BLOG 2nd November 2020

The perks of being clumsy & how to embrace change

Over the last few months, we have explored the first two steps of audience development: why you should cherish your relationship with your audiences and how to get to know them better with tools you already have. Now it’s time to sit back, look at the information and insights in your hands, and reflect on what to do next.

How does this information complement your purpose?

Whether it’s showcasing quality theatre on a stage or enabling children to develop their creative skills, your organisation probably has a mission statement you can refer to. Go on, have a look at it again. What does it say? What does it mean? Does it still fit what you do? Mission statements often use generic language and sit gathering dust in some obscure folder. Let’s be frank, nobody ever remembers them. Instead, we’d like to ask you – yes, you – who goes to work every day and knows your organisation inside out, why is it important that you exist? What is the real purpose of your organisation?

We often found that most people struggle to put into words the value of what they do. Our default is to talk about what we do rather than why we do it. Purpose does carry a lot of weight, as if saying it out loud sets it in stone. But it is really just about connecting your passion to your audiences. What is the value it brings to them? What problem are you trying to solve as an organisation? It doesn’t have to be only one thing. It could be several. But my point is, once you know what your purpose is, and you know a little bit more about your audiences thanks to online analytics, ticketing data and/or other research methods, you will be able to see if your objectives were reached and how to fulfil your ambitions in the future.

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Your purpose lies where your passion and others' needs meet.

What is the change you want to see?

2020 is the year of change. Quite an understatement, but it is the year where we had to forget what we knew, forget our routine and think outside the box. How can we still continue to do what we do, but in a different way? It’s been tough to reimagine ourselves and adapt to these changes out of our control. Our entire sector reinvented themselves, learned new skills to make it work so their original purpose wouldn’t be lost. Like a building in Japan dancing through the waves of an earthquake. When the shakes finally stop, they’re still standing.

I know the crisis is far from being over but if we survived until now and found inventive ways to continue our work, then it is proof we can change. Change is not the big scary monster hiding under your bed anymore. Maybe the circumstances of the pandemic are actually your opportunity to embrace change, at every level of your organisation, from the small day-to-day admin to your whole strategy.

There are two types of changes: internal change – for example, doing things differently within your organisation; and external change, the change you want to see and/or bring to your audiences, funders, partners and wider sector. Both are interconnected. Change can be so many different things and it doesn’t have to all happen at once.

Ask yourself: where do you want to go from here? Why and how does it fit your purpose? We’ve been doing this in thrive and we want to help you to do it too.

Use insights to aim for change

We’ve recently shared with you a series of analytics toolkits which we hope were helpful in finding your way around the numerous free-to-use platforms the Internet was generous enough to provide us with. If you’ve missed them, I’ve gathered them here for you to download at your own leisure: Google Analytics, Twitter Analytics, Facebook Insights and Instagram Insights.

We’ve also launched a new research project, Culture Beyond Covid, which is a free audience survey for NI organisations. We will be sharing the trends and insights we discover in coming weeks.

Supported by the Arts Council’s Organisations Emergency Fund, it is designed to keep a dialogue going with your audiences, find alternative ways to connect with them and use its insights to plan for the future. We’ve already published our first findings focused on visual arts spaces and the current survey for ticketed and non-ticketed organisations is closing on 11th November. Our next wave is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and opens on 16th November. It is aimed at museums and heritage organisations.

If you’d like to take part or learn more about the survey, get in touch with Claire Rose.

Audience data and insights are great…

But they count for nothing if they are not turned into action.

Pinpoint the insights that surprised you. Are your audiences older or younger than you thought? What motivates them to engage with you? Are they interested in a type of content you don’t currently offer? These small details can guide how you shape your next steps. It’s your turn to surprise your audiences with a little something tailored especially for them.

How to embrace change: our tips

  • Think about your purpose. What is it?
  • Look at past data and see if your purpose was achieved. Is there data you don’t have? Is that something you can start collecting with tools you already have to analyse your impact? How else can you gather this information? What do you do well? What are your weaknesses?
  • List the changes you want to see based on what the data tells you.
  • Time to come up with a plan and a strategy to act on these changes.
  • Clumsiness is good. Nobody is perfect right away. Being clumsy means you’re trying.
  • Do it!
  • Evaluate what you’ve done.
  • Learn and make changes.
  • Do it again.

Last but not least

You’ve guessed it right. Our current theme for the next 2 months is about change. We’ll be bringing you new content, insights and events to support you moving forward. We’ve also started a new guest blog series asking you to share your dreams for the NI arts sector and the changes you think should happen for it to thrive. We think you’ll enjoy the first of the series written by Patrick O’Reilly from Tinderbox. We are actively seeking more people to blog about their dreams for the sector, so get in touch.

Keep your eyes peeled for what's coming next!

In the meantime, I recommend to read the #CultureReset series of blogs about change by Sam King, senior producer of Audience Labs at the Royal Opera House in London. It is full of spot-on questions, thoughts and ideas about the future of the arts and culture sector.


This work is supported by our annual funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

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