21 October 2015

Aside: Measuring cultural footprint

In an earlier post, you may have noticed me throwing out 'growth facilitated' as a key metric for the organisation being discussed. Whilst it's very easy to throw around a conceptual metric within the context of a post exploring the hypothetical structure of a theoretical organisation, things start to get a bit thornier when you actually begin to consider how that measurement would work in practice.

Key metrics are important for organisations. At their best, they ensure everyone is on the same page, foster understanding of how individual contribution affects the whole (see open-book management) and drive the organisation forward. At their worst, they can be distracting, de-humanising and detrimental.

Looking through the accounts of ACE Portfolio organisations (and at examples like this from the Royal Exchange), it's interesting to see what measures are picked out as headline figures. Metrics such as performance attendance (largely relevant) and capacity percentages (sometimes relevant) are commonplace amongst strategic reports, but increasingly numbers such as 'YoY Facebook Likes' and 'YoY Twitter Followers' (largely meaningless) are creeping in as well. No doubt this is fuelled by talk concerning how we measure the impact of the arts, what the 'value' of culture is and how arts organisations need to embrace the world of big data. Unfortunately, these metrics feel indicative of a siege mentality or that economic impact analysis has been forced on the organisation.

So, how do you quantify the impact of an arts organisation? How do you measure their cultural footprint in a way that would actually benefit the organisation? Well, you shouldn't do it fiscally because the value that these organisations primarily create is not monetary. Maybe something like this:

Reach is the number of people engaged. Maybe it's ticket sales. Maybe it's people who walk through the door. Use the same measurement, show YoY changes and discuss what the shape should look like.

Impact is the traceable web of social interactions resulting from engagement. You could get this from Twitter. You could send out email surveys. Use the same measurements, show YoY changes and discuss what the shape should look like.

Participation is the number of people actively involved as a result of the organisations activities. You could use workshop attendances. You could get this from post-show talk attendances. Use the same measurements, show YoY changes and discuss what the shape should look like.

You'll notice it has no numbers on it. This is because the shape is what matters, although size relative to other organisations would also be of interest. This approach is so simple it has probably already been done somewhere and I've missed it. I do have some other (more complicated) ideas about how you could robustly measure cultural footprint across all arts organisations but sadly lack the raw data to play with (WLTM: NPO w/large dataset).