Category: Uncategorized

Is evaluation truly accessible?

One of the most interesting and rewarding projects I’ve ever completed was conducting an impact evaluation of the Unlimited Commissions Programme for disabled artists.

Between July and November 2015, my co-researcher Morwenna Collett and I immersed ourselves in the UK arts and disability world, to learn the language, issues and challenges that disabled artists face, and answer the question ‘Is Unlimited making a difference?’

We gathered rich data from over 135 people – approximately 50% of whom identified as disabled – and the insights were fascinating. Meeting the access requirements of the research participants was challenging – but hugely rewarding, both for the research and on a personal level.

I learned the nuances of disability identify, and language that is inclusive and respectful. I learned how to write a survey that is suitable for those with visual impairment, and discovered interview venues that were physically accessible. But the biggest thing I learned was that accessibility is more than all of these things put together. It’s about having an attitude of inclusion and committing to reach out and hear voices that are too often excluded.

Today Morwenna and I are presenting a paper at the ACSPRI Social Science Methodology conference, to share our thoughts about what it means for evaluation practice to be truly accessible. You can read our abstract here (or get in touch and we’ll send you a copy of the full paper).

Providing access doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Below we’ve assembled a list of access tips, facts and figures, and guidelines for doing research with people with disability.

One thing we want to get feedback on is our Access Statement for researchers and consultants. We used it at the beginning of the project to set the intention for the project, and plan what we would do to maximise access at every stage of the research (not just the outputs!).

It got us thinking… could something like this be useful for other researchers and consultants? Could it help others embed an attitude of inclusion upfront, and design research that was more accessible?

We’d love to hear your thoughts, so take a look and let us know what you think.

Access statement

Access tips

Facts, figures and legislation

Research specific information/resources


The art of asking (good) questions


The speaker wraps up their presentation, thanks the crowd, everyone claps. Then comes the awkward moment when the convenor asks for questions. *Deafening silence*

Sound familiar?

As a researcher, consultant and Committee Member for the Sydney Arts Management Advisory Group, I attend dozens of presentations and panel discussions each month – and many a Q&A makes me want to #facepalm.

Asking good questions is hard – but I am realising it’s really important. And I’m happy to put my metaphorical hand up and say it’s something I want to get better at.

In education settings, questions are a critical tool for learning, and in professional forums questions can be the key to real understanding and knowledge exchange for mutual benefit.

But easier said than done, right? Eric Sanders at Big Think says, ‘Anyone can speak in public, but not everyone knows how to ask a good question. You will have a much better chance of having your question heard and receiving a clear response if you practice and improve your question-asking skills.’

So how exactly does one ask a good question? After some digging, here’s what I found:

Prepare to be active

This requires both homework and the right mindset. Reading up beforehand can help you anticipate what the session is about – and understand the context more fully.

If you’ve chosen to be there – really make a commitment to concentrate and stay engaged. If you’re late – or tuning out – you might miss the part where they already answered your question. Oops.

Just like at a performance, sitting at or near the front often helps me focus (and I find I get more out of it if I can see the whites of their eyes!)


Bring a notepad

Taking notes might seem like hard work, but it can help clarify and crystallise key take-outs. If a question forms in your mind – write it down as you go – otherwise they can disappear into the ether.

I find pen and paper often works better than jotting things in my phone – and I can more easily refer to my notes when it’s time to speak.

Remember that whatever age and stage you’re at, your perspective is relevant. You don’t need to have grey hair to be worthy of the microphone. If something is mysterious to you – it probably is to others in the audience.

Follow your gut – but do so respectfully. Science Professor explains, ‘As a spectator at a talk, I enjoy a well-posed killer question, no matter who delivers it, but I think that everyone, from first-year students to ancient professors, can be most effective at asking these questions if the questions are simple and polite.’

Devise your question

Mind blank? Ask yourself: if I were to leave this room and try to apply what is bring talked about, what would I need to know?

