Anne Torreggiani, CEO

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As we emerge dazed and confused from the election, it’s not clear what the takeover of Boris’s Blue Army will actually mean for the cultural sector - just how much of the flak the BBC will take and whether we’ll be collateral damage or a bargaining chip. If Boris really means to please those “unnatural” Tories, a quick boost for Places once behind the Red Wall could come in the form of rebalanced spend on culture and creativity – as part of plans for “levelling up every part of the UK”. By my count, arts and culture get half a dozen mentions in the Tory Manifesto – mostly as a means to some other end: educational achievement through a schools “arts premium”, global trade, soft-power and some feelgood flag-waving at the Festival of Great Britain. Free museums and continued tax relief are promised.

Continuing the convergent trend of Left and Right, it’s interesting that the principle of ensuring that all citizens (voters) gain from public spend on culture is still in there, and amplified through the announcement of new earmarked Funds for Community Ownership and Cultural Investment. We can only hope that all this rhetoric of empowerment leads to more than some properly cynical artwashing and a few volunteer-run Post Offices. There’s only so much you can do by lowering business rates.

Regardless of Tory appropriation of “social justice” (it really is in their Manifesto) – or perhaps in reaction to it - I predict that 2020 will be the year when arts and cultural organisations wake up to the benefits of human-centred, co-creative design. If the talk of 2019 was all about the dream of cultural democracy, I’m optimistic that 2020 will be about how we actually achieve it. For me, human centred design has a pivotal role to play. As organisations become more genuinely attuned to the often divergent voices of their users, so will their need to find effective and elegant ways to adapt swiftly to their needs. Through our work developing “audience centred design” programmes - alongside Creative People & Places network and other organisations who have embedded co-creative practice - we can see first-hand the impact of rigorous design thinking on audience development. Human centred design at its best has a win-win-win effect, bringing benefits to communities as well as to collaborative staff teams, and for organisational innovation and resilience.

2020 will also be the year of “digital maturity” as a raft of new indexes and self-diagnosis tools help us to understand how tech and data could shape what we do in a more nuanced, less one-size-fits-all way. Importantly we need these 2 ideas to feed each other if we are going to work towards a cultural life at once vitally creative and authentically people-centred – an idea explored in our report on the potential of digital to enable greater creative participation and engagement. It’s a new world. Be brave.

Cimeon Ellerton, Chief Product Officer

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2019 | Reflections

Every year I am disappointed that AR/VR doesn’t seem to quite hit the mainstream. I really hoped it would this past year - the capabilities in our smartphones are now incredibly sophisticated – but of course, that’s like having a stage with no good plays, an orchestra with no sheet music or a gallery with no artworks. We’re probably still working out what this new medium is actually for and what the distribution and diffusion models are… I’ve heard rumours about the launch date for Apple’s own glasses – hopefully they’ve learned from the disaster that was Google Glass (anyone remember the phrase Glass****hole?)? If any company has the loyalty and cash to make an AR accessory popular it’s Apple. One of the best things I experienced this year (apart from the exceptional gender-swapped revival of Company) was a simple VR experience called Walk the Plank. It’s actually worse than it sounds because the plank in question is reached through a virtual elevator, the doors open and you’re confronted buy a short plank and vista across an imaginary city-scape 80 floors up! I now know what it feels like to give in to that urge to jump off tall buildings and I highly recommend the virtual experience.

2020 | Predictions

One thing that I have been watching with interest and a little trepidation is certain developments in ticketing and payments. Most of the time we think of the purchase transaction as just that, a transaction. Who cares how its facilitated as long as the appropriate money is safely exchanged and whatever good or service can then be provided? However, these data points are key building blocks in our understanding of customers. As all services are increasingly mediated through digital technology, accessing that data and using it for the benefit of the customer - such as by offering better more relevant and valuable cultural experiences – is vital. So we need to protect our access to these data or our picture of customers will diminish. I’ve never been a fan of the Eventbrite and Ticketmaster market* approach to customer data. Equally, Facebook have not exactly shown themselves to be very ethical. So the Eventbrite-Facebook ticketing platform whilst offering great services for a very low cost puts a lot of barriers between businesses and customers with all that data being held by these two multinational corporations and not the small companies they’re targeting. If Facebook’s Libra currency takes off, that’s another transactional data point owned by them in their big black box. However, finishing on a more positive note and despite my previous point and some concerns regarding the behaviours it might encourage, companies like Splitit and Klarna could be interesting to adopt in the cultural sector. Allowing bookers to spread the cost of purchases could be an amazing way to make high value cultural experiences more accessible to a wider public.

*They see themselves as a marketplace for events, so they own your customer data.

