Audience Finder has two main aims: the first is to help individual cultural organisations use visitor data in their audience development work, and the second is to create a useful picture of audiences at a national, regional and sector level.

In both cases, Audience Finder sets out to help the arts sector find audiences rather than simply monitor them as a bureaucratic bean-counting exercise. This principle is really important when it comes to describing the diversity of our audiences.

We were determined that Audience Finder should use demographic data to contribute to making positive change. This consideration shapes what data we ask organisations to collect, and how we layer, analyse and present it. It draws on data from a number of different sources to help us understand the diversity of our audiences.

Socioeconomic diversity

We get a good picture of the overall socioeconomic diversity of audiences by looking at Audience Spectrum segmentation tool, which assigns one of ten lifestyle profiles to every household in the UK. It gives us a good idea about the outlook, income levels and cultural engagement of collective audiences and shows starkly what we might expect: that those most highly engaged in cultural activity tend to be the most privileged, well educated and relatively well-off.

But with over a third of households in England now tagged as arts-bookers, we can see that a considerably wider group of people do engage, albeit less frequently. Audience Finder tells us about these people – what they do, when and where – and proves there is the potential for organisations to build on those relationships.

From a national perspective, it pinpoints the gaps in provision that need to be closed if we are to see a real change in building more socially diverse audiences.

Monitoring the protected characteristics

But what Audience Spectrum cannot tell us about is age, ethnicity, sex or disability. Like all profiling systems, it gives us an idea of the likelihood of people to live a certain lifestyle. General assumptions about socioeconomics based on address are valid, but this method is not an appropriate way of monitoring protected characteristics (age, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, etc).

For one thing, inferences about personal identity on the basis of address are not statistically accurate. More importantly perhaps, this approach is not considered ethical, as it is important that people are able to self-identify their ethnicity, disability and other personal information.

So the other key source of insight about diversity in Audience Finder is via a standard survey, asking audience members the same questions directly about their cultural engagement: basic behaviour, motivation, opinions and identity. Organisations using the Audience Finder survey can be confident that they are monitoring the protected characteristics of their audiences in a robust and ethical way (exceeding the accepted standard required by Arts Council England of larger National Portfolio Organisations).