Speakers are often leaders in their field and if there is opportunity to ask for help – we should be seizing it with both hands (or one raised hand, rather). It’s also an opportunity for them to understand YOU better.

Can you push the speakers to be more specific about recommending an action, or giving an example? Is there something inconsistent in what has been said? What have they missed?

Philosopher Guy Longworth says there are 7 types of questions, including ‘the clarification’, ‘the comparison’ and ‘the counter-example’.

If in doubt, ask them about their personal journey. Speakers often skip over challenges or failures, and asking them about their mistakes or lessons learned often yields interesting answers!

Put your hand up.

Not really any way around this one. Don’t think, just do it. Nice and straight now.

When it’s your turn, remember to breathe. Public speaking expert Lisa B Marshall says ‘when you take the time to fill your lungs, it’s as if your voice is riding on a supportive cushion of air, and your throat muscles can stay relaxed.  Your voice will carry better and have a richer, more pleasing sound.’

A good trick from the acting world is to imagine that the inside of your mouth and throat are as large as the room you are speaking in.

Offer some details about yourself (name & role at a minimum) before you ask your question. This will help the speakers, and the rest of the audience, understand where you’re coming from. It’s often nice to thank the speakers for sharing and say what you found interesting about their presentation.

If you’re battling to express your question succinctly, give a brief example of what you mean. Research shows that telling a story helps create empathy – and is more likely to be remembered.


Leave it open-ended

Asking open-ended questions will get insights and additional information you might not have known existed. Lifehack explains that questions with “would,” “should,” “is,” “are,” and “do you think” all lead to yes or no. Questions with “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “how,” or “why” lead to people giving some thought to their answers and provide much more information.

Tip – make sure you actually ask a question. There is nothing worse than someone who starts with ‘this is more of a comment than a question’. Even if you have an idea to share, and loads of experience in the area, finish with a question to throw it back to the speaker.


If you haven’t quite got what you’re looking for, don’t be afraid to probe a little more – ask them a follow up question such as, “What makes you say that?” or “Why do you think that?”

But in general – listen. SAMAG Committee Member Alli Burness said, ‘if it’s anything like user experience interviews, you should listen at least twice as much as you speak, and don’t interrupt.

Once you’ve had your go, say thank you and let the moderator move on. You can always approach the speaker after the session to discuss in further detail (and most speakers enjoy the attention too).

Now give yourself a high-five for asking a great question. Next time you’re at a public forum – remember how good it feels to contribute.







Culture Insight and Innovation News – June 2015


Thank you for your support and feedback on our first issue, and welcome to all of you who signed up for this monthly dose of insight & innovation news. If you haven’t yet, you can sign up here.

May 2015 has been an eventful month for arts funding and technology, ensuring our second issue is chock full of fresh insight. If you enjoy it, and think others might, please feel free to share this post.

Digital innovation and the role of government

Sensis has released their latest (super-rich!) statistical report on Australians’ use of social media. You may or may not be surprised to hear that the proportion of people using social is no longer growing (69% of us have a profile, same as last year) but we’re definitely using it more intensely than ever before. In fact, almost half (45%) of us now check it first thing in the morning, and a similar proportion (41%) check it last thing at night. In terms of platforms, Facebook still dominates (check out the graph below) but some other services are growing faster, particularly among younger age brackets who favour visual platforms like Instagram and SnapChat.

Screen Shot 2015-05-30 at 2.07.27 pm

Whilst social networking is stronger than ever before a new report from Ernst and Young says slow and expensive internet is now hurting ‘all aspects of business, government and the community’. 60% of digital opinion leaders surveyed for the report believed the Australian digital economy is less advanced than other leading countries. Despite some positive actions, such as establishment of the Digital Transformation Office (DTO), the report insists the Australian Government is not doing enough to drive digital innovation.

