22 October 2015

Aside: More measuring...

In Wednesday's post, I outlined one possible method by which arts organisations could measure their cultural footprint. Whilst there are obvious flaws to be pointed out (for example, does the shape really matter more than the number?), the more time I've spent thinking about this method of measurement, the more I warm to it.

Reach will generally be the major unit of measurement (or the start of the funnel if you want to think about it that way) and represents how many people have witnessed an organisations work. It doesn't matter if that work is monetised or not, all that matters is that people were witnesses to the work. For a producing theatre company, this is probably the priority: get the work out to a wide audience.

Engagement is normally a function of reach (IE not everyone you reach will be engaged. However, on rare occasions work may create more engagement than reach) and I suspect (although lack the data to back up this hypothesis) that there is generally positive correlation between the two. The conversion ratio of 'reach:engagement' could drive organisational activity: increase your reach and you likely increase your engagement (although the same is not necessarily true - you could have a very engaged but small audience)? Engagement would perhaps be key for community organisations.

However, engagement could also be a function of participation (which could be a function of engagement - depends on the organisation!). Fun Palaces is an interesting organisation to consider because arguably everyone they reach is also an engaged participant but engagement also extends beyond the participants.

So the character of different organisations would be shown in their shapes but (here's where things go up a notch) if we're really trying to measure cultural footprint then we need to account for time in a better way (particularly if we're trying to create a useful model for organisations). Since the resonance of an organisation's work is affected by time, one would assume the same should be true for the cultural footprint. So, creating one piece of work every 5 years would show as a zero footprint on 4 out of 5 years for all the above 3 measurements and that's incorrect.

If you were comfortable using one of the above 3 measurements as a proxy for cultural footprint, you could create a model that factors in decay:


The blue line in the chart above represents the cultural footprint. The yellow dots are events where reach occurred (so, performances if you prefer) and time is shown on the horizontal axis. What you're looking at is the cultural footprint of a hypothetical show that did a couple of previews before Edinburgh followed by a full run at the festival (with one day off) and have nothing planned for the rest of the year. If they continue to do nothing then in 6 months their cultural footprint will have halved. In another six months it will have halved again and so on (never reaching zero because 'art never dies' obviously).

What's useful about this model is that it can be used for planning activity to maintain or expand their footprint. For example, the below chart shows that week long run at a certain attendance level would substantially increase footprint and ensure it was preserved going into 2016.


It would take a lot more research to establish the theoretically correct half-life of cultural footprint (the 6 months in this model is an absolute guess and undoubtedly the major flaw). This modelling could be done with engagement or participation numbers if that was the preferred focus. Couple a model like this with a robust forecasting model and maybe a MILP model for capacity planning and you have some incredibly powerful and potentially very useful tools and insights.