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27th December 2016 Bea Udeh

Audience engagement and (other people’s) shoes #ADA

As Mentor for the Audience Diversity Academy, consultant Sarah Boiling, has been encouraging her Fellows to walk in their audiences shoes to gain a relevant perspective to their experiments.

For the Audience Diversity Academy, I am mentoring Fellows from three very different organisations – The Royal Collections Trust, Ilkley Literature Festival and East Durham Creates (a Creative People and Places project).

So, I have been pondering the implications of experimenting in two, out of these three, different contexts; the commonalities and the differences.

At East Durham Creates, my mentee has a flexible role in a project that is all about action research and trying new approaches (Creative People and Places, in case you haven’t come across it before, is an Arts Council England funded programme of place-based, community-led arts engagement). So it’s pretty easy to try new things. Maria has experimented both online – creating and posting trailer videos for events, plus a series of ‘Inspire my week’ Facebook posts encouraging everyday participation – and offline – promoting and taking part in a series of weekly percussion workshops.

One of the areas we talk about when we get together is the why? question, unpicking what the objectives are for that particular initiative and thinking through how they might best be achieved – is this the right mechanism? the most appropriate message? how does what we are trying to do fit with the lives of people living in East Durham?

At the Royal Collections Trust the situation is very different, and my mentees Jenny and Neepa need to follow a rigorous (and newly introduced) process to get approval for the experiments they want to undertake (offering the museum as a venue for ESOL sessions along with Community Exhibition Previews). Here there is no shortage of strategy and objectives, and the need is to get senior colleagues on-side to support the team’s ideas. In our most recent conversations we have focused on internal issues – how to win over hearts and minds, how to demonstrate that new ideas aren’t too frighteningly new and that they have sound foundations, and showing how these ideas help to deliver the broader aims of the organisation.

So, very different organisations, very different roles, very different experiments and very different levels of professional experience.

One of the common features across both sets of conversations?

A reminder of the importance of putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes; of stepping outside of our own experience, and considering the people we are trying to build a relationship with. Whether they are senior managers or local families, if we take the time to talk to – or rather listen to – the people we hope to engage with our ideas, we are much more likely to be successful (and we might even discover a much better idea than the one we had originally thought of…)