Earlier in May, Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull delivered a speech at the CeBIT e-government conference outlining plans for the DTO. Reading the transcript, I was shocked to learn that Australia ranks 29th out of 30 OECD countries on the proportion of large businesses that collaborate with universities on innovation. We are missing a trick!

Ironically, in the same month we learned that the Australian Government will no longer be funding academic commentary website The Conversation. Sad news when concise communication of academic research appears to be more important than ever before.

Arts + technology

Mid-month the Thinking Digital conference in Newcastle brought together a really diverse range of speakers to share their way of working with digital technology. The (great quality) livestream is still available to watch online. For creative types I recommend having a listen to data illustrator Stefanie Posavec, who I had the pleasure of working with on the Native magazine cover artwork, and Sam Aaron, who is the genius behind brilliant music coding program for schools, Sonic Pi. Hollie Goodier from BBC Digital also has some great stats about TV & digital audiences. Word is next year they are planning an arts specific conference


Stefanie Posavec’s work Touching Air, based on data from large particulate (PM10) sensors

The luminous Martha Lane Fox has produced a new two-part radio series exploring how technology is changing the arts, which aired last week on BBC Radio 4. The first focuses on how musicians are going online to create and distribute their work as network speeds increase. The second is on the visual arts, and how artists like James Bridle are using the internet as a medium, a creative material and a means of collaboration. Both are available via the iPlayer – well worth a listen.

A host of fresh digital projects reached the public domain in May. Some of my favourites are the Lovereading Bookmap, a Google maps mashup which plots locations and places in literature on a map of the world (think Harry Potter at Kings Cross Station), and Citizen Ex, a piece of software which illuminates the jurisdictions we traverse when surfing the net.

Arts funding developments

Major arts funding changes are afoot in both Australia and the UK. Australian Minister for the Arts George Brandis will be re-appropriating $110m funding over the next fours years from his own arms-length funding body the Australia Council, to establish a new program within the ministry. The news came as a shock to the sector, sparking protests. RealTime has taken a closer look at the news.


A dance protest at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. Twitter pictures: Chris Johnson

Meanwhile this week Darren Henley the new CEO of Arts Council England is expected to announce changes to geographic allocation of Lottery funding. The current 70% which is spent outside London will increase by at least another 5% within three years. The newly re-elected Conservative party have promised tax relief for the creative industries, whilst speculation abounds about whether they will maintain overall funding levels.

In the same month, an online platform that helps arts and heritage organisations with funding bids has won Nesta and the Open Data Institute’s (ODI’s) Heritage and Culture Open Data Challenge. Culture Everywhere is a web platform which helps users access publicly available data sets including the UK Census, Index of Multiple Deprivation and grant giving from Arts Council England. There’s a short video explaining the idea, and it’s already open for business (good timing in light of the above!).

In both countries, emphasis on alternative revenue streams will no doubt continue to grow. The Guardian has released a new resource on business plans, with tips for arts, culture and the creative industries, and this week’s Remix summit in Sydney will see hundreds gather to explore the latest thinking on culture, technology and entrepreneurship. I’m working at the event, so make sure to say hello if you’re heading that way.

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Introducing the Culture Insight & Innovation newsletter


Introducing the Culture Insight & Innovation newsletter.

Each month I round up an eclectic mix of arts management insight and publish it in newsletter form. You can expect plenty of useful stats, some technology news, a dash of marketing and a little policy analysis from around the world.

To access the latest issue and subscribe, please head to the campaign archive, or read on for more from our March 2015 edition…

Art in our digital lives

At the end of March ACMA released Australians’ digital lives, a useful snapshot of internet use across the country. It shows half of us now shop online, and that wifi hotspots are the fastest growing location for internet use. There’s a simple but informative 3-minute video if you’re short on time.

