The first few months of the new decade have been busy for England’s arts and culture sector. In January, Arts Council England launched their ambitious new strategy for the sector over the next 10 years. Meanwhile, last month, Arts Council and Nesta launched the fifth iteration of MTM’s Digital Culture Report and Arts Council and the National Lottery Heritage Fund released their new online tool; the Digital Culture Compass.

The overarching message of Arts Council’s strategy for the next decade is that the arts and culture sector should strive to create an environment in which everyone can fulfil their creative potential and experience high-quality culture. At its core, it seeks to ensure that arts and culture in this country is inclusive, representative and encourages participation. In light of this new strategy, arts and culture organisations will need to evaluate their activities to ensure they can fulfil Arts Council’s ambitious vision for the sector.

One element that can help future-proof the sector is digital technology; developments in this space have become integral to the creation of arts and culture, and in supplementary areas from marketing to exhibition to revenue generation. As such, the 2019 Digital Culture Report (conducted by MTM on behalf of Nesta and Arts Council) assesses the role of digital technology and its impact on arts and culture organisations, with a particular focus on the areas highlighted by Arts Council’s strategy.

Below we summarise three key learnings for how the sector can meet Arts Council’s ambitions for 2030.

Arts and culture organisations should make the most of their audience data

Arts and culture organisations have the potential to underpin data-led decision making with the wealth of audience data they have access to. Our study found that in 2019 the majority of arts organisations are using audience data for established engagement methods. For example, 67% are using audience contact details to send out newsletters. However, in order to create a more inclusive and representative sector, organisations will need to broaden their use of audience data. We have seen a minority of organisations begin to use advanced data analysis techniques, for example, 14% are using data to model future trends but these organisations are still the exception. In particular, there is scope for organisations to use data to better understand their audiences – currently under half of the organisations we surveyed are using data to segment / profile their audiences and only a third are using data to identify their most valuable audiences.

Collaboration between organisations can raise the capabilities of the whole sector

Since the first Digital Culture study in 2013 we have seen large arts and culture organisations (those with a turnover greater than £500,000) lead the way in terms of innovation and development. As such, they can provide many learnings for small organisations (those with a turnover under £100,000) and collaboration between these organisations could be instrumental in raising the capabilities of the sector overall. However, only a minority of organisations (11%) claim to use their knowledge to support other sector organisations develop their own R&D capabilities. As such, there is room for much more knowledge-sharing between large and small arts and culture organisations.

Risk-taking is crucial and senior management teams must drive this from the top

Understandably in the recent economic and political climate, there has been a preference to let others experiment with digital technologies before organisations invest in R&D themselves. In the 2019 Digital Culture report we see that risk-aversion might be in part driven by the priorities and skills of senior management within arts organisations. For example, since 2013 a growing proportion of organisations report that their senior management team is more focussed on innovation in non-digital areas and that they are not that knowledgeable about digital technologies. Given Arts Council’s emphasis on risk-taking and innovation, it’s important for senior managers to encourage experimentation with digital technology across all areas of their work.

To read the full findings from the 2019 Digital Culture Report click here.