The Intersection of data, policy and the arts sector

Technē Institute for Arts and Emerging Technologies at University of Buffalo website, 11/20/12

In recent years, one of the big buzzwords among policymakers is "data" -- how to get it, how to use it and how it can inform more effective policies. This is particularly true of the arts and culture sector, as policymakers on the federal, state and local level look for ways to increase their understanding of how policy decisions impact the arts sector. Conversely, arts and culture activities are relevant to a host of issue areas, from education to economic development to transportation and beyond. In this conversation [from the recent Future of Music Summit], we hear from government officials about the kinds of data that allows them to succeed in their jobs, along with corporate, non-profit and academic perspectives on the challenges and opportunities that lay before us. [Watch the session here.]


Using data to show neighborhoods where the arts might flourish

Johnny Buse, The St. Louis Beacon, 11/16/12

Todd Swanstrom and Karl Guenther were given a seemingly paradoxical charge by the committee overseeing a Kresge Foundation grant: Find neighborhoods with the elements for a spontaneous explosion of the arts so local organizations could help build those spontaneous arts. [They] dug into the data, along with researcher Will Winter, [and] soon emerged with a handful of recommendations for which areas were most primed for what Swanstrom called "a naturally occurring arts district." According to Swanstrom, the arts-based grant is all about "fostering great place making." And the best way to blaze the trail? "Data and GIS mapping," Guenther said. (GIS stands for geographic information system.) The Kresge grant's steering committee, comprised of a collection of more than a dozen St. Louis funders, artists and community advocates, will ultimately choose which neighborhoods will be selected for help with community arts development planning. For the Kresge grant selections, hard data are essential. Of course, the data are only half of the project's planning -- the human touch, whether through anecdotal evidence or on-the-ground experience, is the bulk of conversation. Some areas were not included in Swanstrom and Guenther's initial maps. "And that's fine," Swanstrom said. "You have to understand the sort of local investments going on in places, and arts things can be incredibly successful in any neighborhood -- we're just saying here are places where you'll have somewhat natural factors that will help."


Commentary: Big data for little nonprofits

Steve Boland, Nonprofit Quarterly's Management blog, 11/28/12

There may have once been a day when nonprofits could go to the community and say, "We do good things, and you like good things, so please support us!" If these days ever did occur, they seem to be on their way out the door as meaningful evaluation grabs hold of the 21st century and says, "Good intentions are nice. Show us how you are going to make real change happen, or we may just fund someone with good intentions and a plan for success." Your nonprofit could really use some solid baseline data. Most nonprofits don't have those resources, but luckily they can take advantage of all the Big Data being collected by others. One of the things Big Data can do is help tell the story of how you plan to make a difference in your community. is one leading provider of such integrated data collection. Much of this data is collected to understand commercial markets, but most of that same information is extremely useful in evaluating the outputs and outcomes of your work. In general, access to this kind of collated information is expensive for the small nonprofit. Expensive does not mean out of reach, however. Start with a free trial, get your baseline data, and then start building a comparative data collection budget into your evaluation plan. There are lots of other places to get some good Big Data. If your nonprofit mission outcomes can be measured by good old-fashioned demographics alone, the American Community Survey can likely give you specific data to your targeted geography or demographic sector. Perhaps your benchmarks for evaluation include comparing your performance to peer groups? Guidestar makes their database of IRS 990 data searchable by types of nonprofits (using NTEE codes) as well as by relative financial size and geography. Wherever you search for your data, start gathering it and incorporating it in your measures. Saying you did 10% more stuff than last year is interesting. Saying you made a 10% impact against outside data measures is more useful still.


Arts Holland offers cultural Linked Open Data

From the City Service Development Kit website, 11/23/12

Last week, Waag Society and its partners released Arts Holland. This platform is the primary resource for Linked Open Data on tourism and culture in the Netherlands and will play a role in the tourism (replication) pilot of CitySDK. Linked Open Data is freely accessible data that is linked to other sources to make it more useful. Thanks to a special way of structuring data, computers are able to understand the meaning and the context. This makes searching for information a lot more effective and efficient. It is easier to find data and follow relevant links to find additional contextual nformation. Unlocking Linked Open Data stimulates innovation, because services can be developed that would otherwise be too expensive or technically unfeasible. Imagine a mobile application for tourists visiting the Netherlands. When a tourist searches for 'places of interest in Amsterdam', the application will give suggestions based on his preferences, his current location and the time of the day. With a traditional search application the tourist would receive millions of documents containing the words 'places of interest in Amsterdam'. In that way it would be very difficult to find events beyond the highlights.


Commentary: What the arts can learn about using data from Obama campaign    Rick Lester, TRG Arts blog, 11/14/12

The Obama reelection campaign squeezed victory from a race that appeared to be very tight. The strategy was built on growing their sizable 2008 database into a 21st century set of database tools. Size matters in the world of big data.  The bigger and more robust the data set, the better the predictive tools become.  That's why direct marketers can now pinpoint targets while simultaneously understanding who is not the target. Of course, the Obama data-driven campaign machine is not scalable or affordable for the arts ...yet.  But here's what we can take away:

  • Big arts data that's already available is transformative.  It's redefining the selection of target markets and offers.  It's able to impact a range of business and artistic decisions that extend far beyond the traditional realm of marketing and development.  Knowing your patron's transactional history is no longer enough.  You need to know everything possible about their activities with you and when they are not in your venue. 
  • Ignoring the shift in American demographics is a recipe for failure.  The "browning" of America will be challenging, especially for traditional Anglo institutions whose costs, artistic mission and business models are locked in place.   And, as Boomers fade from the scene to be replaced by Generations X and Y, finding and retaining audiences and donors becomes another critical consideration.  Success comes from knowing who your audience will be, not just who they are now.  
  • New predictive models and improved methodologies will drive how we engage with patrons and prospects - to create relationships with them.  These tools will reduce business risk and improved efficiency as we seek to build patron lifetime value and loyalty. The good news?  Technological advancements make micro-targeting more affordable and accessible to all of us.  With that, direct contact -- in all print and digital channels -- becomes a means every organization can use for building loyalty.

What did you learn from the last [presidential] campaign?

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