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Experimenting with family workshops to increase take-up #ADA

[CONTACT BETH on 07888753521]

Emilie McGroaty and Tom Spurgin are Audience Diversity Academy Joint Fellows with big plans to take over their virtual world by storm in small segments.

We are conducting an experiment as part of a large-scale audience diversity project called The Virtual Orchestra, which aims to make orchestral music accessible to people with no, low or lapsed engagement with it. The Virtual Orchestra is a four-year, £600,000 project which ran in Bedford earlier this year, is still running in Leicester, and will visit Canterbury and Basingstoke in 2019. 


The problem 

From analysing the data that we captured from the family workshops that we ran in Bedford early this year, we could see that they were well attended but weren’t hitting our priority audiences, either in terms of audience segmentation or priority wards within the area. We found that most attendees were already engaged in other cultural activities in and around Bedford, and thus concluded that our offer and the campaign surrounding it was not well-tailored to our priority audience: people with no, low or lapsed engagement with the arts. 


The experiment 

Following a conversation we had with our ADA Mentor Sara Devine, we created an experiment that split our family workshop audience into two groups: those that had no or very little engagement with arts & culture (priority families) and families who were already engaged with arts & culture in some way (engaged families). We decided that the two groups needed two different offers that reflected the varying barriers to entry of the different groups.We wanted to grow our target family audience whilst continuing to meet the needs of our engaged families. 


Target families offer 

  • Free and unticketed 
  • Held offsite in a known location e.g. community centre 
  • Offering non arts-based incentives like free food and drinks 
  • Use of community gatekeepers to access this audience 


Engaged families offer 

  • Tickets cost £3 per person and could be purchased in advance via the Philharmonia’s website or on the day at the installation 
  • Held at the main site of the installation in Leicester city centre 
  • No additional incentives offered 
  • Contact with families made through traditional marketing and advertising campaigns

Results so far 

The first target family workshop that we ran in a priority ward (St Matthew’s, LE1 2) was attended by 35 people, in comparison to an average family workshop size of four in Bedford. Not only are the numbers useful for reinforcing our methodology but there are some inspiring stories too. One child that attended a target family workshop at her local community centre re-engaged with the project by visiting the main virtual orchestra installation the next day in the city centre. Furthermore, one of the gatekeepers for the community re-engaged by bringing a group of 30 to the main installation. It’s still early days but the results so far have been encouraging 

Targeted Experiments #ADA

Fuel Theatre Twitter screenshot

Sustaining an audience development campaign can only be done once the framework has been designed and tested as Audience Diversity Academy Fellow, Emilie Wiseman explains.

Last time I wrote about our experiments as part of the Audience Diversity Academy, we had just appointed two key ambassadors to help us reach out to young people aged 16-25, refugee communities and people from Afro-Caribbean heritage. We were embarking on our experiments and focussing our efforts on very targeted activity and personalised approaches to key groups local to the venue for the show: Ovalhouse in the Oval/Brixton area of London. This type of activity was also supported by targeted invitations on social media. 

Fuel Theatre Twitter screenshot

Our objective was to ensure that at least 30% of our audience was booking tickets following those approaches. Refugees were offered free tickets while young people and people from Afro-Caribbean heritage were offered heavily discounted tickets (£5 against a standard ticket price of £15). As ever, our audience engagement commitment needed to be balanced with our financial targets and although we were hoping to sustain the offer across the two week run of the show at Ovalhouse, we could only offer it for the first four shows. In a way, this enabled us to focus our attention and resources.

We also offered free meals and workshop options in a bid to further incentivise attendance from our target audience groups.

These ambassadors were so well connected that they enabled us to reach out to key target groups.

We were all very excited by the offer we had at our disposal and the amazing ambassadors we had managed to contract for the show. These ambassadors were so well connected that they enabled us to reach out to key target groups. A special push was done for the press night and we feel that this was the most successful night. A local group of refugees who had recently made their way from Calais came to the press night as well as young people from a local poet group.

We’re currently gathering the venue’s box office reports and our feedback cards to see how we’ve done against our targets but simple observation at the first three performances indicate that we have probably reached some of our targets. The response to the show on social media also seems to support this.