Leo Sharrock, Director of Data Platforms

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2019 | Reflections

At this point in time, 2019 feels to me overwhelmingly like a year of uncertainty and struggle. In the broadest sense, Brexit has obviously set the tone for this, as a divided nation and parliament have struggled to find a way to move forwards which is sympathetic to accommodating and harmonising differing perspectives and visions for our future place in the world and our national sense of identity. From within the arts, where often the way of finding means and modes which are able to promote both individuality and inclusivity are forged, there have also been moments of high tension and uncertainty in this year. The media furore over the Old Vic’s introduction of gender neutral toilets is one such instance from arts in this year where well-intentioned actions aimed at fostering inclusivity were met with a collision of perspectives along a spectrum of positions between how this absolutely was and absolutely wasn’t respectful of different people's identities and fundamental rights. For me it’s clear that identity, individuality and inclusivity are major themes (and tensions) that have been and will remain at the heart of what we do…

2020 | Predictions

The importance of identity, and how we understand and tailor communications with people in a way which corresponds with their sense of who they are and their preferences is only going to increase as we move into a New Year and a New Decade. Technology continues to drive this and GDPR dictates that respect for the rights of individuals must be in the design and at the heart of what we do with audience’s data, and this will ensure that we keep honest in our endeavors to communicate with audiences on their terms. If we fail to do so, the price would certainly be punitive, but perhaps even more significantly the true costs would be relevance, effectiveness and viability. So, as we continue to develop the next generation of The Audience Agency products and services, our new user centered design approaches and agile development will help us to understand how we should and must build services that truly meet the needs of our users, and ultimately of audiences. My prediction is that we will continue to get better and better at doing this. My other predictions - funding for arts and culture will increase in the short term (Yay!). Brexit will happen (boo!). This will lead to a fiscal cycle of “Boom & bust” (Boo!). But, Southampton F.C. will survive the drop (Yay!). And finally Egan Bernal will win a second Tour de France, and Chris Froome will not win his elusive 5th.

Lucie Fitton, Head of Learning & Participation

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2019 | Reflections

I think my reference to ‘joyful political times’ last year has rung especially true! Our sector has really started to embrace disruption and risk taking as a celebrated way to forge change, and this is increasingly important as arts organisations strive to be relevant and survive. We are evaluators for two National Lottery Heritage Fund Kick the Dust projects and I’m excited to see not only the work they are doing to innovate practice around young people’s engagement with heritage, but also the growing body of data and learning that will grow from the national programme evaluation. Building large sets of quantitative data around young people’s engagement is quite new in our sector and takes some challenge to implement, but it could be powerful evidence for change.

2020 | Predictions

Following on, I’m pleased that more of us are collaborating and considering how data can be used for effectively to support young people’s engagement. It’s been a busy year of testing and trialling (thanks to all our pilot organisations!) and we are about to launch our Schools Engagement Report which connects to this agenda. It’s also very clear that there’s a real place for embedding young people’s interest in activism within our sector’s youth engagement strategies. We need to place this within our growing overall recognition that’s arts, culture and creativity is a powerful force for change - both politically and socially. Making the case for this is more important than ever, but we’ve got to force ourselves to step outside our echo chambers and continually reevaluate how we do this.

Oliver Mantell, Policy Research Director

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2019 | Reflections

I’d said repatriation of artefacts could be a key topic this year and Manchester Museum lead the way, with the return of ceremonial and sacred objects to Australia. There’s a thoughtful reflection by Esme Ward, the Museum’s Director HERE in which she comments: "Debates about repatriation usually focus on what is lost, not what is gained; the new understanding, insights and perspectives when museums show a commitment to healing and care."

Environmental awareness does feel like it reached a tipping point, too, with numerous cultural organisations ‘declaring emergency’ . I’m aware many other organisations where it has prompted serious discussion behind the scenes, too, which are likely to come to greater fruition next year (whether in public statements or behind-the-scenes actions). Whether that’s had a big change on marketing and engagement practice, or that social media is being used with more criticality… well, possibly. I’m still looking out for the big shifts there – though perhaps most progress has been made in the embedding of the idea of ‘building with, not for’ users and communities. It’s certainly been a factor in The Audience Agency’s greater use of design thinking.

As for Leeds United getting promoted…: oops! ;-) But Leeds’ team for 2023 is coming together.

2020 | Predictions

One group who had a very good election (apart from the obvious…) were the data analysts and visualisers: who could have expected ‘Multivariate Regression and Post-Stratification’ [MRP to its friends] to be the phrase on everybody’s lips? Ok: some people’s, anyway. ODI Leeds’ hexmaps also played a starring role (inc. in this post-election medley, alongside a bar-chart race, for fans of the dataviz zeitgeist). My favourite visualisations might be THESE, though. The serious point is that there’s some brilliant creativity with both visualisation and stats going on and it’s starting to get more recognition. That trend’s is only going to continue this year…

Will *this* be the break out year for a VR/AR application though? It still feels (though I’m happy to be corrected) that it’s not quite happened yet, despite the huge potential. One thing that will happen this year is a range of exciting Audience Finder and Audience Spectrum developments: but more about those in due course…