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Digital Advent Calendar #DigiLab

Digital Lab Fellow, Charlotte Angharad from Metro-Boulot-Dodo (MBD) shares the thinking behind and outcomes of her second #DigiLab experiment — a digital Advent calendar.

In our second #DigiLab experiment we didn’t have a specific goal as such, we just wanted to try lots of different things through our social media channels to see what worked and what didn’t.

We thought Christmas was a good time to experiment with playful content, so each day throughout December 2018 we published different types of content on our three social media channels — Twitter, Facebook and Instagram — a bit like a digital Advent calendar.

The type of content we published varied — photographs, videos and plain text. Some posts we put across all three channels to see how they performed, some we just put on one channel.

We had a series of posts on ‘meet the team’ with a bit of information about each MBD team member. We asked the team questions such as what’s their favourite thing about Christmas? And what were they most looking forward to in 2019?

We also asked questions as posts. Some questions related to our work, for example, asking whether people had seen a show that we’d done or whether they had any feedback on a show. We also asked unrelated questions such as — what’s your favourite Christmas film? We just wanted to get people talking and engaged on our social media channels.

We monitored the level of engagement we got from these posts. We wanted to see if there were any trends we could identify with the type of content we published. We wanted to gain some insight into what our audiences engaged with and “liked”.

The results were very mixed. We found that the posts that gained the most engagement were the ones about the team — information about real life people rather than pictures of a show or a prop. Posts that had human interaction — either a video or a picture of a team member — were the ones that got the biggest interactions with the most likes and occasionally some comments.

The question posts were really hit and miss. We found that some of the questions were our top performing posts while others didn’t get any reaction at all. It was very hard to glean any evaluation from these. What we did find was that top performing questions were the ones that generated a conversation. Posts with interactions and comments were the high performing posts.

It seems the key to social media is not just sparking interest in a post it’s about sparking a conversation amongst your audience. We know that’s a good thing for us to do but we’re still figuring out what kind of questions and posts work best.

What we’ve gained from this experiment, and from the whole Digital Lab experience, is that our social media channels have very different purposes.

We now see that Twitter is more for engaging professionally with partner organisations and other organisations and artists within the sector; and that’s where we get the most interaction. Whereas Facebook is more for our already engaged audiences — giving them more insight into the work that we do. We’re quite new to Instagram so we’re still finding our feet but it tends to be a mixture of both.

We’ve definitely changed the way we engage with social media. Knowing which audience suits which social media channel has helped us think more about the type of content we share and who it’s aimed at. We’re more mindful of the content we post on each channel. We might share the same subject matter across the three social media channels but how we present that content is very different.

Images courtesy of Metro-Boulot-Dodo ©.

Rock ‘n roll strolling down the hushed corridors of art history #DigiLab

In her third and final Digital Lab blog, Ruth Selwyn-Crome is not only looking forward to future plans but also reflects on what she’s managed to achieve from her initial objectives. 

Having completed a few experiment outlines — and forced myself to think hard about objectives, unexpected results and what I might do differently next time — I’m feeling that I’ve managed to learn quite a lot so far.

I began with a really grand idea that I could create an online, immersive, museum style showcase. I wanted to find out how best to engage and attract people looking for memorabilia relating to gigs they’d attended. While I was thinking about this I decided to turn the massive list of gigs into a more workable format.

BUT researching many other music archive sites made me realise that engaging content isn’t all about functionality. I couldn’t possibly create a library catalogue in the time allowed — there are far better qualified people around to do that. And I didn’t have the time necessary. Meanwhile the simple list of gigs (albeit back to front) had sold out its second edition and more were being printed. The list wasn’t a problem that needed to be fixed.

I thought about what I was most disappointed about with the website I’d been using and it was mainly about the complete lack of ways to show images in an attractive way. This combined with the fact that the most exciting part of the Gig History project has been the newly digitised photographs which have come my way from alumni contributors.

SO when choosing a new web template to play with I went for the grandest museum/gallery version I could find. I liked the idea of exhibiting the material I had as valuable works of art. I liked the idea of allowing rock and roll to stride down the hushed corridors of art history!

The template is very sophisticated and it’s going to take a while to find out how best to use it. My mentor has very kindly offered to assist me beyond the confines of the lab timetable. It’s already attracting comment from my work colleagues though (“Wow, that’s beautiful — did you make that?”) which is heartening.

