Investigating Culture Beyond Covid data using machine learning algorithms
Hello! I am Isaac Ellis, and I am currently completing my master's degree in maths and computer science at Queen's University Belfast. I have had the opportunity to work with thrive for my master's project, which involves investigating their survey data using machine learning algorithms. We have been trying to understand how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the audience for cultural organisations and worked with data from two surveys: After the Interval - Act 2 and Culture Beyond Covid: Arts.
Machine learning algorithms allow us to identify audience members who have common traits. Often, the groups that are identified this way may not have been immediately obvious to a human being. The computer, therefore, allows us to reveal hidden trends and insights within the data. They are also capable of making predictions based on answers to questions from the survey. These predictions are an effective way of using survey data (which is answers given by only a fraction of the audience) to generalise to a larger group. We can thus understand what a particular audience wants and needs from their cultural experiences. Keeping the audience at the heart of what we are doing is key to ensuring we make the most impactful decisions.
We wished to better understand those who are engaging with culture online. Despite the promising vaccine rollout, it is difficult to predict how quickly things will begin to return to normal. Online culture may be here to stay for a while, and the increased accessibility it provides may become a permanent fixture in the future. Investigating who is currently engaging with online culture and their reasons for doing so is an important part of understanding where organisations are making the right decisions. We wanted insight into why some audience members love online culture and whether they want to see more cultural content offered online in the future. However, it is important that we also consider those who aren't engaging with online culture, as they can help highlight areas that need improvement to make the online experience more appealing. Replacing the authentic in-person live experience is not a simple matter, so it is imperative that all steps are taken to ensure the best experience possible is provided, despite the circumstances.
We were able to make some fascinating discoveries with the data provided to us by thrive. One of our later findings from the Culture Beyond Covid: Arts survey was the importance of those who were engaging with culture more than four times a year pre-Covid. This group of people were integral to all forms of cultural engagement, both before and during the pandemic. They are consistently the majority when it comes to booking for future events, attending venues since their reopening, and engaging with culture online. Due to their significance, it was only natural that we would want to see what they have been doing, and what they think.
We often wrongly assume that audiences who engage the most with cultural activities always feel positively about all elements of their relationship with cultural organisations. However, when we looked at the data and compared this group with audiences who don’t engage as often, we realised they both felt the same way about communication from cultural organisations. A surprising result, as we would have expected those who are interacting with more events both online and in-person to feel more informed about organisations’ plans than those who are not. Cultural organisations need to assess how they are communicating with their audience, especially with this critical group who make up the core of their attendees.
It is pleasing to see that there are people who really want to engage with cultural organisations even in the midst of the pandemic. These people feel that culture is part of who they are and have missed attending events keenly. If cultural organisations are to keep this segment of their audience engaged, they must ensure that they are informed of the venues' plans.