Fuel Theatre Twitter screenshot

This is all very hopeful but the real challenge will be to sustain this work throughout the tour and outside London in particular, where we are less connected to local communities.

The end of the road #ADA

Year 5 pupils from Oasis Academy  Hobmoor Birmingham

Audience Diversity Academy Fellow, Anais Vanais-Cooper reflects in her final contribution on some very interesting and rewarding experiences. 

As you may know we at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust are holding immersive days as part of The Arts Council England’s Museums and Schools initiative. 

 I started out to see how the children felt when they were told they have the opportunity to guide in a historic house and what the outcome of that would be.  Would they be encouraged to come to museums and be confident in the surroundings after their visit or did it put them off?  I am pleased to say that the majority were happy and confident to come back and go to another museum with their parents and peers.  

I cannot deny that there were and are some difficult times when things do not go to plan and you need to re-evaluate the situation and turn it into a positive.   But what has to be at the forefront of your mind is that this whole project is giving an opportunity to children that they may not have had otherwise  and the benefits that they are receiving and feeling  are  beyond measure.   

I have been involved with this project for nearly a year and it is not yet finished as it will continue and I will find out the outcome of my initial experiment in just over a year from now. 

However, the education team have been involved with the Schools project for over 3 years. 

The project has evolved over those three yearseach year with a newly devised activity plan to fit the funding brief. This year we have included outreach sessions – as well as the schools coming to us we go to them. 

As part of the offer we provide Arts Award Discover activity booklets (which are covered by the funding) so that the children can record what they do when they come to the houses to have their immersive day.  

We have exceeded the target number of children achieving Arts Award at Discover Level with over one thousand awarded over 3 years; our original target was 300. 

We also have a web page which the children contribute to by picking out their favourite item from the Trust’s Collection, including items on display in the houses. They draw their favourite in their booklet and we put it up on our website. Here is the link for you to see. 

It’s all very well telling you what we have done with the numbers and such, but what has it done for the children, for me and the team that I manage in Hall’s Croft?  

Well, for a start, from the comments we have had from the children (see Blog 2) we see that this has opened up a whole new world for them and they have learnt so much from it. The children gained confidence and were empowered to be able to speak to their peers without being embarrassed or intimidated, as this was special knowledge which they had gained and were telling their peers about. 

Our visitors to Hall’s Croft, of which we have had over 3000 since the beginning of the AMA study, have been very positive and in awe of the children’s enthusiasm and keenness to learn and to impart the information which they had gained about the history of the house.  

As for the Hall’s Croft team, we are always happy to see them and it makes us very proud to know we are sharing a special experience with the children. 

As for me, I have learnt so much from them including the tenacity they have exhibited in wanting to work so that can deliver a good talk, the willingness to share information with their peers and their confidence in talking to the general public. It has made me very proud to be part of this experience and this is the best thing I think I have ever done for a project. The project continues next year.  


Anais Vanian-Cooper is a Fellow of the Audience Diversity Academy and has devised an ‘experiment’ that brings young people into her organisation to experience something new and hopefully long-lasting.  In this blog, Anais shares some of her starting points.

We at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust are holding immersive days as part of The Arts Council England’s Museums and Schools initiative.  Working with our education department we at Hall’s Croft, and across two other sites, are holding twice weekly sessions where children from across the Midlands come and be a guide for the day.

I wanted to find out initially how these children felt when they were told they have the opportunity to go to a heritage property and guide visitors round the property. I began to look to see how the children felt coming to the house and what their expectation was. I asked them how nervous they felt and whether this was an impossible task for them to fulfil? Did they feel that this was a challenge they could rise to?

The experience starts with our team going over to the schools – telling the class what will happen and distributing the information that they will need to become guides.  The Talk is written in collaboration with the Education Department and the House Manager, so that it is tailored to the needs of the children.  The school then has the chance to have a familiarisation session before they embark on the journey of self-discovery (as for many this is what it is).

Most children reported that they felt very nervous when they were told that they were expected to give talks to strangers and get feedback from the house manager. I have to compliment the children for embracing this opportunity and giving it their all, the quiet ones were the ones that came out of their shell and the really confident ones decided that History is a subject they would pursue because they liked the experience so much.

