Impact of a Data-Scientist-in-Residence on the National Theatre

Impact of a Data-Scientist-in-Residence on the National Theatre

By The Audience Agency


This case study details how the Arts Data Impact (ADI) project affected the National Theatre and explores the benefits of a data scientist to a cultural organisation.

Background and project partners

The Arts Data Impact (ADI) project was a collaborative project between The Audience Agency, three arts organisations, University of Ulster and Magic Lantern. ADI addressed how data-driven insight can best support arts organisations and have an impact on organisational change. This was delivered via consultancy and the employment of two data scientists-in-residence who developed software tool prototypes for the arts partners. The main objectives of the project were to:

  • Test data-driven decision making in arts organisations
  • Generate insight into new business and organisational models as a result of data-driven decision-making
  • Facilitate a step change in the sector towards a more open and transparent sharing of data for the benefit of the entire sector

Arts partners: The Barbican, National Theatre, English National Opera and The Audience Agency were uniquely placed to initiate this project, poised at a point of major CRM development, and able to contribute thinking and experimentation, as well as large and robust data-sets. The arts partners hosted the Data Scientist in Residence for six months, test drove proto-types and played a leadership role in the sector.

Technology partner: Magic Lantern Productions provided the technical strategy and worked with digital agency We Heart Digital to develop and build the tools for the arts partners in collaboration with the Data Scientists in Residence. Led by Anthony Lilley, author of Counting What Counts, it is a long-established and leading digital media company.

Research partner: Professor Paul Moore was the Principal Investigator for the ADI project. Co-author of Counting What Counts, he is Head of the Schools of Arts and Computing at the University of Ulster and recognised as a leading exponent of ethnographic methodologies in the arts space. His research is focused on both the creative industries and the ways in which theory and practice can be brought together in training and education.

Outcome: The project has resulted in prototype tools that contextualise how data can be used to enhance business decisions. The tools provide intuitive push button reports that deliver insights about each organisation's data. The idea was not to replace people's decisions with data but to support decisions within a data-informed culture. The project's success has been less on what those decisions actually were but on the narrative around those decisions i.e. how the data has been used internally to develop understanding, tell stories and drive cultural change. While the tools represent the technical success of the project it is each organisation's story about their experiences on the project, with the Data Scientists and their responding internal shifts in behaviour around data that is the real success.

Why did the National Theatre want to be involved in the ADI project?

The National Theatre (NT) is committed to expanding the reach of its work. As part of this they are always looking for better ways to appreciate the wider world of theatre and its effect on diverse audiences. They saw the ADI project as a way to better understand how audiences were using Social Media to advocate and talk about theatre.

Ultimately, this kind of understanding can contribute to the NT's desire to create a platform for ever more diverse work. They were also interested in how better use of data could support the sustainability of the sector as a whole.

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Resource type: Case studies | Published: 2016