Open Data Has Many Forms (part 2): Positive Effects

Image Turner Contemporary

In the last post, I discussed how making cultural event data can lead to a sense of ownership, which is similar to how making 3D models of cultural heritage artefacts available online can lead to a feeling ownership.  While cultural events and cultural heritage artefacts are completely different from one another, they both can result in experiencing enjoyment and  emotions.  These are strong responses that have been linked to return museum visits and monetary donations, and they demonstrate that  a museum’s exhibitions and collections are successful.  Similarly, organisations need to know that their open data are being used effectively.

In digital terms, positive responses can result in return website visits, positive online reviews, online sponsorships, and increased attendance to similar events via website searches.  The organisations that hold the events will similarly respond by making future events’ data available online and even offering more events.  Open cultural event data allows information to be shared on many websites, yet each website curates relevant cultural event data for their own audience, perhaps only choosing to include a few events from the listings on different websites.  As a result, the owners of a website feel a sense of ownership over their evolving list as they try to cater to their readers.  They know who their audience is and the types of cultural events they would enjoy, and audiences will respond by revisiting the same websites to hear about events.

Another effect of allowing website owners to curate their cultural event data from the vast event listings online is that the audience feels valued.  A lot of time and effort goes into making data open and designing or editing a website to include open data; without this work, the audience would have to manually search many websites to find the event information they are seeking.  Important event information can also be overlooked when one does not know where to seek pertinent information.  Knowing that organisations value their audience enough to make it easier for them to track down potential cultural events also results in the audience valuing the organisations.  Open data and their positive effects are a two-way street that everyone can benefit from.

There already have been some success stories related to open data and the arts.  Specifically, Creative Commons ‘enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools’ and has a wide range of galleries and museums that have benefited from their efforts.  However, successful use of open cultural event data is just as important and needs more attention.

Read the previous post: Open Data Has Many Forms (part 1): Ownership of Data

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Reflections on the Folkestone Triennial 2014

Image Alex Hartley

Alex Hartley (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)

Last year was the third edition of the UK’s most ambitious public arts project, Folkestone Triennial 2014, and it could be argued that it was the biggest and best yet. The Triennial was curated for the first time by Lewis Biggs, under the title, Lookout, which was more fitting than Lewis or the Creative Foundation (CF) could have expected. As predicted, Alex Hartley and a number of volunteers took their position looking out over the harbour from their Grand Burstin-base camp as part of Vigil. Triennial-goers looked out over the town from the exhibition’s wind-powered lift and over the harbour from Gabriel Lester’s bamboo observation deck. Something & Son’s sustainable greenhouse looked to the future, experimenting with alternative urban food production. The more surprising events included the thousands of people that came down to Folkestone to dig up Michael Sailstorfer’s treasure buried on Folkestone Outer Harbour Beach.

Image Folkstone Outer Harbour Beach

Folkstone Outer Harbour Beach (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)

The appropriation of disused spaces such as Emma Hart’s installation in a domestic interior and Tim Etchells’ neon text work in Folkestone’s derelict harbour railway station offered a renewed perspective on a familiar townscape. The Creative Foundation team took this one step further by inviting muf architecture/art to completely renovate an area of the Creative Quarter known as Payers Park. Previously a sloping wasteland, it is now a permanent park specially designed for the different needs of people in the local area. In addition to Payers Park, around the third of the works from this year’s Triennial will become permanent fixtures in the town, adding to the permanent collection of Folkestone Artworks that have been created from the previous two Triennials. Folkestone has amassed one of the most unique and quirky art collections in the UK, making it quite a special place to live, work and study.

Image Earth Peace 2014 by Yoko Ono

Earth Peace 2014 by Yoko Ono (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)

With 135,000 visitors, more people than ever visited Folkestone for the Triennial this year, cementing it as a one of the South East’s leading cultural destinations. The Folkestone Triennial public programme was buzzing with activity for the duration of the festival. With two conferences, field trips, artist-led events, historical and community talks, guided tours, family and schools workshops on offer, there was something for everyone.

Image Folkstone

Folkstone (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)

The Triennial in 2014 was a development on the first two Triennials of 2008 and 2011. These excellent exhibitions made a point of bringing great art into Folkestone in the summer; the high point of any seaside town’s tourist season. The exhibitions managed to bring a great deal of attention  to Folkestone that brought a significant number of visitors, a number of whom made a commitment to the town by renting property from the Creative Foundation.

