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Engage Audiences: un anno a caccia di Audience Development in Europa

By 28 July 2017May 20th, 2020No Comments

We have heard about the research project Engage Audiences right from its conception, and a few months away from the publishing of the final report, we are ready to recommend it for end-of-summer reading.

At the “Audience Development è Innovazione Sociale” (Audience Development is Social Innovation), last June in Turin, Engage Audiences was explained to us in detail for the first time (we spoke about it here). Right from the start it was clear to us that this research would have finally attempted to investigate audience development as a practice, going beyond the rhetoric.

We here at BAM!, loved this pragmatic approach right from the get go. For years we have been working to try and encourage good practice of public development and we work alongside professionals in the cultural field to put them into practice. This is the case for example for our collaboration with the European project InNovaMuseum and the meeting that we organized last July at the International Independent Film Festival Lago Film Fest.

Study on Audience Development: how to place audiences at the centre of cultural organisations is the result of a year’s worth of research carried out by a board created by the Fondazione Fitzcarraldo, Culture Action Europe, ECCOM and Intercult.

The study was funded by the DG Culture and Education of the European Commission with the aim of suggesting successful methods and approaches in the field of audience development to then be divulged to European cultural organisations. All in all, the idea was to provide cultural professionals with the necessary tools to allow public centres to flourish:

The study was funded by the DG Cultre an Education of the European Commission with the aim of suggesting successful methods and approaches in the field of audience development to then be dilvulged to European cultural organisations. All in all, the idea was to give cultural professionals the necessary tools to allow public centres to flourish:

  • Within the organizations: encouraging within the organizations this approach in the field of programming, organization, communication and within the higher ranks.
  • Outside the organizations: the relationship with public administration, sponsors and donators.

The board decided to work parallel to this by developing a theoretic framework introduced in the form of a revision of the guidelines on audience development and access to culture in place, both in an empiric manner, starting a call at a European level aimed at medium to small cultural businesses (no more than 50 employees) who would have successfully taken on the transition towards an approach more focused on the public.

Out of the 87 answers received, 30 (coming from 17 European countries) were studied and were included in the case study catalogue. They were very varied in terms of sector and geography. Such a diversity is, without a doubt one of the key elements in the approach to the development of the public sector promoted by the board who headed the study. There is no “one best way” for audience development and every single organization must learn to understand their quirks. The 30 cultural organizations analyzed are very different on many aspects: their environment, size, ambitions, type of activity, the country and their aims. What they do have in common though, is that they make the local area suitable for AD: their attitude towards listening, their ability to learn from their mistakes, the importance of data and sharing objectives of the organization. In other words, they face the AD challenge with a strategic approach and they are ready to out their whole organization on the line.

Leading on from this, the authors of Engage Audiences decided to back up the study with a practical guide for cultural operators, which they called “Tools of audience development”. The use of the word “tools” shouldn’t however be deceiving: it’s not an toolkit, a box of equipment or an instruction manual to follow to carry out audience development. It’s more like a tool to stimulate dialogue, a series of questions that every cultural organization should ask itself before taking on any kind of decision that involves public development. Here is a list (translated into Italian by us from English)

  1. Who are you? Who is your audience? Be very clear about your identity as an organization, what makes you special and who do you want to make a difference for?
  2. Balance your priorities: public priorities and your needs. How far are you willing to go to achieve your objectives in terms of the public? Is this process is coherent with your values and with your artistic and cultural vision?
  3. Focus, listen and understand. What do you know about your target audience? How can you get to know them better? Who is your primary audience?
  4. Are you capable of it? Facing the challenges in the public sector can sometimes be out of your hands. Can you do it alone? Do your staff have all the capabilities and the necessary knowledge? Is there a skill you can get from outside the organization?
  5. Forsee the consequences. What impact will all this have on your organization in the short/medium/long term? Can you afford it?

Let’s go back to the theoretic framework proposed in the study, according to which these cases were analyzed and categorized. This suggests the existence of three types of audience, intended not just as segments but for the public itself.

  • Audience by habit. The public that participates in cultural activities habitually and do not have anything stopping them..
  • Audience by choice. The public that isn’t used to participating in cultural activities in their spare time because of their lifestyle a lack of opportunity or economic resources.
  • Audience by surprise. This is the public who is indifferent or who is even hostile towards cultural activities for many different reasons, perhaps because they feel socially excluded, not intelligent enough, or they have things stopping them.

This key for reading audiences is an invitation to concentrate on the motivation that pushes the public towards certain cultural activities rather than on their use of cultural content. We as professionals in the sector suggest to try to develop different relationships based on the type o audience you are facing and to try and remember that this person could belong to a different type of audience based on the event or institution they are dealing with.

Among the projects developed here at BAM! Cultural Strategies, WAY – We Are Yours  (for the Galleria Nazionale di Parma) and Museo Senior (for the Musei della Ceramica della Provincia di Savona) are heading in this direction. What’s left to say is that audience development is worth repeating, it’s a multifaceted strategy that is aimed at all audiences, not just those that are difficult to reach but also those that you already have.

The study also speaks about the eight principles of strategic areas that every cultural organization that wants to make an effort with audience development should not underestimate. We’re talking about: place, digital, active participation, capacity building, organizational changes, collaborations and partnerships, use of data and programming. If you’re interested in discovering what the authors of Engage Audiences think about this, we recommend taking a look at the material that includes:

And, for the more lazy of you out there, there is a summary of the study, great (brief) reading.