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"We can't data everything": What do formalised data sharing policies mean for the publicly funded, UK arts sector?

Research output: Contribution to conference - Without ISBN/ISSN Conference paperpeer-review

Publication date15/10/2016
<mark>Original language</mark>English
Event42nd Social Theory, Politics, and the Arts Conference : How hyper-modern and accelerated society is challenging the cultural sector: Democratic, identity and recognition issues - Institute du Tourisme, Montréal, Canada
Duration: 14/10/201616/10/2016


Conference42nd Social Theory, Politics, and the Arts Conference
Abbreviated titleSTPA
Internet address


In this paper we examine how publicly funded arts organisations are influenced by calls to become ‘data-driven organisations’. The call to become ‘data-driven’ is a reflection of our hypermodern and accelerated society in terms of the quantity of data being generated, access to it, and the technologies available to process it. This presents challenges and opportunities for these organisations, including: the standardisation of the data they capture; establishing new economic models to utilise such data; and building organisational knowledge, skills and resources across the sector to understand and interpret the data. We examine this topic in the context of a notable shift in Arts Council England’s priority towards embedding data sharing practices into the work of regularly funded arts organisations. What was formerly an optional engagement, has now become compulsory and formalised in public arts policy.

There is much scope to develop understanding of the impact formalised data policy has on the arts. Researchers have already offered a variety of critical responses to the discourse of arts data, typically focusing on the tensions associated with the use of quantitative arts and cultural data, such as audience demographic and attendance, for the measurement and assessment of instrumental, cultural, value.

Our research takes an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on arts management, organization theory, and design perspectives; using empirical evidence collected through semi-structured interviews with senior managers in publicly funded arts organisations. Our analysis highlights a series of discrete issues faced by these organisations, and encourages further discussion in relation to the topic area. Discussion points include: How formalised data policy challenges organisations’ perception of their current, and future legitimacy; How organisations may come to over-rely on the data they collect; and How such over-reliance on data may lead to changes in the way organisations inform their decision-making.

For example, in regards to the latter, we draw on participants’ understanding of the agency data holds, and may come to hold, over the organisation’s artistic decisions. Our findings suggest the increasing draw towards data-driven decision-making causes participants to question the value of their professional skill and experience as arts managers when making artistic decisions, which may in turn inhibit their organisation from taking artistic risk.

Bibliographic note

This work is funded by the Digital Economy programme (RCUK Grant EP/G037582/1), which supports the HighWire Centre for Doctoral Training (http://highwire.lancaster.ac.uk).