Research thinkings from the AMA conference

copright Hal Mayforth

copyright Hal Mayforth

I attended the AMA conference for the first time this year.  I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but was looking forward to hearing some new ideas which I might be able to bring to AL’s research team, and getting a better understanding of how arts organisations market their wares (even if it meant missing Eastenders for two days).  So, here’s my take on the AMA conference with my Research Officer hat on (and it turns out not a lot happened in Albert Square in my absence anyway).

One of the many areas Diane Ragsdale spoke about was the audience’s potential role as co-producers rather than consumers;  but to what extent does your audience want to co-produce?  Understanding them should help ensure any projects based around audience co-production meet the expectations of that audience.  This relates to the idea that it’s core to have clarity about who you’re serving and why – then you can think about how to reach them.  And how do you understand your audience?  Research!  So that covered the importance of good research, leading on to…

Leo and Rachel from Audiences South gave a handy rundown of the tools available to help understand your audience.  Some were better known (such as ACE’s new(ish) segmentation, ACORN and Mosaic) than others (PSPP, a freeware SPSS-type data analysis program), but in all an interesting starting point for seeing what useful research you can do with limited time and £.  I’m going to be exploring PSPP, so if anyone has any tips let me know!

According to Andy Ryans (via Stelios of easyjet fame), excellence is created by exceeding expectations.  So, in order to be able to know how excellent our event/service/production/offer is we need to measure the audience’s expectations compared to their actual experience.  This is something we’ve been doing for some time at AL as one way of measuring the success of an event/service etc, but using it to measure excellence isn’t something I’d considered before, and am definitely going to investigate.

The theme of value kept coming up at the conference, which made me think about how to measure it, and how we at AL might build this into surveys we design.  John Holden and Tim Baker spoke about the difference between value and benefit – benefit being objective, value being subjective, which I think takes us to a similar place to measuring excellence – if the benefit earned from taking part in or attending the arts is perceived by an audience member as having greater impact on them than the time or money required to do it, value has been created.  So there’s a lot going on when you ask people about what they value, and why.

Finally, Dan Germain from Innocent smoothies (I prefer a nice Irn Bru myself, but there you go) encouraged organisations to “listen and keep listening” – good advice, especially if through listening you actually make changes, which is what research should be all about!

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