Tracking Down Cultural Data in Kent (part 2)

The last post talked about how difficult it is to define the categories of “cultural” data and decide what information to collect. This post is all about the problems of gathering information from lots of different sources. A much more detailed explanation can be found in the Culture 24 report – available to download at the bottom of this post.

“The mapping exercise attempted specifically to identify sources that either aggregate cultural data or publish aggregated cultural data” (Culture 24 report p9).

So how is data aggregated? And how is it published?

As the report outlines, there are three main ways to gather information:

  • Collect and input it yourself
  • Get people to input their own data
  • Automate the process

There are pros and cons with all three methods. Collecting it yourself is time-consuming (therefore expensive), and there is no guarantee the information is fully accurate. If you want to get people to input their own data you need to give them a very good reason for taking the time – so you have to prove your website(or other digital platform) reaches more people, or a specific group of people, than they can reach through their own sites. Automation can be useful but it can be costly and you still need to have a good, ongoing relationship with the providers.

And once you have the information? Online data sources themselves need to be marketed, so the way the information is presented may be:

  • Targeted at people with a particular interest (e.g. folk music or visual art)
  • or Centred on a geographical location (e.g a directory of information for local people or the tourist attractions of a specific town or city)
  • or For people with common needs (e.g. families).

Some sites just list the venues or organisations, while others include event information too.

In deciding how to collect and present data, Culture Kent will prioritise the way that best delivers the intention to increase the number of visitors to Kent’s cultural organisations.

Read the full report here: CKP Culture24 Data Mapping Research FINAL

Read the previous post: Tracking Down Cultural Data in Kent (part 1)

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Tracking Down Cultural Data in Kent (part 1)

Culture Kent wanted to find out what cultural data is already available to people. We know that there is an enormous amount of information freely available on the web, from events listings to individual cultural organisations’ websites. What are the barriers preventing all that information being brought together in one place? We commissioned Culture24 to give us an overview of the situation and the next three posts are a summary of some of their findings.

So what is Cultural Data? We are thinking of information related to the following categories:

  • Comedy
  • Dance
  • Festivals
  • Film and Animation
  • Museums & Exhibitions
  • Cultural heritage sites
  • Live Music
  • Poetry & spoken word
  • Theatre & performance
  • Visual Art
  • Talks (if related to one of these other categories)

Hopefully, anything else you might think of will be a sub-category of one of these main groups. For tourism purposes, we might want to include other venues like nightclubs, bars, pubs and restaurants – but for the moment we are sticking to the categories above (unless one of those events is taking place in a nightclub, bar, pub or restaurant… confused? you will be!)

Now we’ve defined our categories, we can look at what kind of information is out there. There are really two sorts – functional information and cultural content. Generally, cultural ‘content’ is created information that is owned by, or attributed to, its creator. This includes digitised collections, editorial, user reviews or comments, photos, videos, and podcasts. Whilst this content is often used alongside venue and events listings data to make things more interesting for the audience, we are excluding any purely content-driven sources of information from our work.

At the moment, we need to keep things as simple as possible so we are focusing on the information about what is happening, when and where. We think there is core information we need to collect for every event.

  • Up to date opening hours/event timings and entrance rates
  • Accurate geo-locations
  • Name and a basic description of the venue or event
  • Venue or event website url
  • Breadth of coverage of relevant domain

Research shows that people like to easily find information about well-known places first – this gives reassurance that quality information is available. But people also want to find out about new, interesting and slightly different options.

Having got the basic information of a good range of venues and activities, it is then important to provide interesting and useful information. Listings might, therefore, include:

  • A relevant/interesting/appealing image, cleared for use, at the required size and resolution
  • Subject tags to facilitate discovery, personalisation and sharing
  • Target audience information
  • Detailed, audience-appropriate, descriptive copy
  • Direct route to booking service (if relevant)
  • ‘Special offer’ or discount information
  • Additional venue information (if relevant), such as:
    • Venue facilities (e.g. disabled access, parking, cafes, gardens)
    • Venue services (e.g. education or identification services, wedding or conference hire)
    • Exhibitions (e.g. permanent and temporary)
    • Collections (e.g. overviews of collections, key exhibits, key artists)
    • Resources (e.g. loan boxes, bookable learning sessions, books, podcasts, websites, leaflets, games, and teachers’ packs)
    • Associated events/venues
    • Associated content – video/audio/text

So, this is the kind of information we are looking to collect. In the next post, we’ll look at what is available already (online and in print) and how that information is currently gathered.