I’ve been invited to take part in a University of East Anglia (UEA) session at Latitude Festival in July. This has given me another deadline and great reason to develop the new site. I’m going to get a fantastic opportunity to do some audience surveying.

I recently met with a young postgraduate student, who had seen a panel discussion I’d been part of where I spoke about reaching out to new audiences and freelance experience I’d had with a local music festival. The student was part of an i-heritage project and was looking for ways to advise and help a local museum to engage with particular audience members.

I immediately remembered a case study from an AMA publication which I’d found very useful — and which I had shared with my own work colleagues. I also found myself referring to my notes from the AMA Future Now conference and found them incredibly pertinent. The student had already got some great ideas of her own but just needed to bounce them off someone. And perhaps that’s been my own biggest takeaway from the Digital Lab, with talk on the Slack Channel and participation in the webinars and research into what other people are doing with their online archives.

It’s all been a useful way to not so much firm up my own ideas as to reflect them back to myself in a slightly different way and give me courage to go in a different direction.

That’s what experiments are for isn’t it? Thank you to Digital Lab for this fantastic opportunity.


Read Ruth’s previous Digital Lab blogs — Keeping the dialogue open #DigiLab and Shrinking changes for the sex pistols #DigiLab

Image courtesy of University of East Anglia (UEA). Photographer Tim Richards. The Specials performing at UEA’s LCR venue in 1979.

Working towards digital goals #DigiLab

As Danielle McLoughlin approaches the end of her time on the Digital Lab, she reflects back on what has benefited her most throughout the whole process, whilst also looking ahead at how she might use what she’s learned to start her next experiment.

My journey through the Digital Lab has been fed back to our theatre’s Digital Working Group and it has encouraged new conversations between departments about how we might work better digitally and how we may be able to feed this into our organisation’s digital strategy.

One of the first conversations that came out of the meeting was between the Communications Manager and myself. We talked about how we haven’t changed the branding or design of our customer e-shots for over two years and that in this age of social and digital media, we need to create something standout that will cut through the digital noise.

We’re going to start by A/B testing various things from subject headings to personalisation, image content to number of words, and use Google Analytics to gather data and track goals. These goals may include things such as conversions and clicks, time spent on a particular page, bounce rates and customer journey etc. — the finer details and goals will be discussed at our next communications meeting. Eventually we hope to have a quality template to use for all email communications that will be unique, yet on brand, and drive more sales.

A second experiment that I am working on with the Press & Digital Officer is related to a specific show. The show is produced by Hull Truck Theatre and, as usual, is of fantastic quality but is quite different from our previously produced works. It’s in a different performance space, it’s a one woman show and it’s predominantly spoken word with a genre classification of contemporary drama/thriller.

Being quite different from other produced work we want to put out a selection of social media posts/advertisements, with varying content, and see which is interacted with the most. I’m aware after analysing website data that the bulk of our sales do not come from social media, they come from emails, so bearing this in mind our primary focus will be about interactions and engagement. Secondary to this we’ll look at conversions. We’ll use a Campaign URL Builder to clearly ‘label’ each social media post and evaluate this once the show ends. We hope this information will help to inform the way we advertise on social media and by continuing to do similar social media experiments we can start to build the ‘bigger picture’.

Reflecting on my time with The Digital Lab, I have learned a lot, but some of the key take away points for me are:

  • Don’t rush into an experiment without spending a good amount of time on the planning stage. As I learned in my last experiment, one of the hypotheses I’d made (re: latecomers) was tenuous at best, and I hadn’t thought it through in full before going ahead. This doesn’t mean the experiment was wasted, I was measuring other things too, but it did mean that the data that had been gathered for this particular ‘theory’ was useless.
  • Have a clear idea of what it is you want to know/find out, too many variables can muddy an experiment.
  • Be prepared to come up against obstacles. It may mean you have to change the way you’re experimenting or, in my case, put an experiment on hold completely.
  • Google Analytics, URL Campaign Builder and Google Tag Manager are your friends! My mentor, Tom, taught me a lot about what Google Analytics can do and what sort of valuable information can be gathered from it, and also how URL Campaign Tags can be effective in tracking data from different sources. It’s important once you know what data you want, that you know how to read it.
  • Obstacles are not your friend! BUT they can be valuable lessons. During the Digital Lab I came up against quite a few of these, which hindered my progress with the experiments, and while this can be very frustrating they are all learning curves. They have flagged up several things that need ‘fixing’ before we can confidently proceed with future experiments and data collection.

