In a recent Creative Exchange program presented at ACMI last week, Ian David Moss, founder of the US-based international arts think tank Createquity, spoke about the untapped potential of research, evaluation and data to inform arts professionals.
While a high value is placed on research and evidence-based decision making, arts workers still mostly act on instinct. Ian suggested that having evidence is often not enough to influence decision making. Very few data sources tell a compelling and irrefutable story on their own, however, the very opposite can be true when looking at the evidence base as a whole.
Ian was interviewed by Sydney based research, strategy and evaluation consultant Jackie Bailey from BYP Group, who asked whether Ian had seen any arts companies that have changed their course of action based on evidence. Ian introduced the blog of Nina Simon, the Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History and author of The Participatory Museum and The Art of Relevance. In Nina’s blog, she is transparent about when she changes her mind on something, when new information comes into play and her perspective shifts.
This comes down to good leadership and becoming a ‘learning organisation’, where there is a culture of being open to doing things differently. Sometimes people can be defensive about information that challenges the way they work, or what they currently think, out of fear for their own position. Ian suggests it’s important to make this process of learning a part of what we do and be intentional about it. One technique he suggested for managers was to invite staff to develop learning objectives by asking ‘what would you like to know that could influence the way we do things in your area?’, then allocating resources to finding out. It’s one way of promoting a sense of curiosity within the organisation. It can also be a good idea to start from the decision and ask ‘what types of decisions need to be made?’ when determining what data should be collected or research undertaken.
Jackie added that organisations need to focus on meaningful research that helps create a positive impact on the people you want to serve. Look at what you are doing that makes you relevant to those people rather than focusing on audience satisfaction alone or how to put on the next blockbuster. To bridge the gap between having data and evidence, and using this research in a meaningful way, decision-makers in arts organisations need to approach their roles with a questioning mind and an openness to change. Arts leaders have the power to set the tone within their individual organisations and foster a culture of curiosity.