The full report is here for downloading

CKP Culture24 Data Mapping Research FINAL

Only Connect

On a rainy day in September, I attended the Let’s Get Real conference in Brighton. This was the second Culture24 Let’s Get Real conference and is the culmination of ten months of collaborative action research by a group of 24 cultural organisations in the UK. The group is made up of national and regional museums, galleries, performing arts venues and arts agencies. Culture24 has led the research, with international expertise from Seb Chan (Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian) and Rob Stein (Dallas Museum of Art).

It was a day of musings, concrete examples of work and a space to really look at what it means to be digital in a fast changing world. The report of the action research is available here.

But for me, what really struck home was Culture24 director Jane Finnis’s key note speech. As she said:

“We are increasingly in a continuous online and offline dance, that sometimes feels almost fluid as we dip in and out, moving between our phones, the street, a train, a cafe, an office, an exhibition, a kiosk, a TV, a tablet, a walk.”

“Understanding how we, as consumers, experience things as a whole, the off and the online, is crucial to how we in the cultural sector curate our content for our audiences. This is really important, particularly if your core business is a building or a physical space that you want people to visit. Our audiences’ experience of us is no longer just about that space physically, it is about all of the other places where we put ourselves – or where others put us online without our permission, like Google place pages, Trip Advisor, Wikipedia, Foursquare, Twitter etc.”

What does that mean for us as cultural organisations? It means we don’t necessarily always have “control” over our digital “image”. But that’s no bad thing – think of the way that travel trade has actually benefited from TripAdvisor. And also it means we can speak to multiple audience segments with multiple voices. It means that we truly CONNECT with audiences – that we can have a dialogue WITH them rather than just talking AT them.

I’m old enough to remember being delighted at the prospect of being able to mail merge letters so that they could be addressed to Mr Smith rather than Dear Patron. All those years ago that felt like a real step forward and I was excited by the idea of creating a seemingly personal connection with Mr Smith.

Now we can connect with our audiences in a much more meaningful way. We can see and hear and respond to their comments. We can develop marketing strategies that connect with specific audience constituents in particular ways. But there’s the rub – because it does mean you need to segment your audiences and clearly understand what they want, how they want and how you offer this digitally. You can’t just send a brochure off to print and pop it into the post to the 1000s of people on your mailing list.

And that was what the conference was trying to emphasize. In order to connect to your audiences you need to understand them first. You need to accurately segment and only then can you begin to connect with them in a meaningful and productive way.

The constant dance of digital information and also means that we, as cultural organisations, are constantly fighting for attention amongst a myriad of other offers. We are competing with offers from other products vying for people’s scarce time. At any one moment, I can look on my laptop for films, books, entertainment of all sorts – and be “instantly” satisfied.

Where does that leave the arts organisations? It could leave us quite vulnerable if we don’t do anything pro-active. As Jane said:

“We need to stop feeling that each arts organisation is in competition with each other “

It is other industries and sectors who take our attention share online: BBC, eBay, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, Wikipedia, and Trip Advisor. These are our real competitors online, not each other.”

What can we do about it? We need to do more TOGETHER. We need to join up our offers, join our systems, our data. We need be easily accessible to our audiences and their multiple choices. As creatives we are so often at the forefront of innovative thinking, we need to nurture that creative spirit but break out of our self-imposed silos and constraints. Let the digital world enable us to dance together in partnership.

All this lead me to think about E M Forster’s rallying cry:

“Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted… Live in fragments no longer

He was so right.