Snapshot-of-digital-life-in-Australia-2014 jpg

The digital marketing landscape continues to evolve with recent changes to Facebook newsfeed, which may affect the reach of anything but amazing content. Earlier in the month Google also began favouring mobile-friendly sites in search results (Stuart Buchanan has the low-down for arts organisations).

The Economist reports on the meteoric rise of online messaging services like Whatsapp (and the decline of the much-loved SMS), which makes me wonder what the creative possibilities of such platforms might be.

Speaking of mobile, Blast Theory’s interactive-performance-art-app ‘Karen‘ and Punchdrunk’s warhol-theatre-vodka-game-app ‘Silverpoint‘, both now in the App Store, are very exciting developments in this area. Worth a look!

Future of museums

It’s been a big month for museum trendspotting. MuseumNext conference in Geneva filled our hearts, minds and twitter feeds with delicious insights for innovation in museums. If, like me, you were far from the action, analytics guru Chris Unitt has compiled a round-up of round-ups, and you can check out one of the most-tweeted-about presenters (and cheeky copywriters) MuseumHack here.


Image via MuseumHack

Earlier in the month Museums and the Web announced the ‘Best of the Web’ winners for 2015. Among the awardees was Museum Victoria’s Field Guide to Australian Fauna apps. Browsing the full list of awardees makes for an inspiring 10 minutes, and lots of them are really good fun, like VanGoghYourself and my personal favourite, Tate’s 1840s gif party.

For those thinking of starting a new digital project (in any sector), Anna Dinnen from England’s Digital R&D Fund for the Arts has some sage advice for getting started on the right foot. The Guardian also has some nice tips for creative enterprises seeking scale.

Funding the future of culture

In case you missed it, in March the Australia Council released Arts Nation, a new overview of the Australian arts sector, which I was lucky enough to advise on for the past year. Among a broad range of indicators, it shows that consumer spending is the main source of income to the arts (eg ticket sales for performing arts events generated $1.5 billion in 2013!). There are some nice looking and informative fact sheets for your pinboard, too.

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 12.35.30 pm

Despite the dull title, Radio National segment ‘How important are Australia’s second major theatres?’ has an interesting discussion about experimental theatre, artistic tension and audience development in Australia’s major cities, which is worth a listen over lunch (20 minute audio).

Ahead of the upcoming UK election, analysis by academic Ben Walmsley tracks the decline in government support for the arts (falling over £100 million since 2009-10), with the sector increasingly reliant on growing lottery funding and local government decisions. A policy review of the creative industries insists government should be ‘sustaining and reinforcing state support of the cultural offer’, noting that the creative industries has grown faster than the rest of the economy during difficult times. Arts Council England has summarised the cultural recommendations in each of the party manifestos here.

Economics geeks like me might be interested to check out the recent US Arts and Economic Prosperity IV release, which underpins an impressive advocacy resource for American arts organisations. It combines recent estimates of culture’s contribution to the US economy ($699 billion in 2012; more than the $530 billion construction industry) with case making tools, templates and an impact calculator to help cultural organisations leverage the findings for advocacy in their local areas.

Insight calendar

The conference calendar is filling up with plenty of exciting opportunities to hear fresh insight. In the next few months I’m looking forward to Remix Summit on culture, technology and entrepreneurship, and the rest of the Vivid Festival in Sydney. The Australia Council is hosting its Marketing Summit over the same weekend in Cairns, and ArtsHub has just announced its second annual conference to be held at Doltone House in Sydney in June. Museums and the Web Asia conference is also coming to Melbourne this year from 5-8 October.


Finally, I’d like to thank Lisa Burns, Stuart Buchanan, Bridget Jones, Rachel Smithies, Fenn Gordon, Chris Pope, Mandy Whitford, Nick Herd and Kristy Wandmaker for their sage advice in my first month of operation as a freelancer. Your support is like oxygen to my newborn business – thank you.

If you’d like this delivered straight to your inbox each month, subscribe here.
Thanks also go to some of my ‘newsletter heroes’ Storythings, IFACCA, the Australia Council, Native and the Audience Agency who have inspired and informed this newsletter.

