BLOG 19th January 2023

State of the sector: Audience research is on the rise

Thank you to all the organisations in NI who lent their voice to our thrive survey in 2022, which we received 72 responses to. Every year, we do a survey across the sector to track how the sector is gathering and using their audience data. This year, our survey is a bit different. Since Covid hit, the way organisations collect and use their data has shifted dramatically – both what data they collect, how they prefer to collect it and what they’re doing with it. We have been able to compare the differences pre and post-Covid in this survey to see what has changed in the audience data landscape in NI. We also identified how we can help you as we move further into 2023.

What did we find?

Despite how important audience development is, it often takes a backseat in cultural organisations.

We found it interesting to note that only 53% of organisations have an audience development plan. Organisations who have managed to put one together also struggle to find the time to use or review it.

42% have no budget for audience research at all, which also makes for a stark figure. Another issue that is impacting organisations in the gathering and analysis of audience data is staff - 96% of organisations only have 1-4 paid staff helping with data collection. 41% only have one member of staff to do this work for them. This is clearly having an impact when it comes to audience research in the sector, and stopping organisations from collecting more data, or using it throughout the year in their audience development planning. The lack of resources across the sector in both time, funding and staff is pushing audience development down the list of organisations’ priorities. With all of that said – priorities are shifting! Since the pandemic, there are more organisations collecting audience data – this was true of nearly every type of data we asked about.

How has the picture changed since pre-Covid?

The changes in the sector on gathering audience data and their approach to audience development threw up some fascinating stats. Here’s a summary of what’s changed:

  • Audience insights have become more important to arts, culture, and heritage organisations here since 2020. A higher proportion of organisations are collecting audience data than before the pandemic.
  • Organisations are more likely now to collect data on audience feedback, motivations, and barriers compared to in 2020. 51% of organisations are collecting data on barriers, which is twice as high as 2020 (23%), although it is least collected type of data.
  • Organisations are doing more research online. We’re seeing a higher percent of organisations talking to audiences online, conducting surveys, and analysing web/social media/email analytics in 2022 compared to 2020.

What types of data do organisations have and how are they collecting it?

Organisations report that they have a lot of information on their audiences. However, when we looked at the details of the type of data they actually have, this is what we found:

  • Most of the organisations we surveyed are keen to get positive feedback. Indeed, the information that is collected the most at 80% is ‘What our audiences think of us’. And we get it, especially as we get back to normal post pandemic.
  • Barriers was the least collected information at 51%. Knowing why people are not making it to your venue or event is as useful as knowing what you do well. Although sometimes barriers can be external and not in your power to change, they can also prove to be easy fixes that will allow you to welcome into your space a more diverse audience.

When it comes to how they collect this data, this is what they said:

  • Organisations are primarily using surveys and talking to their audiences (both online and in-person) to gather data. 9 out of 10 organisations are doing this.
  • A lot of venues are also making use of their in-house staff knowledge about their audiences.
  • Reading comment cards and looking at external data are used the least across the sector.

How can thrive support you with audience research?

You may not have time to think about audience research too often - so let us do the heavy lifting for you. We’re always on the look out to help you do what you do best - delight audiences across the whole of Northern Ireland (and beyond!)

Not sure where to start? We’re always available for a free audience appointment to chat about anything you may need help with when it comes to your audiences.

Having a ticketing or box office related question? Our Sector Programme Coordinator Eve can help you to get the most out of your audience data - for free! Drop her an email at any time.

A final request – we want to build up a collection of audience development plans for the sector to refer to at their own leisure and for us to use to help guide others when they begin to write their own. We won’t publish them on our website but they will be available on request. Can you help us? If you are happy to share yours with us, please let us know by emailing Sarah at

Sarah Blake Knox

Client Programme Coordinator

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