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Digital Culture 2015

Over the last three years Nesta, in partnership with Arts Council England and the Arts and Humanities Research Council, has conducted a survey benchmarking the importance, use and impact of digital technology within the arts and cultural sector. In 2015, we surveyed 984 organisations, creating a robust data set to observe change within the sector from previous years.

The importance of digital technology to arts and cultural organisations

Focusing on the changes from 2013 to 2015, it is clear that while digital technology remains of high importance to arts and cultural organisations, there is a suggestion that this has waned in some areas. For example, the use of digital technology in the creative, curatorial or production processes of organisations has decreased from 64% in 2013 to 54% in 2015. Similarly, the importance of digital to distribution and exhibition has decreased from 62% to 52%. 

The area that has seen a marked increase in importance over this period is the use of digital technology to business models, which increased from 34% of organisations believing it was important or essential in 2013 to 45% in 2015.   

The take-up of individual activities related to digital technology has also slowed in key areas over the previous three years. Out of 22 major activity areas, there have been six statistically significant decreases, and only two significant increases in the rate of activity. For example, ‘making existing records available for digital consumption’ as an activity has reduced from 60% in 2013 to 52% in 2015.

All of this has led to a slight decline in the impact felt by arts organisations from digital technology. Although an overwhelming majority (72%) still feel a major positive impact on the ability of technology to help them achieve their mission, this has nudged down in a number of different areas. For example, there has been a 5% reduction in organisations perceiving a major positive impact on engaging with their audience (42% in 2015 vs 47% in 2013).

Who is leading the way?

Notwithstanding the evidence of some retrenchment in the use and impact of digital technology in the sector as a whole, there are evidently groups of organisations that are experiencing higher levels of impact from digital technology.

  • National Portfolio Organisations have experienced a significant increase in the positive impact they are experiencing from digital technology. This has increased from 74% in 2014 to 81% in 2015 (the equivalent question in 2013 is not comparable). This may be due to a result of significantly increased activity in various areas: NPOs implemented an average of 3.2 new activities last year compared with 2.7 in all arts and cultural organisations. As an example of growth in a specific activity, 69% of NPOs now have a mobile-optimised web presence, up significantly from 61% a year ago. The sector as a whole stands at 59% (compared with 55% a year ago).
  • The survey data reveal that there is a group of ‘digital leaders’ - the top ten per cent of arts and cultural organisations that ascribe most importance to digital technology. These organisations undertake substantially more digital activities than the whole sample: 13.7 activities on average in comparison to 9.5 in the sector as a whole. The digital leaders are particularly likely to drive revenue through their activity in this area – 26% of this group use third party-platforms to generate revenue compared with 8% of the whole sector.
  • As in previous years there is a positive correlation between organisations that claim to experiment or take risks with digital technology and the level of positive impact that they experience. 93% of organisations that self-identify as experimenters report that digital technology has had a major positive impact on their ability to deliver their mission effectively. In contrast, only 72% of the whole sector reports the same positive impact. A possible cause for concern therefore is that some organisations appear to have scaled back their experimentation: in 2015, 28% of organisations claim to be engaging with experimentation and taking risks with digital technology, down from 33% in 2014. The decrease is greater for smaller organisations.  An implication is that organisations that are smaller and that are experimenting less will experience less impact from digital technology. 

Further analysis

The 2015 report looks at the main trends over the period 2013 to 2015. Alongside this are a series of fact sheets which highlight key findings for seven artforms and the cohort of National Portfolio organisations within the sample.

We are also sharing the data publicly through a dedicated online portal, in the hope that the study can be a valuable resource for others in an ever-changing digital landscape. Participating organisations are able to compare their answers with others of a similar type, size and location, and anyone interested can filter the full sample to view the results for a particular part of the sector.

589 organisations have completed the survey in two or more years. In the New Year we will publish an econometric analysis of responses from this panel.


Sam Mitchell

Sam Mitchell

Sam Mitchell

Programme Manager, Digital Arts & Media

Sam Mitchell was a Programme Manager in the Digital Arts & Media team at Nesta

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Hasan Bakhshi

Hasan Bakhshi

Hasan Bakhshi

Director, Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre

Hasan oversaw Nesta's creative economy policy, research and practical work.

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