportunities, cultural and creative organisations’ offers and people’s wellbeing - what a combination.

There’s so much work to be done here and I’m hoping our next collaborative action learning and research programme, Let’s Get Real: Using digital to add value, will help me understand better how to approach this challenge. The kinds of questions I will be considering alongside and with our cohort are:

  • How are our personal digital literacy and skills, and attitudes to digital, affecting the way we, as cultural professionals, perceive and understand digital’s role in wellbeing?

  • What effect does the above have on the way we approach our work?

  • How might data and insight around wellbeing and digital from beyond the cultural sector (academia, wider third sector, commercial sector?) be useful in developing our practice?

  • What value (if any?) are our participants’ organisations placing on the power of digital content, experiences and interactions to develop wellbeing? How are they quantifying and tracking that?

  • How much awareness is there of the negative impact of those digital elements? Is that reflected in strategy and programming?

  • What’s the relationship with income here? Have any of our cohort organisations managed the holy grail of digital playing a demonstrable role in an activity or offer that supports wellbeing and makes money (or at least covers costs!)? If so, how do they evidence that?

Let’s Get Real gives us space to explore all sorts of questions within the supportive community of practice. Those questions might be interesting to you too, or your current preoccupations around digital and value might be different. Either way do consider joining us. The more diverse and varied our cohort the more useful the learning.

If you can’t join us, we’ll share what we learn afterwards, so sign up for our newsletter and we’ll keep you posted.