Diane Ragsdale: influencing the culture change

Diane Ragsdale courtesy Joshua-Feist632In June 2014 I had the pleasure of interviewing Diane Ragsdale on behalf of Native, the online magazine of the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts.  Diane is based at Erasmus University in Rotterdam researching and talking about cultural economics with a specialism in the performing arts. She previously spent six years at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and is one of the leading thinkers on arts governance of our generation.

Here is a copy of the interview, originally published in Native, in which we spoke about technology in the changing context of arts leadership – how technology is no longer something to fear, but a tool that can help the arts deepen its influence and contribution to society.

TW: You’ve worked in the arts in various capacities since 1988, how do you think the relationship of the arts to society has changed in recent years?

Diane: Over the last 30 years, several changes in society have made things more challenging for arts organisations. On a basic level, there has been a loss in the sense of legitimacy. Many arts organisations in Europe and in the US came into their power and bloomed in a time when it was taken for granted that the arts were important and a key part of civil society. We are increasingly put in the position of needing to defend the value of the arts.

Second, audiences and their tastes, the ways that they like to participate in the arts, and what they consider to be art, have also shifted. Some of that is related to technology, and some is related to other forces.

Third, we’ve seen income inequality grow in many regions, which arguably serves some arts organizations, who depend upon private contributions from the very wealthy. , however, Ultimately, the two trends puts pressure on those arts organisations that have historically catered to the upper middle class to work harder to bridge economic divides and to serve the greater good, rather than a minority elite. These are real shifts in the larger environment that we have to deal with – and many issues have become more acute in the last few years in response to the recession.

Technology could be used to open things up, to enable funders to be more present in the world, more responsive, and more engaged and on the streets—rather than locked up in ivory towers, as they are often perceived to be.

How is technology changing the arts? And how are arts leaders dealing with changes in technology?

Digital technology is helping us overcome geographic, time and financial barriers. One really exciting ramification: we could mean reaching millions of people – rather than hundreds. New formats and forms of art could also lead to the possibility of more intimate and dynamic experiences for people. Finally, technology is making it possible for organisations to not just communicate with their communities on an ongoing basis but to be more deeply in tune with what the community needs, and take the needs and input of the community into consideration as they take decisions.

One other anecdote: I recently worked with a number of departmental leaders from arts organisations on scenario planning for the future of the arts. I was amazed to see (though should not have been) that almost all of the small teams built scenarios based on a future assumption that a primary way in which people will receive artistic experiences is digitally, through either large screens or small. We’re seeing a generation of leaders come up for whom digital (rather than live) distribution is not something to be feared, but rather is seen as quite legitimate.

Arts organisations are now forced to decide whether they will exist exclusively to perpetuate the live experience, or whether they will, instead, seek to evolve themselves in response to the new and varied ways that artists want to make work and audiences want to experience it. They also have to think about how their live and digital strategies work together.

What kind of future for the arts would you like to see?

We need to be in the centre of civil society, not at the margins. The question that I’m always asking myself is ‘How do the arts matter more to people, or matter to more people?’ I’d like to see a future in which greater percentages of the population having a meaningful relationship with the arts – and I don’t buy into the notion of large segments of society being ‘disinclined’ to arts and culture.

I believe everyone’s life could be improved through some kind of participation (and we must thing broadly about what we mean by arts participation); moreover, it’s the role of subsidized arts organisations in particular to collectively try and reach as many people as possible through options that are as diverse as possible. Arts organisations need to take responsibility for educating people and helping them develop a taste for various forms of art and comfort with participation.

What excites you about digital technology in the arts?

I’m most excited by the potential for technology to change the governance practices of arts organisations. Boards set policy, hire the staff, the staff educate the board and make strategy recommendations that boards generally adopt – it’s a closed circuit. These days, it is rather rare for the public to have influence on the strategic direction of an arts organisation in any coordinated way.

