31 October 2016, Elizabeth Cochrane
Turning relationships and activities into powerful, actionable information
Having spent several months envisaging a data strategy for its organisation, Artsadmin is now working to map this vision onto the real world to meet its priorities. With the support of innovation agency Golant Media Ventures (GMV), and funded by Arts Council England, it is creating a system that will link up the information it holds. Combining what it knows of artists, audiences, collaborators, clients, customers, and donors – as well as its projects and physical spaces – the system has the potential to unlock the value of knowledge held in different parts of the organisation.
Jennifer Tomkins, Head of Marketing & Development, was surprised to discover that while some solutions to manage such a wide range of information exist for large arts organisations, the applications that smaller ones like Artsadmin can afford or get support from tend only to serve a single function, like ticket sales or donations. Whilst these vendors provide these services very well, it’s the broader linking up that they’re after. Since the ideal information management tool does not exist as an off-the-peg product, GMV has been working with Artsadmin to map a range of tools that aim to collectively meet its needs.
This design phase of Project KIWI (find out why it’s called that here) began with building a conceptual model of how Artsadmin works. This was then turned this into a practical model that showed how to organise and join up information. No system can deliver absolutely everything that can be imagined however; to ensure they deliver something meaningful, the team has kept coming back to their core requirements, and the discipline of this process alone has been immensely useful.
Admin & Studios Manager Jessica Denning, has already noticed that she and her colleagues are already working in a more strategic way, because they are aware of the kind of questions that they will want to ask of their data in the future. For example, they are already looking at joining up audiences that attend the programmes they put on in their home at Toynbee Studios with those that attend touring works at other London venues.
To understand what the systems might ultimately look like, people from across the Artsadmin team have been thinking about the relationships they have. They can now distinguish between the ‘light touch’ relationships with audiences, café visitors and other ‘consumers’ and the relationships, often professional, which rely more on personal connections, with promoters, artists, producers, sponsors and so on. It’s also become clear that those groups might often overlap.
Marketing Officer Selma Willcocks, has been surprised how interesting this phase of the project is. Mapping Artsadmin’s needs against particular CRM systems has turned woolly interpretations into clear and precise requirements. And she’s finding it genuinely exciting to be concentrating on the meaning of their information, and how it can create value – before the technical details.
They’ve also begun to get a real sense of what being ‘data capable and confident’ means in practice: knowing what you want out of your data, and why you’re capturing it at all. “The Holy Grail,” says Jen, “is having systems that can hold enough knowledge to allow humans to have insights about our relationships – which allows them to be more creative about ways we can communicate with them.” Marketing Assistant Alexander Turton, points out that it helps develop a sense of shared responsibility: if a piece of information is useful to you, it will be useful to someone else too.
They are clear that becoming more process-driven does not mean becoming more corporate. For example, producers can preserve their unique ways of working while still benefitting from commonly understood processes and names for things. Simply having everyone in a team able to agree what stage they’re at in developing a project – and which stage is next – will allow them to work together with a range of partners and artists more productively, and to share insights and resources across projects. This illustrates the fact that data itself is never the end goal. It’s what it represents that’s important: relationships, people, creative works, shared histories, and so on.
Once new systems have been put in place, there will be a rollout phase. While the KIWI team are aware that any change to working methods can be tricky in the first month or two, they are looking forward to reduced admin, and a much quicker route to useful information: it will no longer be necessary to trawl through endless different spreadsheets in search of relevant contacts, or to ask around painstakingly amongst colleagues to uncover the history they have with a particular artist. It might also mean fewer emails!
Information that is better stored and labelled will give them new insights into their audiences, and help them communicate more richly with everyone, from the hirers of their space to international promoters. They will be able to make the full range of their services more accessible to more of the artists they serve, and this in turn will help with funding applications and evaluations. The Artsadmin team believe that this kind of sustainability should be available to all arts organisations, and are excited about sharing some of the models they have developed through this project – potentially even making their new system available open source.
They are also looking forward to being more agile. Alex says he really understood the value of Project KIWI when he looked at the scope of what data will be able to do for them in the future. Turning their relationships, projects, stories and knowledge into flexible systems will allow the organisation to evolve any way it wants to, to meet the changing needs of the sector.
At a recent Arts Council England round-table event, Selma mentioned Project KIWI, and there was palpable interest with people approaching her afterwards for more information – the value of the project for generating additional revenues and creativity was completely apparent to them.
Artsadmin, with Golant Media Ventures, shared its learnings from this project’s journey so far at an event on 27th October at Toynbee Studios. If you are interested in receiving an invitation to a future sharing event, get in touch.