So how do we know what the children experienced and what they thought about it? We set up a questionnaire from the beginning asking how they felt before the visit and after.

You can see from these comments what the outcome was.

(If you require more information about this and the schools please contact Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Education department).

As you can see from the comments below this programme has been an empowering event in the lives of these children and the confidence it has given them.

How did you feel beforehand?

  • very nervous
  • anxious
  • worried
  • excited
  • scared and nervous
  • happy because I was going to be a guide
  • special – not every school gets this opportunity
  • incredible – being a leader
  • felt like a VIP
  • not sure if I could do it

How did you feel afterwards?

  • brave
  • happy now I can talk to people
  • relieved
  • confident and professional
  • excited
  • happy to tour guide for the first time
  • scared then confident
  • lovely day
  • nervous then happy and excited, now confident
  • scared at first but now proud of myself
  • stand up for myself more
  • confident that I can do it
  • will be able to do talks in the future
  • uncomfortable in the beginning but now much more confident
  • want to bring my family and guide them through the houses
  • joyful
  • fabulous
  • fantastic
  • stupendous
  • tremendous
  • We were nervous with the small groups to begin with but got more confident.
  • I was nervous at the beginning and then reading the script I felt better
  • I got the attention of the people and then the others started listening.
  • I understand how my teacher feels – you have to repeat every single thing!
  • I felt appreciated and people were grateful.
  • like I’d accomplished it
  • very happy – people doing their part
  • felt successful
  • It felt good to know people were listening.

How did the visitors react to you?

  • They were asking us questions because we were so informative.
  • Someone said that we’re stars.
  • Someone said ‘You’re amazing!’
  • People were happy – they said they have learnt something and will pass it on
  • (The visitors were really positive and said how much they enjoyed the kids being at the house)

How do we follow it up?

We have questionnaires that are sent to the schools to see what the experience was like for the children and teachers.  We take the information to use for the following year to gain more knowledge and improve what we offer.  This has been for Hall’s Croft a learning experience and we are loving every minute of it.


The Penny Drops #ADA

Anais Vanian-Cooper is curious to try and find ways to inspire young people to see the heritage sector as part of their everyday future.  Working at Hall’s Croft Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and now an Audience Diversity Academy Fellow, Anais ponders what this journey is about.

Having been a manager of Hall’s Croft William Shakespeare’s elder daughter’s house for the last 3 years, I was told that we would be holding immersive days.  Immersive into what I thought not having come across one of those before.  Then the penny dropped, it was schools immersive day as part of The Arts Council England’s Museums and Schools initiative.  Working with our education department we at Hall’s Croft and across two other sites were going to hold twice weekly sessions where children from across the Midlands would come and be a guide for the day.  

When the children arrived there were some nervous faces.  But after familiarising themselves with the space and their talk which they had practiced at school they soon got into the swing of things and started to talk to the visitors freely.  The visitors were surprised and impressed. 

It set me thinking as to how many of these children would have the confidence in the future to go to other museums without feeling intimidated and were they actually enjoying what they were doing.  

So I decided for my experiment to see what impact an experience like an immersive day held for these children.   How would it shape their future, did it make them more confident or did it inspire them to want to work in the heritage sector. 

And with this my journey of discovery begins.

Creating a Culture of Evaluation #Digilab

If we could see the end of a project, examine it through a 360 perspective and then bring all of that learning into the next project, organisational growth occurs.  Based on her experiences at the Brooklyn Museum, Digital Lab Mentor, Sara Devine blogs about the importance of project evaluation processes.

The concept of using data to drive decision-making is definitely taking hold in the arts and cultural sector. And let me say, hallelujah to that! However, it can be a tricky thing to execute. To really do it well, you need a culture of evaluation in your institution. This means setting aside the necessary time during the planning stages of projects to define measurements of success, setting up ways to take those measurements, monitoring them, and gathering results. Then to really bring it home, you have to do something with the results. That’s the point, after all, of gathering the data. To make decisions.

The concept of using data to drive decision-making is definitely taking hold in the arts and cultural sector. And let me say, hallelujah to that!

