(Note this is a longer version of an article originally published on Arts Professional : link)
Leicester Arts Festivals (LAF) is a support network consisting of twenty-four arts festivals and a number of supporting organisations, established in 2014. The festivals range in audience size from the hundreds to the hundreds of thousands, from the recently established to the decades old, and between them covering almost every art form, organisational type and event format imaginable in one of the most demographically plural cities in the UK. Amongst other activities, the network completed a year-long research project, collating baseline data and a comparative analysis of audiences from participating members. From twenty-four festivals, eighteen participated in an organisation survey and six participated in a survey of their audiences. Some interesting highlights and relevant issues for the wider festival and event community to consider are suggested below.
A proof of concept to establish how timelapse 360 photography could be used to count crowds and examine general crowd dynamics at events.
Outdoor events of all types, and especially those that are more temporary, moving (parades, processions) free to attend or unticketed typically have a difficult time establishing accurate figures for attendance. Organizers may be incentivised to over-estimate these figures for funding or political reasons; they might also be incentivised to under-estimate these figures for licensing reasons. For sufficiently large events, or events that have taken place multiple times, organisers and emergency services will likely have produced an estimate though the methods and assumptions behind these often vary and there is rarely a clear process by which the process can be examined or scrutinized. Clearly from history and policy, a scientifically accurate estimate of attendance is rarely a requirement, arguably even ticketed and paid events could feasibly be wrong about their levels of attendance. Increasing study of events of all types mean this is a key area or investigation, or at least a key ‘stat’ for discussion. The technical feasibility and time required to carry out head counting, sampling and wider estimation is generally beyond the usual time-pressed event organiser.
Open Data Kit + Audience Finder = Open Audience Finder?
I’ve worked on audience surveys for a long time and I’m always looking to improve my methods. Relatively recently the roll out of Audience Finder from the Audience Agency has done a lot of good in standardizing many basic questions and methods for a range of arts organizations. (see standard questions: link)
This makes a lot of people happy as they have a basis for comparing and contrasting their results with others. Most of the arts organizations I’ve worked with see the value, one way or another. Everyone has their own tweaks or preferences to suggest but some collaboration around some standard questions is generally a good thing…
Around the same sort of time, I started learning about and putting Open Data Kit into use, for various audience and other kinds of end-user/patient surveys. Hence the combination of the two, and in this post, I will be describing how you, with less technical expertise than you probably think, can use it too.
Here’s an example of just some of the things QGIS can do. In particular, I am using some of my own data collected at the relatively recent Leicester Belgrave Mela from audience members. (Thanks to the Mela for doing the fieldwork!)
Just viewing OpenStreetMap (OSM) data in QGIS. Until we specifically download polygons/points/lines QGIS is only really doing the same job as a web browser at this stage but it is obviously very handy to not have to download a whole map to even get started. This also means the most recent data is available.
I think I bang on quite a bit in lectures about the differences between academic disciplines or fields of study, because I think if you “get” this, it puts everything else you do within a useful context. People don’t like to be told: “That’s interesting and original, but you only get a 50% because it doesn’t really address the question.” or “Your references are from good sources but not really relevant to the field.” The different disciplines, taken to an extreme, represent quite fundamentally different philosophical or ideological ways of seeing and experiencing the world. Perhaps it is no great surprise that there is ongoing and noisy debate about which disciplines should receive the most attention at varying levels of education. Artists are gonna want more arts, scientists are going to want more science.