For 2014 a new strategy was adopted. The Triennial was moved to the autumn, opening at the end of August and closing in early November. This decision represents a significant change for the Triennial and a change of emphasis for its promotion and audiences. There were four key audiences for the Triennial; locals who live in the region, education including schools and higher education, arts specialists, and tourists to the region.

The new strategy was supported by the research from Visit Kent that made it clear that Kent receives few international tourists and those that come are mostly interested in heritage. If people do visit the county it is predominantly for a day and those who stay overnight mostly do so by staying with friends and family.

The Triennial plan adopted has therefore been to use the press particularly for the art world, to build an education plan that includes two conferences and a marketing plan that aims for local engagement through the local press and lastly a campaign for visitors already in the region. Much of this was done through locals by encouraging them to invite their friends and family to the Triennial. This plan excluded any campaign for the hard to reach people from outside Kent or the country who show little propensity to visit.

The Triennial partners who include the artists and arts organisations of the Open and Fringe, the local businesses, including retailers and restaurateurs, along with hotels wished to see a plan that included those outside the region. While our partners appreciated the move to autumn to extend the Folkestone season, they felt that no other event in Folkestone, part from the Triennial, has content and a reputation that will bring attention to the town from outside the region. This only happens every three years and felt this opportunity should not be missed. The value of any greater plan would be of creative benefit to some partners and business benefit to others.

Culture Kent supported Folkestone Triennial and allowed this plan to be reconsidered and extended and its funding has enabled the Triennial to:

  • Work with new partners in order to attract new visitors to Folkestone and the Triennial.
  • Engage with audiences from within and outside Kent and capture the essence of the new Folkestone.
  • Increase the number of national and international visitors to the Folkestone Triennial.
  • Increase the coverage of the Triennial in international websites.
  • Achieve 30 blog sites mentioning the Triennial.
  • Measure the number of audiences who also visit other cultural destinations in East Kent.

It also enabled the Triennial to work on an outreach project with Visit Kent and achieved:

Image Rochester Cathedral
Rochester Cathedral (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)
Image Port Lympne
Port Lympne (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)
  • Having a presence at the St. Pancras International Station over the opening weekend of the Triennial (30 & 31 August), as well as on the first weekend of October to promote the show, deliver an interactive activity and promote the town, local hotels, restaurants and the Creative Quarter.
  • Working with Southeastern Trains for an extensive poster campaign throughout Kent to promote Folkestone & the Triennial.
  • Working with Southeastern Trains to secure free train tickets for 50 national and international press journalists for the press day of the Triennial on Thursday 28 August.
  • Printing and distributing Folkestone Triennial branded Do Not Disturb cards to be used in all Folkestone Hotels.
  • In collaboration with the Turner Contemporary, Folkestone Triennial commissioned an installation by Krijn de Koning which was also replicated in Margate and cross-promoted this work through press material and e-flyers.
  • Monitoring audience attendance and demographics and undertake extensive market research.
  • Working with P&O Ferries and DFDS to distribute Triennial maps on all ferries and encourage international visitors to stop at Folkestone.

As part of all of this, the Triennial gained:

  • Extensive coverage of Folkestone Triennial and the town in the Visit Kent website, dedicated e-newsletters in English, French, Dutch and German, and across all social media platforms.
  • Extensive coverage of Folkestone Triennial and the town in Southeastern website and dedicated e-newsletters.
  • Extensive coverage of Folkestone Triennial and the town in Eurotunnel website, blogs and newsletter.
  • Extensive coverage of Folkestone Triennial and the town through Visit Britain, Visit England and the French Tourism Boards.
  • Cross fertilization of audiences between Margate and Folkestone
  • Developed relationships between the CF and local hotels.
  • Developed relationships between the CF and other tourist attractions in Kent.

This was the first time that the Creative Foundation sought to develop strategic partnerships with all these organisations, travel operators, hotels and other culture and tourist attractions. Culture Kent enabled us to do so and we are now in the process of deepening these relationships and entering into conversations for future joined working on projects about Folkestone Artworks and the Creative Quarter. The Culture Kent funding came about only months before the opening of the Triennial. As a consequence we didn’t have the time to pursue further partnership projects with organisations such as Eurotunnel, P&O and Southeastern that would have added extra value to the project and would have enabled us to reach even more people. We commissioned Visit Kent to broker these relationships for us but due to limited time some of them didn’t come to fruition.