Nina Simon, author of the book ‘The Participatory Museum’, and executive director of The Santa Cruz Museum of Arts and History, is modelling what it means to be an organisation that chooses to grow in response to a continual feedback loop of information on how people are or are not engaging with each other through the museum. This information comes to her and her staff through small experiments with new tools and methods, or just active, ongoing observation and reflection upon people and their interactions while at the museum. She’s using all of this information to drive an incremental and ongoing evolution of her organisation in response to the public.

Though this might not represent a shift in the formal governance structure of the organization, it does signify a willingness to invite the public to have influence on the organisation. Nina still has a vision and is strong and clear about what she is trying to achieve, but she is continually watching to see what happens as a result of the various actions she takes, and is adjusting to how people respond. It’s clear such a “participatory shift” is a difficult, or even controversial, one for some organisations. However, even if organisations have traditionally been more closed – it seems it is possible to slowly shift that orientation—to make a conscious choice to open up one’s organisation to the public.

You’ve previously criticised funders calling for innovation in the arts, can you tell us more?

First, there has been a ‘fetishisation’ of innovation in the sector, often driven by foundations. What does it mean to organise in order to be able to innovate? How can we make sure innovation doesn’t feel like something foreign and ‘one-off’, and is made possible because of the resources, people and processes that are allocated and structured to foster it? The processes that lead to innovation deserve more consideration. Additionally, we must know why we are trying to innovate – what problems are we trying to solve? It’s important to understand the social or artistic goals that we hope to achieve through innovation.

Second, sometimes funding processes end up rewarding ’known entities’—that is, historically leading organisations—which are not necessarily the most innovative or the most willing or able to experiment and fail. Another problem is that when funders invest in innovation they tend to shine a light on projects that are still being incubated and that need the opportunity to fail. High profile funding seems to put pressure on organisations and funded projects to succeed; I worry that this constrains genuine experimentation and leads to limited learning.

Arts organizations often lack the appetite, board support, and resources for risk. This is hardly surprising, if you consider that arts organisations are often undercapitalized. The values of security, stability, and self-preservation pull in the opposite direction from those of daring and experimentation. Arguably, funders should play a role in creating space for the experimentation and failure that are often critical to the process of innovation. They could provide money that it’s okay to lose—funds that may not have an immediate return other than the organisational learning that comes from trying something new, whether or not it succeeds.

How can funders best support arts organisations to make the most of technology?

More than 10 years ago I worked in an organisation and the Paul G Allen Foundation gave me a grant to attend a two-day session on strategic technology planning. It fundamentally changed my thinking at a critical point in time. Not only was I given guidance in how to undertaken a process of risk assessment, but I began to think about the goals and issues that we faced more broadly, and how technology could help us achieve those. I also realised how we could engage different parts of the organisations and partner with other organisations to make progress towards common goals.

The implications of technology are wide ranging, and need to be dealt with strategically and holistically. When I was at the Mellon Foundation, we received many proposals requesting funds for technology projects; however, too often the necessary deep thinking wasn’t happening and the technology strategy was being outsourced to others rather than being brought into the overall strategy of the organization.

This is difficult stuff to wrap your head around. In addition to supporting experimentation, fstructured opportunities for arts organisationsget off the treadmill; gain knowledge from those (in other industries) who have successfully (or unsuccessfully) transformed their business processes, relationships with customers, and value propositions; think deeply and systemically; engage in debate and discussion with their stakeholders; and develop new visions and strategies.

What advice can you offer funding bodies in relation to technology?

Some funders are difficult to communicate with at times, and can seem a bit out of touch with the world. Funders expect non-profits to be more transparent and open, to communicate with more people and give stakeholders the opportunity to provide input into their processes and programmes; however, they are often reluctant to undergo similar changes. By-and-large, private foundations, at the very least, need to have greater transparency about how they are setting their priorities (including the factors and people that are influencing those priorities). In addition, I think it would be transformative for the field of arts and culture if they would consider opening up their formal and informal processes for making funding decisions.

