Data for Decision Making in the Arts

By Amanda Rigali on

1310 portraits (32)If knowledge is power, then why are so many arts organisations failing to engage effectively with data (and hopefully in turn) knowledge collection?

Investigating this question, Nesta’s 2013 report Counting what Counts, notes ‘the current approach to the use of data in the cultural sector is out-of-date and inadequate….failing to make the most of the considerable financial and operational benefits which could arise from better use of data’.

The challenge is partly one of perception – data collection is seen as laborious and ‘not what people signed up for’. Many find the term ‘big data’ off-putting, shrouded in terminology rather than highlighting the clear value of data to arts organisations.

Drawing on the challenge of perception, our hosts for the day, Pamela and Leo from the Audience Agency, posed the question ‘How can arts organisations use data?’.  Answers included tracking visitors, donor development and building online audiences.

How can arts organisations use data?

Brainstorm – how can arts organisations use data?

After posing this question on Twitter, I received additional answers noting the role of data in determining programming and collecting diversity information.


Particularly noticeable was not the answers themselves, but the speed and ease with which we generated our responses. Perhaps it is partly because we are already engaged with and interested in data, but I believe it is hard to generalise how the arts sector values data. There are a number of fantastic examples of data driven decision-making within arts organisations, my favourite of which comes from the Dallas Museum of Art. Turning its membership scheme on its head, the Museum now offers free membership to anyone willing to provide their name and email address. Members receive a card, which they can scan upon entry to the gallery, or even on particular works of art to illustrate their interest in the exhibition or piece.

For members, each ‘scan’ gains points which provide discounts at the gift shop, but clearly this initiative is far more valuable for the Museum’s development team. They gain information regarding repeat visits and audience interests, which when combined with basic information (postcode, gender, age) becomes extremely valuable. From a fundraising perspective, the museum has been able to use this information when approaching donors – producing data illustrating the museum’s reach amongst disadvantaged communities (an incentive for donors) and to borrow from Arts Council England’s agenda – highlighting how the museum provides great art and culture for everyone.


Clearly the value of data is not simply in its collection, but in its analysis. Whilst many arts organisations collect data, they struggle to effectively understand it. Segmentation provides part of the solution – providing guidance on understanding audiences by breaking data sets down by geographic, demographic and behavioural/attitudinal factors.

Art Council England’s ‘Arts Audiences: Insight‘; provides a segmentation analysis based on patterns of arts engagement, investigating frequency of and motivations behind visits to art and cultural events. There are 13 segments in total – to see which segment you fall into, visit this handy quiz.  Buzzfeed-style quizzes aside, there is evidently a question of training and skills development here.  We need to harness the opportunity of improved perceptions of the value of data by providing training for arts leaders in areas such as data analysis and segmentation

Not everything that can be counted counts

Data is clearly the flavour of the month, year and future, but I think it is important to acknowledge that art isn’t always about reaching a particular segment. Art is about exposure, it can open people’s eyes to new ideas and new art forms. If we are constantly striving to attract particularly audiences, we risk being solely consumer led. Data and audience insight must be married with programming and artistic teams to toe the line between being art led and audience led.

In the spirit of ‘knowledge is power’, here is a list of the most valuable resources and tools highlighted on the day, and which I have come across as my time as a Arts Fundraising Fellow:

Functionality Builder:  this tool helps organisations define criteria required for their CRM system. Organisations rate database criteria on a scale of not required/required/essential, which is then matched by the products provided by CRM suppliers, allowing organisations to assess which supplier most effectively meets their needs

CulturalDigital: a forum for arts/digital discussion, established by Chris Unitt. Chris’ personal site; and Arts Analytics series provides a detailed look at the digital metrics of 100 NPO organisations

Native: the journal of the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts, showcasing and sharing insights from digital projects funded to enhance audience reach

Posted by Amanda Rigali

Amanda is Director of Strategic Development at Cause4, and Head of the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Programme. As well as running the Programme, Amanda runs fundraising training sessions for cultural professionals across England and offers intensive strategy support to a range of charities.

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