Our relationship with the local hotels especially benefited and now we have an ongoing dialogue about how art and the hospitality sector can boost tourism in Shepway. After the end of the Triennial we donated the bamboo from Gabriel Lester’s installation The Electrified Line to Port Lympne Safari Park. They are using it to build a new structure for their wild cats. This partly came about after the Triennial Kiosk visited Port Lympne during the show and the two organisations started talking about partnership working and cross promotion. In April and May 2015 the Creative Foundation was invited to have a pop up shop at Bluewater Shopping Centre for six weeks showcasing the work of 26 artists and makers from the Folkestone Creative Quarter, attracting more than 6,000 people through the shop’s doors and promoting the town and its creative force. The Bluewater staff told us that we came under their radar due to the work we did for the Triennial and Culture Kent when they came across the kiosk during its tour.

Did you attend the Folkstone Triennial?  Please leave a comment on your experience or thoughts!

Many thanks to the Creative Foundation for partnering on this post

Digital Walkshop – Understanding How Visitors Utilise Technology

In March, Visit Kent held a Digital Walkshop aimed to explore the various ways visitors use technology. Led by the Digital Tourism Think Tank, participants were divided into four groups representing different types of tourists. For example, the Young at Heart group represented tourists who were older and not as familiar with current technologies. Each group was given three tasks to complete during the day, which started at 10:00am. From an initial starting point of the Marlowe Theatre, each group had to pretend that they weren’t familiar with Canterbury or its cultural and tourism offerings. Instead, groups had to plan out their day as if they really were visiting from elsewhere.

 The first task for the Young at Heart group was to plan a day out from Canterbury. Many tourists initially plan on visiting one location, but are eager to explore nearby places as day trips. As ‘tourists’ to Canterbury, we had to figure out where to go, how to get there, and whether it was open. We first Googled ‘tourist information Canterbury’ to see what places others suggested to visit while in Canterbury.  The results linked us to a directions page, but unfortunately the directions were not available, which was frustrating. We next decided to ask someone at a tourist office or visitor centre in person. We went back to the smartphone to Google maps to see where we were and how far we were from the tourist centre. However, the online map was confusing with too much information appearing, so we quickly looked around High Street and found out that Canterbury has very good signage set around the city, and were able to find the Canterbury Visitor Centre, which was located at the beautiful and historic Beaney House of Art and Knowledge.

Image Canterbury Signage

Canterbury Signage

The visitor centre had maps, brochures and guides on display, offering a wide variety of options for places to see both in Canterbury and nearby towns.  We perused the brochures and picked out the brochure on Leeds Castle as it was a nice day and we wanted to visit somewhere outdoors, but we still needed to know how to best get there. Instead of using a smartphone to look up directions, we thought it was best to ask someone at the help desk. She told us that is was not easy to get there if we did not have a car. She gave us a brochure for Dover Castle instead, along with bus and train options. The brochure said the castle was open everyday from 10-6, and if we took the bus, it would take us closer to the castle, although there was still a big walk up a hill. She gave us bus options, including how to get to the Canterbury Coach Station where the bus we had to take was located.

Image Canterbury Map

Canterbury Map

Along the way to the coach station, we tried to look up bus times and ticket costs but the connection to the Internet was spotty. We found that there was free Internet at Fenwick’s, so we stopped by to check our smartphone. Unfortunately, there were still problems connecting to the Internet, but luckily we saw that the coach station was nearby. After speaking to an employee, who gave us different, but more convenient, bus instructions than the lady at the visitor centre, we decided that visiting Dover Castle was a good idea, and Task 1 for Young at Heart was completed!

Image Dover Castle Brochure

Dover Castle Brochure

Although this task seemed like a simple one, it proved that it can be frustrating and complicated for those who are not familiar with Canterbury and had to rely on signage, assistance from people, and spotty Internet service. Although many people own smartphones, they provided no extra help when no Internet connection was readily available. Even when the Internet did work, we could not depend on links since they were either not working, or search results were not what we were looking for.

Acting like tourists in Canterbury really helped us understand what a tourist might go through when they are visiting a new place and want to experience all that it has to offer, but do not know where to start. While many people do most of their planning beforehand, some may want to take a spontaneous day trip or change plans based on weather. In these cases, they may rely heavily on their smartphones to get information quickly so they can start their day out as soon as possible without wasting much time. Even though speaking with people is helpful, tourist centres might be closed if it’s a holiday or they might be located far from where the tourist is staying.