Have a clear idea of what it is you want to know/find out, too many variables can muddy an experiment.

Overall the Digital Lab was an extremely rewarding experience. I’m very much looking forward to learning more about Google Analytics/Tag Manager and helping other departments look at how they might experiment, digitally, within areas of their own work contributing to the company’s digital goals.

Read Danielle’s first and second Digital Lab blogs The dreaded roadblocks #DigiLab and Personalised vs basic #DigiLab

Image courtesy of Hull Truck Theatre — Us Against Whatever. Photograph by Sam Taylor.

Why do video when a podcast would be better? #DigiLab

Kyra CrossAudience Development Officer at Ideas Test, explains how a Digital Lab session on podcasts inspired her to create podcast content as part of her #DigiLab experiment.

If you asked me a few months ago about how I felt about my Digital Lab project I would have probably sent you a gif of Michael Scott from The Office (US version) looking visibly worried.

My colleague Jade, who is also on the Digital Lab programme had the brilliant idea of creating an ‘Instazine’, a mini Instagram magazine that is posted each month. Due to some major events and projects, which seemed to all happen at the same time, I felt that I hadn’t progressed very far. The feeling that I was lagging behind my peers I think was partly the impostor syndrome I think everyone one has at one time or another.

But … you’ll be glad to learn that I’ve had a breakthrough! 

Originally my idea had been to create video content about our organisation and the projects we do. This was a bit of a daunting prospect for me. I have some experience with video but I was concerned that it may not look professional.

In the meantime I took part in all the sessions Digital Lab offered. One session in particular caused me to have a startling revelation about my project, which I think has not only improved it, but has the possibility to continue beyond Digital Lab. During Hannah Hethmon’s podcast session I had the thought: “Why am I doing a video when a podcast would be better?” It’s a growing medium, a great way to communicate with people.

One of my colleagues once said that if I could talk to everyone they would understand what we do. A podcast is an ideal platform to create that. Also we have a few community radio stations in the area that we could offer the podcast to as local content.

Hannah’s session was so thorough that I didn’t need to ask any questions as she already answered them. Issues around accessibility were a concern, but Hannah showed that podcasts can be transcribed in various low cost methods. Plus I already have experience in audio editing, and Ideas Test has quality audio recording equipment, so the initial costs would be lower. All I needed was a great story to tell.

That story is going to be about our Youth Programme project: Swale’s Big Music Takeover. It’s a programme funded by Youth Music for young people that includes music performance, production, and other opportunities connected to the music industry. Through the project’s Audiocamps workshops, young people will learn about radio presenting and production, with visits to radio stations, and the chance to make their own show. It seems a perfect fit with a podcast.

But I always feel that there should be a back up plan in place, just in case something happens and I can’t record audio during the Audiocamps workshops.

I’m creating a trial podcast (an ‘Episode 0’) where some members of our team have informal chats with each other about our jobs and what we do. Not only will it demystify and humanise our organisation, but it will be good to assess how long the podcast will take to make, trial the uploading and RSS feeds, and to make sure everything runs smoothly for future episodes. I’m looking at keeping this podcast short, around 15 minutes or so. 

After talking to our amazing mentor Seb Chan, I’m already coming up with questions that I can use analytics to answer, not only in my podcast project but across the whole of our organisation.

So as my second blog comes to a close you find me in a much better place. I have a plan, now to make a podcast!


Image courtesy of Sound and Music © Dimitri Djuric. Christina Kubisch, Electrical walk at Cut & Splice by Sound and Music, 2017.

The dreaded roadblocks #DigiLab

Digital Lab Fellow, Danielle McLoughlin of Hull Truck Theatre gives an update on the ‘roadblocks’ she faced in her first #DigiLab blog.

Since my last blog, I’ve completed one experiment and I’m currently evaluating the outcome. It’s simple, and not something I had initially set out to do, but after hitting so many roadblocks I wanted to try and put some of the things I’d learned during my mentoring sessions, into practise.

The dreaded roadblocks
The aforementioned roadblocks were noted in my last post and most related to our website and Google Analytics.

