Let’s Get Real Phase 3: Is your content fit for purpose?

Culture24 worked with a brilliant group of 29 arts and heritage organisations who signed up to Let’s Get Real Phase 3. The project took place over ten months starting in March 2014. Here we are at the first meeting…

Kick off group 6th March

Download the Phase 3 report

LGR3 report coverPublished in February 2015, and launched at NESTA - LGR3 ‘Is your content fit for purpose?’

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Who took part

1.   The Lowry
2.   Tricycle Theatre
3.   National Galleries of Scotland
4.   Historic Royal Palaces
5.   Victoria and Albert Museum
6.   Gulbenkian
7.   Royal Shakespeare Company
8.   Public Catalogue Foundation
9.  Horniman Museum and Gardens
10. The Beaney
11. Museum of London
12. Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton & Hove
13. Partnership made up of Hampshire County Council / Winchester City Council / Southampton City Council
14. Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales
15. National Museums Scotland
16. People’s History Museum
17. Yorkshire Sculpture Park
18. Leicestershire County Council
19. British Museum
20. Manchester International Festival
21. Design Museum
22. Watershed
23. Southbank Centre
24. Wales Millennium Centre
25. The Photographers’ Gallery
26. Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives
27. The Fitzwilliam
28. Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
29. Live at LICA

What was it about?

Every cultural organisation wants to harness digital tactics to make use of their most valuable asset: content. But this content’s real value is only realised when it can reach and meaningfully engage audiences both online and in physical spaces.  Combined with the human resources of staff and volunteers, cultural content can be the start of conversations, tell many different stories or be a signpost on a personal journey.

Using digital channels can make this happen but only if content is fit for purpose. This means thinking of digital channels not as a range of generic publishing or marketing outlets, but as routes to a distributed network of communities with niche interests and needs.  Our content and our data need to match the screen size, platform and interface – not just technically, but editorially.

As content creators we need to be ready to respond to different user behaviours and demands. We need to respond as much to demand as to our own ability to supply. This means thinking more deeply about the presentation of content: the words we use and our style, quality, rigour, authority, tone of voice, humour and humanity; about the scalability, interactivity and portability; about the metadata, formats and deviceoptimisation.  All of this and more needs to be considered to ensure our content is fit for purpose.

Phase 3 of Culture24’s Let’s Get Real action research project chose to focus on this key question – Is your content fit for purpose?  We interrogated the question within a research framework that explored and measured ways that content can be presented online to meet the needs of audiences. This exploration was only partly about ‘digital’, in the sense of specific platforms or tools. Our central focus was connecting audiences to an organisation through its own stuff.It was absolutely not about investment in new content management systems, apps or shiny new design. It was not about innovation through the new. Instead we sought to consider deeper questions about the content an organisation already has and how best to deploy existing internal resources to curate, edit or repurpose that content to meet a more defined ambition for audience engagement and value.

This means recognising that audiences do not only need information about an organisation’s activity but seek value through their content. To unlock this value, organisations need to do more than just communicate via digital; they must have a strategy for their content.

How the project worked

Phase 3 brought together 29 partner cultural organisations who worked together over a period of ten months from April 2014 to November 2014. They met for four full day workshops, plus an additional day for the LGR conference in September 2014. Individual research experiments, homework and time for data analysis were carried out independently by each participant between the workshops, amounting to a further four to six days.

For everyone, the project was a highly collaborative process of self-reflection and peer learning supported by a range of external experts and the Culture24 team. The project was made possible financially through a collaborative funding model with each participant contributing £2,800 to cover the project’s management and delivery. Culture24’s role was to lead and manage the project and bring in experts as necessary to support all stages of the project process and shared learning.

Whilst the project was framed by the primary question ‘is your content fit for purpose?’, we applied the three pronged LGR methodology of: learning from others (external experts), learning by doing (individual experiments) and learning together (collaborative shared discussion) to unpack the question.

External experts

A talented group of cultural, commercial and government experts were brought in to inspire and support the project, advising on research investigations and data analysis:

  • Matt Locke, Storythings
  • Abhay Adhikari, Dyhaan Design
  • Peter Pavement, Surface Impression
  • Anra Kennedy, Culture24
  • Jon Davie, Zone
  • Joanna Prior, Penguin
  • Padma Gillen and Lana Gibson, Gov.UK
  • Max St John, Nixon McInnes
  • Shelley Bernstein, Brooklyn Museum
  • Michiel Van Iersel, Non-Fiction
  • Tanya Cordrey, Guardian News and Media

Individual experiments

Running individual content experiments provided the opportunity for organisations to practically apply and test out the learning they derived elsewhere within the project to their own circumstances. Culture24 supported participants to conceive, plan, track and analyse these experiments using agile-based methodologies to encourage clarity of objective, audience responsiveness, a willingness to create and iterate and a culture of learning from failures.

Shared collaborative learning

We undertook various strands of activity across the whole group as a basis for shared collaborative learning. These included undertaking Google Analytics healthchecks for all participants, exploring Hitwise and Google Analytics related data, capturing regular feedback via online surveys and facilitating structured and unstructured discussions across the group both at workshops and at the pub!

Key insights were identified to enable arts, heritage and cultural organisations to understand this question better for themselves and respond more effectively to digital change. These insights were grouped in connection to: understanding audiences, telling a better story and becoming a fitter organisation.

Culture24 guided partners through a process of definition, measurement, analysis and reporting. Project partners participated in four collaborative workshops over 10 months.

Culture24 brought in a range of experts, tools and methodologies to inform the research process. In between each workshop there were mandatory homework tasks for each project partner to support the research and deliver specific value for each partner.

The project was funded collaboratively by the participating organisations, who each contributed £2,800 plus VAT.

Included in this fee were:

- All aspects of the research including data gathering and analysis

- Cost of bringing in any external experts

- Cost of any central services or technologies that are adopted for the research

- Co-ordination of the group’s shared communication channel through Basecamp

- Hosting of the four workshops, including lunch and refreshments

- Analysis and sharing of insights and data from the research

- The writing and production of a final project report for publication and advocacy

- Management of the project.

What was not included:

- The cost of any travel and accommodation to the workshops by each participating organisation

- The cost of any technical changes needed to  own digital systems

- The cost of staff time

Background

This was the third phase of Culture24’s unique and collaborative Let’s Get Real action research project. The final reports from phases 1 and 2 have been downloaded over 12,000 times internationally and have resulted in spin-off projects, conference papers, collaborations and new thinking.  The frankness of both reports and their openness in speaking about the failure in the cultural sector to really capture the attention and engagement of online audiences has been met with a very positive reaction.