When thinking about how technology can best help tourists, places of tourism need to have reliable, up-to-date information on their websites. If all related data is centralised and standardised using the same vocabulary to tag cultural events, it would make online searches much easier for tourists.

This is the main goal of the Culture Kent project. By creating a data pool of all cultural event data in Kent, we can optimise users’ searches, making it easier for future tourists to discover all the cultural events Kent has to offer, and as a result, increase Kent’s profile as a cultural destination.

Did you have similar experiences while visiting a new place?  How has technology helped you, or would centralised cultural event data have been more useful?  Please leave your comments below!

Singing from the Same Song Sheet

image Big Sing

As if I needed any more persuading that the arts and tourism sectors need to work more closely together, I read some interesting statistics the other day from the Visit Britain website.

Did you know that British Tourism was forecast to be worth £127 Billion in 2013 (9% of the UK’s GDP) growing to £257 billion by 2025? And that in the 2014 Anholt GfK Nations Brand Index, the UK retained the 3rd place top nation brand (out of 50 nations) and that looking at the dimensions relevant for tourism, the UK ranked 3rd out of 50 nations in terms of a ‘Tourism’ brand and 5th for Culture.

So tourism is a fantastically lucrative market to join and our “culture brand” is already a well recognised global brand. Joining tourism and the arts together in more productive and positive ways makes sense financially. Didn’t someone once say “it’s the economy stupid!”?

The stats I have being reading also suggest that the South East has a particular market share that might be worth looking at more closely. The South East apparently attracts more holiday visits that include children than any other area in the UK. An interesting stat. Why would the South East be particularly attractive to children? It definitely needs a bit more in-depth examination as to the whys and wherefores. I wouldn’t be surprised if the ferry/coach trips for schools has something to do with it as well as the huge number of language schools in the area that attract school children from across Europe. This market share is something Culture Kent and Turner Contemporary wants to understand and explore further. We want to work in partnership with our language schools. We’ll let you know how we get on and what we find out in more detail later.

Image Folkestone Triennial

Folkestone Triennial

Whilst the South East might be good at attracting children, what is slightly more alarming is the fact that, although museums are notably often part of a visit to the South East, other cultural activities are faring much less well. Around 15% of visits include going to an art gallery as opposed to a national average of 26%. This comes despite the significant investment in the cultural infrastructure in the South East (Jerwood in Hastings, Folkestone Triennial, Turner Contemporary in Margate, to name but a few). The South East also attracts relatively few visits which include going to theatres, live music or festivals. Again we don’t know the details of why this is the case but again some of the research that we will carry out of over the course of the next two years will hopefully build a better picture of our understanding of South East tourists, their motivators and their spend.

What the research does indicate however is that cultural organisations have an opportunity here to grow our market place and to build our attendances. Kent, in particular, has a great opportunity as it attracts the most overseas visitors in the South East of England, not including London. By working with our tourism partners we can open our doors to the world, increase footfall to our cultural venues, increase spending to the local economy and help ensure that the UK not only remain one of the top global cultural brands but perhaps becomes THE top brand.

The point of Culture Kent is to try to do some experiments, pilot some initiatives which target those tourist markets, and find more about the tourist markets, their motivators and their behaviours during their time in our wonderful county. Joining the culture and tourism sectors makes sense nationally and locally. By doing things on a micro or smaller scale we can perhaps try things out that we wouldn’t otherwise have a chance of doing nationally. And we can monitor results more easily.

None of this should be done in “glorious isolation”. Audiences (whether they are specific tourist audiences or locally based audiences) are key. And so Culture Kent is also joining forces with a new initiative, “We Love Our Audiences”, and we will explore more ways of joining together our understanding of audiences – particularly looking at cross-fertilisation of audiences and potential audiences (for example – do visitors to Port Lympne Zoo go to the Gulbenkian Theatre in Canterbury? How can we help entice them to if they don’t?). We’re having an exploratory session and bringing together some brilliant examples of collaborative work to provide inspiration for discussion. The plan is to challenge ourselves to agree on what we want to do next and how we can make that happen. This session is happening on 5th February at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury. We will update you on our discussion via this blog.

