How can digital support resilience and sustainability?


24 August 2017, Sophia Woodley

If there has been one message in this series, it is this: digital is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end.

Digital can have many different benefits for arts organisations, including increasing audience engagement and facilitating the creation of new kinds of artistic works.

One important impact is to drive the development of new business models, necessary in an environment of budget cuts and heightened expectations from funders that brings new demands in terms of resilience and sustainability.

As Sarah Thelwell points out, many of the revenue-generating activities of arts organisations hit a bottleneck because they are “intrinsically linked to the human labour involved, therefore... inherently non-scalable.” Bypassing the bottleneck is a matter of “establishing a new method of production which enables scalable production to meet customer demand.” She gives the example of a string quartet selling a CD, as opposed to performing live.

Obviously digital offers a major opportunity to do just this.

In 2014, slightly more than half of arts organisations surveyed for the Digital Culture report said that digital technology was important or essential to business models. Yet historically projects using digital technology that intended to drive the development of new business models have had notably mixed results. (See, for example, the evaluation of the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts.)

So how can you create a roadmap that takes you from an exciting digital concept to an improved bottom line?

We like to use the Business Model Canvas developed by Alexander Osterwalder as a way of easily envisioning a potential new offering in one glance. It may look simple, but fully developing the canvas takes time – and will ensure that you’ve really thought through your offer.

In her paper on ‘Capitalising Creativity,’ Sarah Thelwall also offers detailed tips for identifying and assessing the potential of new entrepreneurial activities. She makes the point that the operational model for these activities is likely to be very different than that of core, funded activities.

Fundamentally, the lesson is that innovation doesn’t stop with digital – new ways of thinking across your organisation are required if you are going to reap the benefits.


This article is part of a series based on our Nesta report, The adoption of digital technology in the arts :

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