Five years of research into how arts and culture organisations use digital technology shows interesting changes but no major disruption
Since 2013, the Digital Culture survey has tracked the perceived importance of technology to arts and culture organisations in England, the activities they use it for and the impact they gain from it. In 2017, over 1,400 organisations told us about their engagement with digital, allowing us to identify major trends over the past half -decade. Here we look at five that most caught our attention.
Since 2013, the number of activities that arts and cultural organisations do on average (tracked across 24 activity areas) has declined from 9.2 to 7.8. On the surface this looks concerning - fewer activities seems to point to a less digitally-active sector. However, set against the impact that organisations say they are gaining from digital, it appears that they achieving more benefit from fewer activities, pointing to a greater level of focus and maturity in their use of technology.
One of the major shifts is in the growth in activity and impact around business models. Key activities related to revenue generation are on the rise - for example, organisations undertaking ticket sales online are up 10 per cent to 52 per cent since 2013 and online donations are up 11 per cent to 43 per cent. Importantly, the proportion of organisations experiencing major positive impact in this area has increased from 51 per cent in 2013 to 68 per cent now.
Despite these gains, over half of organisations (55 per cent) feel that they have basic digital skills compared to their peers with regards to business models. Skilling up arts and cultural organisations in this area could therefore reap significant rewards for the sector.
Audience development and engagement is at the heart of what most arts and cultural organisations do. It is encouraging therefore that in 2017 more organisations told us that they gain significant positive impact from their digital interactions with audiences. Across areas such as reaching younger audiences, connecting with new communities, and engaging more extensively and deeply with current audiences, for example, notable increases in impact have been reported since 2013.
Given that free or affordable user-friendly data tools are increasingly available, it is perhaps surprising that only a minority of arts and culture organisations use data to understand audiences better through segmentation and profiling (46 per cent) or to inform the development of new products and services (18 per cent). It is unclear whether this is due to skills and resource issues, or reflects lack of understanding in some parts of the sector, about what benefits can be gained from data.
Experimentation among arts and cultural organisations seems to be slipping back. This is despite evidence that organisations that self-identify as experimenters tend to gain more impact from digital. For example, 77 per cent of experimenters report positive impact from technology on their creative output, compared to 46 per cent across the sector as a whole. Similarly 69 per cent of experimenters report positive impact on their distribution and exhibition activities, versus 39 per cent overall.
It seems that arts and culture organisations are, on average, slow to adopt newer and more complex technologies, such as VR and AR. Only 9 per cent of organisations report having used these technologies, with no major shift in uptake since 2015 - although there are a growing number of notable exceptions - particularly from larger institutions.
Overall then, it seems that the arts and culture sector’s relationship to digital technology is one of gradual evolution, rather than seismic shift. While the number of sophisticated, exciting and, on occasions, groundbreaking examples of technology use continues to grow, collectively, the sector still has some distance to travel if it is to derive the full benefits that digital can offer.
To explore the findings in more detail head over to the data portal.