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Action Research in Audience Analytics - project completion and evaluation

In September we launched our Action Research in Audience Analytics project, and after four months of monthly experiments and activities undertaken by project participants, lots of peer learning and ideas-sharing, developing online resources, and running a training day and a learning and reflection day, we're now completing the project by publishing our evaluation.

We've commissioned research and strategy consultants MTM to aggregate and analyse all of the project data, as well as to look at the effectiveness of the project as a whole. The purpose of the evaluation is to share insights as to what worked well and what didn't for project participants undertaking and testing a range of different activities, and share their learning and top tips with other hyperlocal publishers.

This project offered dedicated support to 10 hyperlocal publishers from across England and Scotland who understand that the sustainability of their operations rests partly on developing insights into their audience. The project found that with expert help, hyperlocal media services are able to use a range of digital tools to grow their audience base, run effective campaigns, and create maximum impact with their content. You can download a PDF of the full evaluation, but we've listed some key points below.

The project participants were:

Executive summary

A summary of recommendations

A summary of findings/conclusions

Audience analytics is crucial if you want to understand what your audiences do and don’t like, so you can adapt to their needs and in turn drive up your own views.

The data shows us that audiences increasingly discover and consume news content on social platforms – and Facebook in particular. If you aren’t on Facebook and the other key social platforms, there is a real chance that your content is invisible to your target audience.

Similarly, data shows us that news is consumed primarily on mobile devices now – upwards of 80% of usage for some providers in this experiment.

Video: consumers want video; they are more likely to consume video content than text and pictures.

Find the time to experiment – experimenting with SEO and mailing lists can help drive new traffic to existing content; experimenting with new types of content is crucial to help you understand what your audiences do and don’t want.

Background and approach


The aim of the project was for hyperlocal publishers to explore how a more strategic use of website and social media analytics might help them define and measure their success online, to improve their service, audience engagement and reach, and in turn their sustainability and legacy within their local community.

The project recruited 10 hyperlocal media services who had limited experience using audience analytics tools, and supported them with a grant fund of up to £6,500 each between October 2015 - February 2016. During this four-month project, participants engaged in a range of activities, including:

  • participating in training sessions on key tools or techniques – with access to subject experts
  • running four different monthly experiments specific to their organisation
  • collaborating through an online Discourse forum that enabled them to share experiences and ideas.

This evaluation captures the key types of activity undertaken and the main learnings from project participants, so that they can be distributed among the wider hyperlocal media community.

Nesta set this project up to help answer five core questions/objectives

What barriers are there to hyperlocal media publishers analysing their audience and content?

How does training, upskilling and trial participation help hyperlocal media publishers overcome these barriers?

What evidence do the trials provide about local audiences and their consumption of hyperlocal media?

What evidence does this research provide to the wider sector about the cost-benefit of audience and content analysis and its impact on the commercial and social value proposition of services? Including services’ ability to demonstrate their value to potential partnerships with traditional/established media groups and local services?

Development and dissemination of learning resources for long-term benefit of and use by the wider hyperlocal media sector.

…And to answer two other questions about the project impact on the individual participants, in light of the above:

  • Did participants, overall, achieve their objectives/impact (based on what they said in early data capturing)?
  • To answer ‘what’s the value of developing communities of practice like this?'

The report was undertaken during February 2016 by a three-person MTM London project team (Richard Ellis, Dexter Davies and David Powell). The project was managed at Nesta by Kathryn Geels.

In October 2016 we'll be undertaking a 12-month evaluation with the project participants so to understand how they are still utilising their new skills and knowledge, if they are continuing to experiement with different platforms and tools, and what challenges or opportunities they've come across on the back of participating in the project. We'll publish the results from this evaluation, again, to share with other hyperlocal media services.


Kathryn Geels

Kathryn Geels

Kathryn Geels

Programme Manager

Kathryn was the Programme Manager for Destination Local. The project aims for the UK to have the most advanced public understanding of hyperlocal media and its potential for market gro…

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