Our online checkout process showed that the last five pages of our website had the same URL ending /checkout. This meant I couldn’t accurately track who had actually completed a purchase and not dropped off one or two pages before making payment. Update: we’re currently looking in to this, with our new web hosts, and hope to be able to pin point a specific page, or ‘action’, which can then be fed back to Google Analytics to show us when a customer has made a purchase and thus a conversion has occurred. Within the Communications Team we are now also discussing what we would like to get out of Google Analytics and looking to set up specific goals and targets.

We didn’t have admin rights to our own Google Analytics account our previous, previous (!) web host did. Update: we now have FULL admin rights and each of the Communications Team have set up their own logins — sounds like a simple ask but trust me, it was not!

These may only small wins but they’re huge learning curves.

The experiment
Due to tight timescales and the issues I encountered with Google Analytics and web URL’s etc., I could no longer carry out the experiment I’d hoped to, so I decided to look at an alternative that wasn’t too time sensitive.

I was interested in creating pre-show emails to send to customers that contained show information (including warnings, age guidance, running times, etc.), parking info and links to our online access and dining pages. The Box Office strive to offer great customer service at all times and this would be another addition to the service that we thought would be really useful. I also wanted to encourage our catering team (external company) to be involved and come up with something that we could test that would benefit them too. I decided to create a pre-show email which I would send out on ONE week of a two week show run with the aim to finding out whether:

  • Sending the pre-show email, which includes info about parking and the show start time (not doors open), means less latecomers?
  • Is the email useful? Do people even open it? Is it worth staff time creating and setting up these emails, plus cost of sending them out, if only a small number of people look at them? Would this information be better put elsewhere?
  • Including an offer would encourage customers to pre-purchase interval drinks and thus change customer behaviour, reducing queue time at the bar during the interval which has previously been a problem and led to lost sales.

I am currently evaluating the outcome through Dotmailer and, with the help of my mentor, Google Analytics.

One of the main positives that has come out of the experiment so far is that working across departments or even companies, in the case of our catering team, does work.

18% of people who received our pre-show email, and opened it, used the discount code at the bar, pre-show. Okay, this isn’t a life changing number, and some of the customers may have pre-ordered drinks anyway, but it shows that you can influence customer behaviour in the way you want, and this behaviour in particular meant shorter queue times at the interval we’ve previously had issues with this and less (if any) lost sales at the interval.

On the flip side, I know for certain that the idea around evaluating latecomers was tenuous at best and will not provide me with a definitive answer. I can’t honestly tell whether everyone who was late did, or did not, receive the pre-show email but this has just stressed to me how important it is to make sure I have really clear, measurable variables in place and to plan, plan and plan some more don’t rush into an experiment under pressure.

Read Danielle’s first Digital Lab blog Personalised vs basic #DigiLab

Image courtesy of Hull Truck Theatre — Bouncers. Photograph by Ant Robling.

Riding the wave #DigiLab

In Emilie Barton’s second Digital Lab blog, she explains how data analysis into audience digital behaviour has helped Pavilion Dance South West (PDSW) to implement improvements to its digital work. Emilie also shares insights into her three #DigiLab experiments .

In the first stage of the Digital Lab, I was collating data on PDSW’s main group of digital customers who were split into:  

  • Audience who look at Live Performance
  • Audience who look at Classes

After gaining some very useful data, I was able to see a picture of how these different groups are using our website, as well as the different traffic referrals and in-site behaviour.

General improvements have been implemented into our digital work after learning from an analysis of our current digital efforts. The new developments are very exciting, simple to utilise/upkeep and enables further data gathering and insight into audience behaviour.

  • SEO plugin (Yoast) added to WordPress — very useful for controlling our SEO and social media links (e.g. pulling images through to sites such as Facebook).
  • Launched Google Search Console (Webmaster Tools) — increased visibility of searched terms.
  • Increased use of Google Analytics.
  • Google AdWords — looking into — free advertising for charities.
  • plugin — useful social media stats and standing with other organisations.

It is also worth noting these developments though useful for any marketeer, are at no cost and anyone can use.

Experiment 1 — Riding the wave
Experiments are also underway. After finding out that PDSW has a high bout of engagement into the website in January/February, I wanted to ride the wave and create a coherent digital plan to attack my main aim: ‘to improve PDSW awareness’. This for me has led to including the whole PDSW message and picture in all areas:

  • Emails — adding PDSW messaging into emails with designed buttons that lead audiences to different areas of our website. It also reinforces the message that PDSW is a charity and has a wide remit of great work. I have summarised and evaluated the first test which provided overwhelming positive click data for the designed buttons.
  • Social — adding PDSW messaging to posts which emphasise that we are a charity and that our work covers Classes, performances, Youth work, Dancing for Dementia, Parkinson’s Dance, Artist Development and much more.
  • Social — I have also separated our classes into weekly topics/themes which allow audiences to gradually absorb the whole spectrum of our classes offer.
  • Seasons Listings gone live.
  • Design work — Along with the Buttons used in our emails. I am also testing a ‘Did you know?’ campaign.