Technology could be used to open things up, to enable funders to be more present in the world, more responsive, and more engaged and on the streets—rather than locked up in ivory towers, as they are often perceived to be.

How can the arts maximise the potential of technology?

No doubt, technology is one of the driving forces that has changed the ways people create and consume and commune and communicate, and that is at the heart of the matter for arts organisations.

There was a time when we all looked at technology as a challenge to be overcome, but I think we’re moving into the stage where its seen as something beneficial. It can help us achieve goals, and it’s not something that has to be feared. I’d like to think there is an enthusiasm now, a willingness to embrace technology, rather than a fear that we’re going to cannabalize ourselves by going down this path.

In 2008 I gave a talk ‘Surviving the culture change’ even the title of it suggests a sense of ‘threat’. Now, I think more about how we are influencing the culture – not just preparing for it or surviving — how we are jumping into it, and wrestling with it in a really dynamic way, talking back to it, and bringing our own tools and ways of working to it. This is what arts organisations do best. We need to see ourselves as powerful agents who can influence and contribute to the culture, as much as respond to it. Technology can be a tool for us to have even greater influence, and that’s a really exciting thing.


You can read Diane Ragsdale’s popular blog at and follow her on Twitter as @deragsdale.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Feist

3 forgotten ingredients of DIY research

Be curiousResearch is no longer the preserve of academics and professional consultants. It’s now everyone’s business. Whether you commission, conduct or participate in research or use the results, one way or another it’s a part of your job description (or it soon will be!).

With user-friendly tools so readily available, its easy to get swept into DIY fieldwork before you can say ‘SurveyMonkey!’. But how well are we doing it?

There is plenty of good advice about questionnaire design and programming, but are we putting the cart before the horse?

Here are three simple rules for DIY research, which we often forget in our haste to capture data. Whether you’re new to research or a survey maestro, its worth taking a moment to ensure these are on your shopping list before plunging head first into any DIY research project.

Be curious

The fundamental starting place for any and all research is curiosity. A desire to learn something, be surprised or find answers. Why do people leave our venue as soon as the curtains fall? What do our artists really think of our new commission structure?

Adopting a curious, questioning mindset is an important start to any kind of research. If you already know all the answers, then its probably not research. And if you just can’t cope with new information at this time (and that’s okay), save it for when you do. But if you’ve got that little tiny fire somewhere between your heart, and your gut that wants to know more, you must go on, fearless researcher!

Curiosity is also what drives us to ask ‘why’ and ‘so what?’ when analysing results, so we can deliver results that are meaningful.

Have a plan

The second ingredient of research is a plan or design. This means mapping out what you are going to do, before you do it.

Depending on your situation, you might define your research question or research objectives. You probably have a list of steps or a methodology. An organised researcher will have a timeline, a budget (of time or money, or both) and some desired outcomes. A truly value-oriented researcher will also have a stakeholder map, a risk register and a dissemination plan for sharing the results.

Your plan can be as big or small as you need it to be. Remember its never too early to start planning, and you can always change your plan if you need to.

Seek balance

Lastly research seeks balance. Balance in terms of the research design, and in drawing your conclusions.

When identifying people to survey, remember to include those that like your product, and those that don’t. Selecting the right sample can make or break a project.

When it comes to analysing, remember to consider all viewpoints, and aim to reach a balanced position.

Its important to ask oneself, what am I missing? Is there any bias in my results? Who am I not talking to? Do I have the full story?

Research techniques have a proud history, and have been tested and refined over generations of practice. But before using any particular technique, make sure you have these fundamental qualities front and centre.

I think research can sometimes get overcomplicated, and it needn’t. As long as your project has these three ingredients, its in good shape to deliver rich knowledge and real value to all involved.