LEAVE YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR

“Forming unusual partnerships also requires greater investments of time … often by senior leadership, and the development of new tools, such as innovative memorandums of understanding. When done well, however, these partnerships offer businesses unprecedented opportunities to build and access new and developing markets, become more efficient and create the appropriate market conditions to thrive.”

Thus wrote Abeed Mahmud in an article in The Guardian “Beyond charity: three innovative types of business partnerships for non-profits”.

He was right. But not just about partnerships between businesses and NGOs. His views on the challenges of, but most importantly the opportunities for, partnership working are as valid for the likes of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as they are for small-scale arts organisations and Destination Management Organisations aiming to work together.

Culture Kent is a partnership initiative with aims that are simple – but all-too-often neglected. To increase cultural tourism in Kent and to explore and exploit the potential of shared cultural event data. In order to achieve these aims, Cultural Organisations need to join together with their cousins in the tourist industry in a true partnership..

But partnership isn’t easy. It requires hard work, dedication and – sometimes – leaving egos at the door.

I’ve spent much of my working life bringing organisations and people together – whether a joint artistic collaboration between visual artists, dancers and film makers on one project, through co-ordinating cultural NGOs at a regional level, to joining arts organisations together to think and learn at the most strategic levels.

And on this project – Culture Kent – the rules are the same as ever:

1. Agree ambitions.
It sounds simple but so often partnerships can break down because not everyone knows or agrees what they are trying to achieve. It is so easy to make massive assumptions. So articulate your ambitions, both by speaking about and then writing about them (via a Terms of Reference document or a partnership agreement). Voice concerns at the beginning. Question what you don’t understand. Rehearse scenarios (how will you handle disagreements, how will you share your knowledge and so on.)

2. Agree the limitations of your partnership.
These can change of course, but agree at the outset which areas of work you are going to cover in your partnership. With dedication, a little luck and a fair wind a successful partnership will evolve and grow bigger as time goes on, but it’s best to start small and build confidence on all sides.

3. Clarity of roles.
This sounds so simple but in practice if you don’t know who is doing what and when, how do you know if you’re achieving what you set out to do? And how do you know who to go to when you have a query? Resentments and misunderstandings can so easily happen if you think the other person is meant to be doing it, not you.

4. Individual benefits.
Not all partners will gain the same benefits from the partnerships but every partner needs to gain some business benefit at some point during the course of the partnership. Each partner needs to be clear about what they hope to gain and ensure that they share the benefit (and their enthusiasm) back to their own organisation. Which brings me on to:

5. Whole organisation sign-up.
Without the whole of your organisation signing up to the aims of the partnership, it can become easy to give into the pressure of the everyday job and not set aside dedicated time to help deliver the ambitions of the partnership. Often partnerships are “add-ons” and have to be fitted in amongst a multitude of seemingly more urgent priorities. If your organisation is committed to the partnership, you will allocate space and time to it.

6. Agree actions and timelines.
Not every action should be agreed by the whole partnership (that way madness lies – and often the stifling of imagination and ambition too) but major milestones and the timescale by which things should be done need to be agreed by everyone. That way there is clarity and hopefully no partner can claim not to have been consulted or that another organisation is holding things up.

7. REAL discussion.
Ask people to be honest and as open as possible at meetings. Sometimes Chatham House rules should apply. It is important to enable people to openly share any concerns they have at developments of particular elements of the project. It is also important to be honest and frank about any wider national issues that are developing in the background.

8. Reflect – and Remember the Benefits.
In the plethora of meetings, emails and phone calls it can be easy to forget why you ever started a partnership in the first place. Take time to reflect and remember the ambitions of the project and have a regular check and balance moment to see whether you’re all still going in the same direction to the same end. Of course things change (often for the better), so it’s good to see whether your original ambition should be reiterated or adapted to the changing scenarios.

None of this is rocket science. And much depends on people willingly setting up partnerships for genuine reasons rather than because they have been forced by external circumstances to do so.

In many ways the sharing of data and cultural tourism initiatives seems like one of the simplest partnerships; but it is trialling new ideas and new ways of working and whenever you do that, there can be big challenges and the journey can be rough. Often great big potholes can appear in the road on the way. Luckily so far, no major potholes have appeared for us, but we are all aware that the road is long and the budget for road maintenance is small. It certainly won’t be a speedy journey but together we believe that the destination at the end of the road is a worthwhile one.