Data for Decision Making

Does everything that can be counted count? – our fundraiser Jill investigates how arts organisations value and analyse data.

25 June 2014

If knowledge is power, then why are so many arts organisations failing to engage effectively with data (and hopefully in turn knowledge) collection? This question was the focus of an Audience Agency-led discussion I attended last month, hosted as part of my Arts Fundraising Fellowship.

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Nesta’s 2013 report Counting what Counts, notes ‘the current approach to the use of data in the cultural sector is out-of-date and inadequate….failing to make the most of the considerable financial and operational benefits which could arise from better use of data’.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, asked ‘How can arts organisations use data?’. Answers included tracking visitors, donor development and building online audiences. After posing this question on Twitter, I received additional answers noting the role of data in determining programming and collecting diversity information.



Particularly poignant were not the answers themselves, but the speed and ease with which we generated our responses. Perhaps it is partly all the day’s attendees 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. It is clear however that 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 major 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, then 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 with training and professional development for arts leaders. In turn, there is a question of whose responsibility this is. As a Fundraising Fellow I am fortunate to be involved in a programme which values professional development, but is it the responsibility of programmes such as this to support knowledge and training in the sector? Is there a role for non-arts organisations to mentor arts organisations in data analysis? Is there the potential for funders to offer bursaries to arts professionals to develop skills in data analysis and segmentation? Nesta’s Digital R&D Fund for the Arts perhaps contributes towards this, certainly in terms of peer learning.

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 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.

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