About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Working with cultural heritage institutions for almost two decades, I remain struck by three key challenges that remain unresolved. The first of these relates to the continued lack of institutional understanding of how audiences choose to spend their leisure time. The second, is how this is intertwined with issues of equity both in terms of audience and staff diversity. The third, of course, is how digital media and other technologies have been poorly understood - not just in terms of affordances and opportunities, but also in terms of competitors for this time.

As economies tighten people now find their discretionary free time increasingly scarce. Multiple jobs, a gig economy, rising personal debt levels, scattered housing - as well as the ever increasing permeation of 'mobile ambient media' into our lives has changed how many people make choices about how to use their time. As several recent studies demonstrate - and internal research at the largest institutions likely confirms - time sensitivity is far more a barrier to engaging with arts institutions than price sensitivity. Of course, those with the greatest amount of discretionary free time are often those who are also the most economically secure. For institutions lacking a large proportion of tourists - the most time rich - the issue is even more pressing.

Related to this, our sector's many attempts to attract audiences and engage communities that are more representative of the societal mix around us, continues to be patchy at best. It is increasingly clear that if our sectors' workers aren't also reflective of our broader society then audience efforts will never go very far. The US peak body for museums, the American Alliance of Museums, recently published a provocative article on this issue and raised the challenge of 'internal salary equity based on effective income'. 'Effective income' equity might see younger staff receiving much higher take home pay in recognition of their considerably higher educational debts, their lack of a foothold in the property market, their lack of 'spousal support' amongst many other factors. That's highly unlikely to happen - but if our sector is to address very pressing staff diversity issues, 'effective income equity' might be the conversation starter many organisations need to have with their funders and boards. It might start to address the huge talent pipeline challenge organisations are facing.

And so to 'digital'. The graphical web browser turns 24 this year. And looking back over those 24 years, many of the same ideas, issues, and opportunities that were dreamt of by our sectors in the late 1990s remain dreams. Arts institutions have been far too slow on transforming their operating models to integrate, and interrogate, ‘digital’ in its broadest, most networked sense. The inability to retain highly skilled technical staff within our sector is one of the root causes - along with a lack of investment in infrastructure - of the sector's inability to effectively 'compete' or sometimes even effectively 'collaborate' with media and technology industries.