Digital Culture Research: The First Year Results

The first year results of a joint project investigating the use of digital technology by arts and cultural organisations have been published, setting out the current use and impact of technology and offering best practice examples from the top-ten ‘cultural digirati’.

Arts Council England, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Nesta have commissioned independent research agency MTM to track the use of digital technology by arts and cultural organisations in England between 2013 and 2015.

Some arts and cultural organisations are experiencing transformational impacts, using digital to reach bigger audiences than ever before. This research project aims to find out how those organisations can make the most of the opportunities available to them.

The results have been published from the first year of research, with findings from a survey of 891 arts and cultural organisations about their digital activities, barriers, enablers and impacts.

Among the key findings of the research summary:

  • Almost three-quarters of organisations now regard digital as essential to their marketing, and almost 60 per cent view it as essential for preserving and archiving, and for their operations.
  • Almost half (47 per cent) are creating ‘born digital’ works native to, and created for, the digital space, and one- third (32 per cent) see digital technology as essential for distributing and exhibiting their work, although the picture varies by art and cultural form.
  • In other areas, technology is yet to have a widespread impact, with just 11 per cent reporting a major positive impact on revenues.
  • Different parts of the sector are experiencing different levels of impact from digital technology. Museums are much less likely to report positive impacts from digital technologies compared with other arts and cultural organisations. For example, just 37 per cent of museums say that digital technologies have had a major impact in terms of reaching a bigger audience, compared with 51 per cent of the total sample.
  • Many arts and cultural organisations have introduced new digital activities for the first time in the last year. Five technologies stand out as major growth areas, where the number of organisations undertaking these activities has increased particularly significantly over the past 12 months.
  • Three of those five relate to digital content and distribution activities, such as producing digital experiences designed alongside art works.
  • Whilst live streaming is performed by only 15 per cent of organisations, it is the fastest growing digital activity. More than half of those engaging in it say they started doing so within the past 12 months.
  • Over 60 per cent of arts and cultural organisations report that they are constrained in their digital activities by a lack of staff time and funding, and over 40 per cent report a lack of technical skills such as data analysis and database management.
  • Organisations identify a number of sources of advice and expertise as enablers for their digital work: 69 per cent say that informal mentors, networks and partners are their most important sources, followed by in-house research/data analysis (59 per cent) and help from funding bodies (58 per cent).

The report also outlines what organisations can learn from the ‘cultural digirati’ who are embracing technologies most widely and who, the survey suggests, are seeing significant paybacks.

These and other key points can be read in the eight-page report summary, available to download here; the full 68-page report can be downloaded from the same page.

Over the next two years, the research will map the changing picture of technology in the arts, so we can learn from the experience of those who use technology most effectively, and maximise the potential for the arts and culture.

MTM will be surveying arts and cultural organisations again in year two, and encourage as many as possible to register to take part in the survey using the link on this page