It can be a bit of an uphill battle trying to institute this. People (leadership, for example) might realise we need data to make decisions, but not have a full picture of what it takes to get that data. It takes time and resources. Rob Stein’s chapter in the Manual of Digital Museum Planning (Rowman & Littlefield 2017), ‘Making It Personal: Putting Data at the Heart of of Your Museum,’  offers guidance on just how to go about accomplishing this goal. I encourage you to check it out if you’re struggling in this arena. He gives helpful advice on how to set and measure KPIs (key performance indicators) and even references the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) loop, a decision-making approach born of aerial combat, as a useful tool.

In my own work, I find that starting in my proverbial backyard is a good approach. I regularly have to make decisions or provide insight to inform others’ decisions, and have become a broken record about either needing data or using data to make decisions. We struggle a bit at the Brooklyn Museum because we lack a CRM (customer relationship management database) and rely on multiple systems to do our work. But that doesn’t mean we can’t gather data. In fact, we’ve recently partnered with Frontier7 to build a baseline visitor study I hope to run once a year. We’ll also work with them on market research for specific exhibitions and ongoing evaluation of outreach efforts. I recently sat down with our Director of Technology and Senior Marketing Manager to map out our ongoing evaluation needs and begin to put a timeline in place for executing these studies.

We used giant sticky sheets to map our evaluation plans for the next year, including what questions we want for a baseline visitor study and for an exhibition-specific version.

We constantly find ourselves wishing we had more information. So we’re going to get it. I don’t mean to be flippant here — it’s going to take work to ensure these studies take place regularly, to gather the info, analyse the data, and report on it. But, honestly, there’s only one way to build a culture of evaluation and that’s to get started evaluating. I’m trying to help create that culture by practicing what I preach. I’m confident as my colleagues see the usefulness, they’ll get on board with helping create that culture building-wide.

Image courtesy of Sara Devine.

New Ways of Working: Airtable #Digilab

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, goes the general idiom.  At Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Digital Lab Fellow, Nicky Hand explains in this detailed blog how implementing new digital tools is helping her organisation try new ways of working. 

For my first Digital Lab experiment I decided to focus on an internal process that was basically working, but I knew could be so much better. We’ve been using a content calendar to plan our social media and blog posts here at the Trust for several years now. During that time we’ve been working hard to skill up colleagues across the organisation and enable more people to contribute content to our outgoing feeds.

We’ve made great strides in empowering our staff to share their stories, but there’s still more we can do to ensure that the overall cohesion of our digital channels isn’t compromised. I was keen to explore how our content schedule could work harder to help us towards that aim.

During my research I came across Airtable; a web-based tool that can be used to create spreadsheets (much like Excel or Google Sheets) but also allows you to view the data in a calendar format. It’s this extra layer of flexibility— along with plenty of filtering and sorting options — that I was most intrigued by. I knew from feedback that some of our content champions found it hard to draw useful insights from information in a table format, so the idea of being able to manipulate the data to suit different learning styles seemed like something worth exploring.

How Airtable works
I’ve found Airtable straightforward to navigate and intuitive to use, so I was able to set up our demo database without much trouble. Airtable offers a suite of templates to inspire you, or you can start from scratch and just set up the fields that you need.

To help users along (and keep things neat) you can dictate the type of data that can be entered in different fields, such as date/time, single choice, multiple choice, free text etc. You can also link records between sheets, which gives us an easy way to note when a blog post has been shared through social.

There are different levels of user access, so you can tailor that to suit the needs of your teams. I’ve found it helpful to restrict the ability to create new tags in drop-down lists so that people need to ask me for help creating new labels. This ensures we don’t end up with multiple variants of the same thing and helps me to retain my overview of what people are working on.

The most exciting potential I can see is the ability to manipulate the data and use it alongside other campaign analysis. I hope to be able to draw insights that will help us to improve our content in line with what goes down well with our audiences. Airtable makes it easy to switch between different views such as ‘grid’ and ‘calendar’ to see the data in different formats. Records can be grouped, sorted and filtered in a variety of ways so that we can see what went out on a particular channel, or within a campaign but across all channels, or across all content but aimed at a particular audience.

