Formal R&D is common practice in many other industries, but how can we explore its full potential in the arts?
It might seem obvious that research is a core part of our work at the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts – but I’m convinced that a description of the Fund’s research program deserves its own blog post. And with the recent addition of a post-doctoral researcher to our stable of research and evaluation projects, it’s a great time to take stock of the five distinct types of research employed by the Fund.
We'd also like to invite your thoughts about how to make the most of this knowledge, and help R&D fulfill its potential in the arts.
1. Individual R&D projects
We've awarded grants to 24 individual R&D projects so far, and each of them has a dedicated academic research team. These teams collaborate with an arts partner and a technology provider to research and develop new products or services for the arts, such as open source web applications and roadmaps for turning public places into digital art spaces. These teams ensure that research is used to inform and guide each digital project, and determine its potential applicability in the wider sector.
From the University of Dundee in the North East to Falmouth University in the South West – there is an incredible depth and breadth of research already underway. And with a new wave of projects to be announced imminently, the arts will soon have an unparalleled body of evidence about the potential of digital technology to help it reach new audiences and explore new business models.
2. Learning framework
The Fund has an independent learning partner, 21Awake, charting the journey of each of the project, facilitating cross-project learning and capturing insights as they go through the process of R&D.
They run ‘digital therapy sessions’, where projects can discuss shared challenges in confidential phone calls with their peers, and learning workshops, where all funded projects come together for a day of presentations, group discussions and networking.
They also produce the Native website, where everyone can follow project blogs or read features on key themes emerging from the research.
3. Benchmarking study
In November 2013 we published ‘Digital Culture: How arts and cultural organisations in England use technology’. This report is conducted for the Fund by MTM London, and represents the first output in a three-year longitudinal study of digital activities, challenges and impact in the arts.
As well as providing the wider sector with an essential benchmarking resource, the study will help us, along with our partners the Arts Council England and the Arts and Humanities Research Council, to evaluate the impact of the Fund. For instance, it asks arts and cultural organisations whether lessons from our projects are helping them in their decision-making about digital development. We recently began planning for the 2014 survey – and are looking forward to seeing how and where the picture changes from one year to the next.
4. Research fellowship
The science and technology industry has the Frascati manual, but conducting digital R&D in the arts is new territory in many ways. Dr Elizabeth Lomas at Northumbria University was recently awarded a Research Fellowship to develop a meaningful definition for R&D activity in the arts.
Over the next two years she will be gathering empirical evidence about how R&D is conducted, whether digital technologies have impacted upon the R&D process, and how its value is articulated and understood.
5. Process evaluation
The Digital R&D Fund is, in itself, an experiment in funding innovation in the arts and cultural sector. We’re working with The Research Base to regularly reflect on our processes via data analysis and surveys of applicants, attendees at our events, and each other.
This provides important information to help us continue improving our work – and we were recently thrilled to see satisfaction for our workshops increase by 8 percentage points, after redesigning these sessions based on participant feedback.
So there you have it: 24 collaborative grants (with more on the way), 3 independent organisations providing learning, a research fellowship and me, an employed Research Manager.
We’re working hard to maximise the potential of this research activity, and deliver findings and insight to those who can use it.
Have you got ideas about how research can fuel digital experimentation in the arts? We’d welcome your thoughts on any aspect of our work – so please share a comment below, or email me directly at [email protected]
I’ll also be sharing more about each of these strands in upcoming blog posts - stay tuned.