Measure: To measure this experiment I hope to improve this website stat: ‘Traffic who look at ‘Classes’ pages who also look at ‘What’s on’ pages = 3%’

Experiment 2 — ‘Did you know?’ campaign
Along with ‘riding the wave’, I am designing some simple E-Images which include a series of basic facts about PDSW. PDSW holds thousands of dance sessions and provides opportunities to the community all year round. Releasing these facts will enable our audiences and the general public to understand us better.

  • Designed E-Images with PDSW branding which will include ‘Did you know’ facts about PDSW. To be used mainly on Instagram, Facebook, emails, Twitter.
  • Posts on social media to link to different parts of the website.
  • Template for e-image is made and set up.
  • Planning a schedule and strategy for release.

Measure: I hope to see an improvement in traffic to areas of the site, other than ‘Classes’ and ‘Live Performance’.

Experiment 3 — Home page
My last experiment requires further data gathering which will enable us to see how our home page is being used in more detail. Once further information comes in, I plan to make some small copy and image based edits which will reflect the data that I am gathering now.

  • Google Tag Manager has been implemented with a Google Analytics sync. I have applied a trigger and Tag to our home page buttons. Data will now feed into our Google Analytics telling us how often and what buttons get clicked on.
  • I hope this information will provide insight into what content audiences are interested in and what content needs a bit of development.

Measure: I plan to draw up data stats on the current use of the home page. Once I have implemented some changes I will draw up the same data and look for any improvements.

The Digital Lab is proving very beneficial to those looking at their digital efforts as a whole picture. I hope to keep gathering as much data as possible, for a continuous understanding of how our audiences are behaving, which is crucial when developing a new digital strategy. I also hope to provide some data-backed evidence of what works for our audiences and their engagement.

Read Emilie’s first #DigiLab blog — Audience data research #DigiLab.

Image courtesy of Artsadmin. Passage for Par, Rosemary Lee (Groundwork 2018). Produced by Artsadmin and Dance Republic 2. Photo by Graham Gaunt.

Reflections on #DigiLab

Fresh from completing the Digital Lab, Rachael Williams from the British Library takes a few minutes to look back on her five top key takeaways from the Fellowship.

Rachael has been catching up with the amazing people who work at the British Library to start a mini Curators on Camera series. Follow the British Library on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see, in true Blue Peter style, one (or two) videos the team and Rachael made earlier — going live in Spring 2019.

Read Rachael’s two previous #DigiLab blogs — Finding that golden nugget among a hoard of treasure #DigiLab and  To takeover or not to takeover #Digilab

Keeping the dialogue open #DigiLab

In her second #DigiLab blog, Ruth Selwyn-Crome from University of East Anglia (UEA) reflects on the key takeaways she’s gained from recent AMA training events and the impact these have had on her work.

One of the benefits of taking part in the Digital Lab has been access to the online workshops and being invited to attend AMA events. These would not have been on my radar in my current role in an higher education institution.

I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to hear about thinking from the arts and cultural sector and have been pleasantly surprised by synergies in thinking and practices. Many of the events offered to the public by UEA are free of charge — there’s no financial gain — but we strive to attract and encourage as wide an audience as possible to hear about brand new research in an accessible way. Purpose and aims shared by Digital Lab colleagues often resonate.

Three months on from blog no.1 and I’ve participated in:

  • Two online workshops: Producing a Podcast and Content is All
  • Digital Marketing Day — Future Now

I’ve written:

  • Two blog posts for UEA’s Alumni newsletter (open rate c. 15K)


  • Two new memory boxes onto the Gig History site
  • And one brand new venue list to publicise and play with
  • AND taken over the foyer of the wonderful Regent St Cinema for a UEA London lecture: Pop and the Disabled Body

A project with an original completion date of December 2017 is still attracting interest from all areas of the university — with requests for The Gig List publication for visitors and invitations from University partners like the East Anglian Film Archive to commission a short film for UEA students’ Do Something Different week. When thinking about the brief to the students, I was reminded of the original aim for the project: to create an exciting, mysterious, online venue.