By looking at the data from different angles we’ve already started to notice patterns as well as anomalies in our outgoing content, which threw up opportunities to experiment with different ways of posting. Next up I’m eager to work with our marketing team to incorporate Airtable into their campaign analysis workflow and see what other insights can be drawn from it then.

Working within limits
We’ve started off using the free version of Airtable, which allows you to invite an unlimited number of users but does have some restrictions in functionality. Almost everything we need is covered in the free version, but there are a couple of extras that might come in handy if budget were available for a paid subscription;

  • Up to 50,000 records in the database – the free version is capped at 1,200 so I plan to make regular exports to archive anything over nine months old.
  • Colour coding in calendar view – this would make it easier to see at-a-glance which platform a post is going out on (for example). We’ve been working round this using filters to narrow things down to a particular channel.
  • Plotting a record across a date range – to plot the duration of full campaigns as well as just individual posts.

These features require a Pro Plan which costs $20 (USD) per user per month. Airtable offers a 50% discount to non-profits and educational organisations that meet the eligibility criteria listed on their website.

Rolling out a new tool
I was keen to involve our content champions in the process of trialing any new tool, and to take the opportunity to review the way our content schedule was working — and where it could be made to work harder.

With the help of some of expert advice from my mentor, I mapped out some additional information that could be useful to us, but wasn’t being captured in the current social media schedule. I’ve added new fields to record things like the wider campaign that a post fits into, the audience segment being targeted and the scheduling tool that’s been used (we have a couple of different tools in circulation, so it’s useful to know where to look if something needs to be amended).

After giving our content champions a demo to get their thoughts on the viability of the tool, I followed up with written guidance and a trial period for users to access and play with Airtable for themselves. I invited feedback and offered guidance throughout this time and finally took the plunge, migrating both our social media schedule and our blog schedule over to Airtable in December.

Since then I’ve continued to offer support and welcome suggestions for how things could be amended. We’ve worked through a few teething problems and made some adjustments to make sure the data capture is as useful as possible without the whole document becoming unwieldy.

It’s still early days, but user feedback has been positive so far and we’ve already identified another area of the Trust where Airtable could be put to good use (I’m working with another team to set that up next). I’m really looking forward to working alongside my colleagues to further develop their confidence and hope to see Airtable being adopted in increasingly strategic ways. I believe that as our bank of data grows, the extra insights to be gained through Airtable could have a real impact on our understanding of why certain content performs better than others and will have a genuine influence on the way we approach every aspect of content creation.

Image courtesy of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust © Stewart Writtle.

A question of bias and balance #Digilab

How many times is too many times when it comes to testing an idea until it ‘succeeds’?  Ron Evans, a mentor on the Digital Lab, examines the layers that encapsulate our attitudes and approaches to being flexible when we are giving things a ‘good go’.

Picture of Ron EvansAfter working with hundreds of nonprofit cultural organisations, I’ve been in a lot of conversations about marketing strategy. “Oh, we tried that, and it didn’t work” is something I hear often. When I probe more deeply, I find out that the strategy was tried perhaps a couple of times, and then abandoned, and the person implementing the idea wasn’t enthusiastic about it in the first place.

This is a particularly nasty form of confirmation bias, which is defined as the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories. When we don’t believe something will work, it’s easy to find evidence to that effect. But there are a variety of other factors at play. Was the idea implemented correctly? Was there an objective method of measuring effectiveness? Was the time that the experiment ran long enough to get usable results?

When we don’t believe something will work, it’s easy to find evidence to that effect.

As Digital Lab researchers, one of our objectives is to combat personal bias. We do that by recognising and correcting for emotions we feel about a particular experiment, and actively exploring ways we may be influencing the outcomes. For example, it’s useful for us to frequently ask ourselves: “Are my feelings about this experiment influencing its execution, or my interpretation of the results?” Another way of looking at this question, which is often asked in academia, is: “Is another researcher going to see any issues of personal bias that may affect my results?” This type of introspection will often lead to dramatically improved experiments.