The year digital art gets personal


Only half of us visited a museum or gallery last year. Despite having a smorgasbord of cultural opportuntities on our doorstep, it’s hard to find the time to experience more than a taste of what’s out there.

But things are changing fast, and digital technology is continuing to help the arts leap stone walls and defy time zones. Great art is no longer waiting until you find the time (or the inclination) to seek it out: it’s seeking you out first.

The latest Digital Culture figures from the UK show more than 55% of arts and cultural organisations are optimising their content for mobile. The growth in smartphone ownership means almost two-thirds of internet users can activate cultural content at the click of the button.

You can already examine the microscopic fibres in Water Lilies while riding the bus, and over the next year art will become more integrated with our physical routines.

The rollout of 4G to 90% of the population and flourishing public Wi-Fi will enable a “digital arts layer” for the physical world. Activating art with your mobile phone can feel like opening a door to an alternate (and much more colourful) reality – where ordinary tasks feel more like a trip to the theatre.

The arts group Metal are creating Netpark, so we can enjoy digital artworks while walking the dog. This might involve sound, images and stories built around features and places without leaving any physical trace within the natural environment of the park.

Sing London is livening up the tube-to-office walk by bringing statues to life. Using our mobile phones, we can now invoke a theatrical recording from the likes of Sherlock Holmes, reminding us of the incredible stories we too often forget in the city crush.

Works like Hello Lamppost have fascinated festival audiences since 2011 by giving inanimate street objects the power to converse with people via text messages.

In 2015, cheaper digital technology will enable more permanent, pervasive installations in more places as local authorities look for sustainable long-term solutions.

In theory this could allow squeezed arts budgets to go further, if smarter digital working, and sharing of content across jurisdictions, reduces overheads and physical installation costs.

Alongside art activated with your mobile device, we’ll see more works built around ambient triggers (meaning they don’t wait for you to click), like rain, light or even your own shadow.

The “playable city” movement (which is aiming to make our cities fun and playful as well as smart and efficient) is fostering more playful installations like musical swings installed in public places.

Intelligent screens that not only display video but have cameras and sensors to capture content and process it live will engage random passers-by in creative exchanges.

One example is the TILO system installed at FACT Gallery in Liverpool, which can use its camera to scan your face, match it to your image in its database and change its display to suit your interests, such as suggesting films you might like.

Over half of arts and cultural organisations are using data to refine their offering around your needs, and R&D practices like user-centred design will ensure cultural products and services are more user-centric than ever before.

In 2015, for example, the National Holocaust Centre and Museum will use 3D filming and natural language processing to enable meaningful engagement with those no longer with us, creating interactive experiences that are goosepimply real.

Disability-led initiative Freewheeling are building a system of integrated 360° recording, editing and display technologies which will allow more people to enjoy immersive experiences in their homes through portable headsets.

Equal access to art will leap forward in 2015, as emerging technologies allow you navigate step-filled venues or avoid crowded noisy places.

These shifts have the potential to broaden access to the arts and culture, including among lower-income earners and people with disabilities.

We’ll also see immersive digital art tools inspire classrooms and transform pedagogies, and many more will be accessible to people in developing countries, with free or cheap software connecting basic items of equipment.

The Pop-Up Playspace, for instance, will wire up a simple set of cameras and projectors to enable safe, new mixed-reality digital play spaces for kids to experiment with theatrical techniques. And Sonic Pi, a live music coding tool for kids will be used in more classrooms, enabled via £30 Raspberry Pi computers and free software.

Artists and cultural institutions will continue to create experiences that defy predictability. Some of it may be mind-bending, some might be funny and some might be downright creepy, but advancing technology guarantees its reach is about to get wider, deeper and more sophisticated than ever before.

This is an edited version of an article originally published in Museums Journal, based on a piece for Nesta’s 2015 prediction series.