There’s been some serious distraction (see above) from setting up the test website. But UEA Gig History now has a domain and a WordPress site, together with a special template. Tester gigs have been identified and material has been gathered and my mentor is working on setting up some interesting widgets.

I had a number of takeaways from Future Now, which I’ve shared with colleagues here at UEA. The opening keynote by Anne Lise Kjaer really hit home; that being a good storyteller isn’t enough these days — you have to keep the dialogue open. The Gig History project was designed to be a short, fun campaign within a temporary online mini-exhibition. There was never space for true interaction and the new website should — ideally — allow for this functionality.

Another key takeaway was from the wonderful Lucy Sinclair from the Royal Opera House; that everyone in a modern organisation should be digitally literate. As someone who has always been first in line to try new methods of communication (I still believe I was one of the first people at UEA to have a Twitter account…) there’s always been that sneaky suspicion that it’s not “my job”, so Lucy’s words were heartening.

The inclusive digital experiences session with Robin Christopherson, was also incredibly inspiring. Key takeaway was that everyone is (almost) on a level playing field when it comes to new technology. We mustn’t associate accessibility with disability as if it were something out of our own experience. I will bear this in mind when designing those first pages of the new site.

Suhair Kahn from Google Arts and Culture was last to speak.  Scanned Life magazines caught my eye with the ‘lifetags’ project. I could imagine the gig archive scans being tagged and searchable. Would that be too simple?

If nothing else I need to make one small, measurable experiment at a time. But for now, I’m excited to see what my mentor makes of the theme I’ve chosen.

Read Ruth’s first #DigiLab blog Shrinking changes for the Sex Pistols #DigiLab

Image courtesy of University of East Anglia (UEA). Photographer Mark Hodgson via University of East Anglia (UEA) — The Passions performing in 1981. 

Everything is an experiment #DigiLab

Rachael Norris explains how her experience of the Digital Lab has been a lesson in being adaptive and responsive to changing information.

My initial idea for a digital experiment was quite ambitious in terms of time and resources — and it turns out it wasn’t exactly an experiment either.

Working with my mentor Tom, I set a stretch goal for my experiment. This means that I can never fail. As long as I am working towards my stretch goal — even if something doesn’t work or goes wrong — I am able to learn and adapt from the information I gain.

My main goal, or stretch vision, is to meet people new to the theatre and grow a relationship with them online by giving people an experience that motivates them to connect with Octagon by liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter or Instagram. This element of my experiment won’t change however I reach this end goal.

The Setting Up Scrappy Experiments online workshop taught me that my experiment might look like a series of experiments rather than one experiment, and that it must have measurable outcomes.

To achieve my end goal I need to ask questions about what I want to learn from the experiment.

What I want to learn from this experiment is which methods are most effective at prompting people new to us to engage with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. I can measure this by tracking the metrics of how many people like/follow us over a certain time period and how many people use a certain #hashtag so we can know what prompted them.

So my experiment has become three different experiments. This means I am able to contrast the results of different methodologies and learn which method is most effective. I am going to test which method is most effective in driving engagement by asking audiences to:

  • Create something
  • Express an opinion
  • Take part

My experiments will follow the cycle of trying, reflecting, learning, planning and then trying something different. The experiments must serve to disprove that my hypothesis is wrong. Science says that you can never prove that a hypothesis is correct but that you can prove a hypothesis is not wrong!

The hypothesis for my digital experiment is that new people will engage with us online if we give them the opportunity to. What I will discover is which method works best. It is important that I approach the experiment with an open mind and eagerness to learn. I am not looking for information to support an assumption I already believe but I intend to impartially collect and reflect on the data to learn something new.

I have a bad habit of procrastinating through planning. Experimenting is almost the opposite of planning. Experiments are doing and learning as you go. Assessing where failures are and how to improve, rather than planning to avoid failure completely. It can be very disheartening if a plan doesn’t go completely according to plan and I have learnt that it is inevitable that this will happen. You really cannot account for everything through planning and if there is one thing that you can rely on it is that things will change.

Being adaptive to change is the most valuable lesson I have learnt in the process so far.