The science of experimentation that mentees get to practice in Digital Lab is a primary benefit of the programme. But equally important is the exploration of how we mentally approach experimental design, execution, and interpretation of results. A good researcher learns to balance both

Access All Areas #ADA

A technicolour kite in a blue sky floating above a row of cumulus clouds

Audience Diversity Academy Fellow, Emma Oaks shares with us how she is converting perceptions of her organisation, Buxton Opera House, one ambassador at a time.

As well as our beautiful but inaccessible Edwardian theatre, we also have a cinema that offers accessible screenings. Customer diversity is important to us as a company, but we have to demonstrate that we can provide an accessible experience before customers even step through the door. So, the experiment was to create a team of Access Ambassadors made up of staff, volunteers and community contacts who could spread the word about what we’re trying to achieve and share our passion for inclusivity with the wider community.

I must admit, with the faint whiff of disinterest coming from some quarters, combined with an un-successful first attempt at recruitment, that I wasn’t expecting anyone to be beating down the door to help with Access in either of our venues. However, there is a genuine interest in the Opera House itself as a beautiful iconic building, and in its long term survival following a closure 40+ years ago.

Having made contact with a few external groups to establish what access provision was available locally, I then contacted our own volunteer database to gauge interest in an Access Ambassadors group. I was pleasantly surprised by the almost immediate response from some volunteers and the recognition from them that improving access was essential to growth.

An initial group of 11 volunteers expressed an interest and we arranged to meet to discuss the potential of the group, what the aims would be, potential training that might be useful and how everyone’s personal experience could contribute to the project. Most of the volunteers had a backstory that reflected their interest in access as a subject, from grandchildren with autism; working with isolated adults; and personal hearing loss.  Our usual pool of volunteers is typically retirement age, so it was refreshing to have a wide age range represented in the access group – from mid-20s to mid-80s – although the majority were still 60+.

This led to very different contributions around promoting our accessible productions, with a high proportion being against social media, but several offers of support in attending community events.

As a group we developed a vision board that showed where our imagination might take us in the future. Interestingly the group focussed very much on our famous welcome and how fabulous our venues are along with an emphasis on the importance of the team working together. We finished the meeting knowing that we’re not perfect as an accessible venue, but as a team we’ll do what we can to make sure everyone has a good time – what a great starting point!

In all we recruited 15 volunteers, one of which is a full-time member of staff, two are from external community support groups and I’ve just turned customer services complaint about access into a new volunteer. Facilitating the group raised its own communication challenges – not everyone is on email; not everyone can use a phone due to hearing loss; and we don’t have an accessible meeting space in the Opera House, but we’re working round these as best we can. Since the meeting we’ve put a basic training plan for the group in place that includes autism awareness and a talk by Age UK. Our first event is planned for Disabled Access Day in March.

I’m faintly terrified by the size of the access project overall, but creating this Access Ambassadors potential group will certainly go a long way to helping spread the work load and reach more customers.

Getting on with it #ADA

View from a Gambian shore

Pauline Bailey is an Audience Diversity Academy (ADA) Mentor whose approach allows the Fellows to touch base when they feel that they need to bounce an idea across for clarification or to catch up after a particular milestone in their ADA experiment cycle.  

As very competent and experienced individuals they were able to get up to speed with their experiments and blogs so it would seem our sporadic start has not hampered them too much.

Hopefully as the process continues and now I’ve returned to the UK with access to better internet connections, I can get back to giving quality support.

Jane Elliot and Rachael Dodd from Yorkshire Artspace and Jessica Ziebland from the Discover Children’s Story Centre all have clear ideas of what they would like to achieve and have just got on with the tasks in hand despite the short time frame. Jane and Rachel have delivered their activity based on their annual open studio event, but this year with a twist on account of evaluations of previous events and identification of they’re learning from previous programming. The 2 days delivered so far has provided them with further learning on how they can continue to engage their target audiences. I’m looking forward to hearing more about how it all went.

Jessica has spent some time furthering her dialogue with a local school and due to engage children and parents in after school activities over the next few weeks. With a few suggestions from me Jessica will explore the possibilities of using the learning from this experiment to feed into and help shape a much larger annual event which is an exhibition and associated activities on Fairy tales which involves input from the larger team.

They’re on their way, though there’s still much for them to do. I’m excited and looking forward to the next instalments from my Fellows!

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