BLOG 6th April 2023

Filling the data gap

Tags: Impact, Data

Over the last couple of months, I have been listening to many conversations about data in Northern Ireland. Nothing unusual about that, given the nature of thrive’s work and our exuberant delight in all things evidence-based.

But if I was to give you the gist of those chats, confusion and frustration would be the overwhelming thrust.

Some highlight the “data gap” while others, normally those at the coal face, are swimming in numbers that they can do nothing with, for a variety of reasons.

The linking factor seems to be that everyone feels that we don’t have enough USEFUL data – the thing that points us in the right direction or answers the questions that we need to answer.

This isn’t a discussion about why that is or a review of how policy and practice can be worlds apart.

Thrive are working hard to grow the amount of research into cultural engagement in Northern Ireland. Some of you may know about our 100 Stories project, in which we spoke to people from all across this place about the reality of their relationship with arts, culture and heritage and what their lives would be like without it.

We wanted to tackle the “people don’t value the arts” argument because we know from other population research that that simply isn’t true. If you want to read the stories, you will find them here. And make sure you follow our socials as we release the findings and create some practical resources for the sector.

At the beginning of the year, our thought turned to the “what next” question. Many of our interviewees spoke passionately about how art had saved them, or made them. But often, this was participatory activity – creating or making – either on their own or with others.

There is a huge body of research about the impact of participation. Yet most funding supports attendance – going to see something be that a place or a production. And there is very little research into how that changes people. We know it does – we see it all the time. But there is no evidence to back up what we see.

So, this year thrive want to do something about that. We have been working with over 70 organisations already in the North West to collect consistent, practical audience information. Now, we want to do that across the whole country and across art forms. And we want you to help us shape the research around impact. You know best how your audience are changed – in their thoughts, feelings or behaviours. So, please tell us.

There will be more information about plans and logistics coming soon or email us to let us know that you want in – email our Head of Sector Development Laura to let her know you’re interested.

We have a chance to actually get useful data without killing an already exhausted sector. Sounds like a plan, yes?

Fiona Bell

Chief Executive

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