Over a two-year period, The Audience Agency worked with Art UK to first research and profile their existing online audiences, then as the action research partner on their mission-led Audience Broadening Initiative. The project, run across ArtUK.org, social media and other digital channels, aimed to attract more young (16-24) and xtBAME audiences. The broad range of activities and initiatives successfully resulted in an increased proportion of both audience groups, engaging with a vast collection of artwork not otherwise readily available to the public.
The Audience Agency is experienced in conducting action research projects that occur over an extended period of time. This type of project requires a particularly collaborative way of working, supporting the client with ideas for new tactics and initiatives to reach and engage the audience, alongside the evaluation and assessment of effectiveness. The Audience Agency was able to bring a critical mix of research, evaluation and consultancy skills to this project, together with deep expertise in both audience development and digital behaviours.
Prior to the Audience Broadening Initiative, The Audience Agency’s initial research had shown ArtUK.org to have very little engagement from younger and BAME audiences. A review of cultural organisations and projects that boasted more diverse audiences identified a set of common themes:
- a commitment to more diverse content
- collaborative working with relevant organisations
- a focus on supporting schools, colleges and universities in an educational capacity
- an acknowledgement of the importance of working across multiple digital platforms, rather than simply seeking to drive the audience to your website.
The Audience Agency was subsequently commissioned as an action research partner, developing, advising and evaluating activities designed to grow the proportional representation of those two user groups.
The Audience Agency’s role as an action research partner was two-fold:
- Helping to shape the activities that were implemented by the Art UK team, acting as a ‘critical friend’ to review and interrogate each initiative.
- Developing a measurement and evaluation framework that ensured progress towards the project targets were tracked.
The project used a number of different metrics to track and monitor progress, responding to the complexity of measuring audience profiles across multiple digital platforms. You can measure the success of a podcast series, for example, by looking at total reach and engagement, but not in terms of how each audience type responded to the initiative. Care was therefore taken to set baselines and develop activities that allow growth to be tracked effectively in all forms and this data was then supplemented by qualitative feedback. The changing composition of the audience was monitored both on the Artuk.org website and via Art UK’s social media accounts – a key distinction given younger audiences’ tendency to access an organisation via a third-party platform, rather than through the website directly. Throughout the project The Audience Agency provided guidance on effectively evaluating each activity, and the final report included specific recommendations for continuing to apply an iterative approach to Art UK’s diversification planning.
While audiences are most comfortable returning to outdoor events, organising a festival that can flex around ever-changing restrictions is still no mean feat. Penny Mills and Jonathan Goodacre have been looking at what’s working.
Unpredictable and changing circumstances are making it difficult to plan any festival this summer but we are a resourceful lot in the cultural sector.