I have already adapted and changed my ideas to make things happen. Getting things done is half the battle. (My mentor Tom recommended reading the Manifesto of Done). As long as you are travelling towards your stretch goal or strategy then whatever you do to get there are your tactics, and by changing tactics that you can learn best practice.

Listening to the data, noticing when information changes and adapting to work wiser is a good start!

Image courtesy of Octagon Bolt — #BoltonOzComp — design competition on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram). 


Growing BSL audiences #ADA

ADA Fellow Parvati Pindoria explains how the Octagon reached out to the D/deaf community in Bolton to find out why BSL performances were the least attended of the Octagon’s accessible performances.

The beginning
Before joining the Audience Diversity Academy (ADA), we had already identified, as a theatre some of the audiences that we wanted to develop by looking at the results of our annual Audience Survey and seeing the gaps that existed. We decided we wanted to see more audiences from BAME backgrounds, more young people and audiences with additional needs.

The problem
Like many theatres, we put a lot of time into arranging accessible performances for all of our productions. Looking at the attendance figures for our BSL, Audio Described and Captioned performances we realised we weren’t reaching the people that we were providing this service for. Often, promoting our accessible performances came as an after-thought to our original campaign plan, which was too late in the day to be effective. We were too caught up in our usual routine of marketing activity to pay close attention to why we weren’t reaching these and audiences and how we could do that.

The challenge
The Octagon is undergoing a major redevelopment and one of the main reasons we are overhauling the building is so that our space can be completely accessible for our patrons and staff. Before we go back into the building in 2020, I wanted to find out how we can bring down the barriers that prevent people from accessing our work. Our BSL performances were the least well attended of our accessible performances so we started an investigation about how we could reach the D/deaf community in Bolton and what might prevent them from or encourage them to attend one of our events.

We decided we needed to find out more about the d/Deaf community and think about how we were going to tailor our communications to d/Deaf people.

We started a conversation with the Bolton Deaf Society, a local organisation providing health, social and employment services to hundreds of people in the d/Deaf community in Bolton every week. We found out that one in six of us have some form of deafness and this increases, as we get older. With 62% of our audiences aged 55 and above, we realised that this group is really important to the Octagon. The Bolton Deaf Society was really enthusiastic to collaborate with us and help spread the word about our services. From this initial conversation, we decided we needed to find out more about the d/Deaf community and think about how we were going to tailor our communications to d/Deaf people. We invited a group of service users from Bolton Deaf Society to attend one of our BSL performances and arranged a meeting for a few days after their visit to get their feedback on the experience. We had five new attenders to our BSL performance, this was the first time they had experienced the Octagon and for some of them it was their first time at the theatre at all.

From the initial moment when they stepped into the venue they encountered problems. We gained feedback on our website, posters and flyers, Front of House operations, the positioning of the seats we had reserved for them, the positioning of the signer in relation to the action, the quality of the signing and their experience of the show. The feedback was invaluable!  We identified so many areas for improvement and most importantly gained insight into the perspective of the people we wanted to reach. We had invited this group to come for free but they told us that the cost of the ticket was going to be one of the biggest barriers preventing d/Deaf people from attending. We knew it was important to feed this information back to the rest of our organisation and as a start we set about making changes to our communications about access performances so that they were more purpose built and targeted.

The bigger picture
We knew the changes that we needed to make were bigger than creating bespoke marketing materials. We applied for and secured funding from Ambition for Ageing for an intervention that meant we could create a long lasting relationship with the older d/Deaf community in Bolton. The funding meant that we could offer free tickets to over 50s in the d/Deaf community who would need to attend a Captioned or BSL interpreted performance. With support from Bolton Deaf Society the funding has also enabled us to arrange staff training on welcoming d/Deaf audiences, hire a BSL interpreter to welcome BSL users to performances, filmed BSL information videos about our organisation for our website and arranged a BSL interpreted meet and greet with the cast of our next production.

The aim is to bring access to the forefront of our whole organisation.

The future
We had 10 declared BSL users at the BSL performance of our festive production, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and we hope that this number will keep growing as we continue to grow our offer and deepen our relationship with the d/Deaf community. The aim is to bring access to the forefront of our whole organisation. I am looking forward to going back into our new building where we will have more opportunities to seek and improve how we serve our community.

BSL video information




Parvati Pindoria is Communications Officer at the Octagon Theatre Bolton.

Images courtesy of Octagon Theatre Bolton ©. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Octagon Theatre Bolton, 2018. 

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