Artists and arts practitioners know that the work they create has an impact on audiences. They get standing ovations, witness people moved to tears, help to spark other artists’ creativity, and read critical reviews in magazines. Most of us have had a cultural experience that made us reflect, feel, connect, learn or be inspired.
While we know this anecdotally and feel it intuitively, it has historically been difficult to measure the impact of the arts for individuals and society.
Attendance numbers and ticket sales capture a fraction of the value of cultural events. To prove that the arts are worthy of ongoing support, intrinsic value needs to be understood, measured and communicated in a way that stacks up alongside dollars and cents.
As economists, our job is to provide evidence to support investment decisions using statistics and rigorous analysis. New technologies mean that we can now apply such rigour to the arts sector – measuring individual emotional and intellectual responses and turning them into meaningful big data insights.
Queensland was one of the first states in Australia to pilot the Culture Counts system of intrinsic value capture, using our digital platform and the set of core quality metrics that we developed with the sector. Sixteen events across 12 organisations were evaluated between February and July this year, capturing over 2,000 public and 60 peer survey responses.
The large data set covering a diverse range of artforms, event types and locations means that we could generate interesting sector insights through statistically analysing, grouping, filtering and comparing results. Here is a snapshot of things we found:
At the end of the pilot period, all organisations were asked to participate in a workshop and complete a feedback survey about their experience, including questions on ease of process, relevance of research, attractiveness of design, usefulness of outputs, and likelihood of future adoption.
While the experience of the 12 organisations varied, the feedback was largely positive and several of the organisations have already used the survey results and reporting to better communicate with staff, boards and funders; modify and improve their events; market their work and pitch for new work.
Since the pilot wrapped up in August, four of the pilot organisations have evaluated one or more additional events using Culture Counts.
The results and organisation feedback throughout the pilot have helped us to improve, refine and prioritise features within our technical product. Some examples include fixes to prevent the survey being blocked by office firewalls, and developing offline survey capabilities to enable digital surveying in areas with unreliable internet access.
We found that many organisations have limited staff resources and competing evaluation needs, with requirements to also collect large amounts of economic and tourism impact data for their events. This has led us to broaden our outcome areas to enable organisations to measure the intrinsic impact of arts and culture in the economic, social, civic and cultural domains using the one system.
The reason for using consistent metrics is to enable organisations around the world to compare their results and insights, thereby strengthening the combined voice of the sector. Individual organisations can share their evaluations and results with others through their own Culture Counts dashboards, and gain access to aggregate sector, artform and location benchmarks.
We’re halfway through a Victorian pilot of 22 organisations, in the process of rolling out the system to all Western Australian funded organisations, and starting a trial of 150 Arts Council England National Portfolio organisations. There are almost 25,000 survey responses in the system database and that is expected to increase to at least 50,000 within the year. From this database, many global big data insights will be made available to the sector.
We hope that the evidence generated through use of the tool will help arts organisations to realise greater success and sustainability, and help make a convincing case for the return on arts investment.
You can find out more about the pilot by reading the following series of Culture Counts blog posts:
Feature image: From nearpirctures.com. Image has been modified.