Dropping the ball, again.

Another year, another Arts Council evaluation thing to fill in. Once again the ‘digital’ section was very short and the questions that were asked were so pointless as to almost be insulting.

This tweet summed it up quite nicely:

@SamScottWoodThe six #digital Qs asked by ACE of NPOs in annual review. I despair. Q5 my particular favourite. pic.twitter.com/rwuPrNU5Za

This is, surely, ACE’s annual opportunity to gather meaningful information about all of the organisations that it funds. This in turn could then be used to carry out sector-wide analysis and could inform strategy and funding priorities in the future. SURELY!? Asking how many people have visited a website, or how long visitors have spent on your website does not fall into this category. This simply provides meaningless, contextless, useless information.

This is even more frustrating when you look at how much data ACE ask for throughout the rest of the submission (i.e. more than 6 questions). Given that ‘digital’ (a nebulous, catchall term of nothingness but the one that everyone uses to mean ‘stuff wot is on the internet and that’) is supposed to be a priority and ALSO an area of weakness across the entire sector you would’ve thought that ACE would be absolutely desperate to paint a meaningful picture and use this to – say – allow organisations to benchmark themselves against other relevant institutions and share best practice. No?

Oh well.

Wasted opportunity.


ACE annual submission

As part of my day job I’ve just had to fill out part of Opera North’s annual Arts Council submission. The ‘digital’ section is all of 6 questions long:

– Do you monitor web metrics for your organisational website? Web metrics are the measures used to quantify the performance of a website, for example page impressions, unique browsers, visits and visit duration.

Please provide the following web metrics for your organisation’s website over the last 12 month period.

– Number of unique browsers?This is the total number of unique devices (e.g. computers or mobile phones) that have made requests to the site in the period being measured.

– Number of page impressions? This is the total number of requests (e.g. mouse clicks) made for a site’s content by users of the site (i.e. unique devices) in the period being measured.

– Number of visits? A visit is a single period of activity by a unique browser.

– How much time have visitors spent on your organisation’s website (in seconds). 

– Does your website have specific content for children and young people aged 0-19 years and / or teachers?

I think that this helps to illustrate my ongoing frustration that it feels that the arts sector doesn’t really ‘get’ the internet/digital/whatever you want to call it, on any meaningful level. These are all ultimately meaningless, vanity metrics. What is this data going to help you to prove? What will it inform? Is there any qualitative information being gathered there? No. Will you get an idea as to how the growth of the mobile web is impacting arts organisations? How organisation’s content is being consumed? Whether audio is more popular than video? Whether blogs are more popular than podcasts? How much ticket buying etc is now happening online? No to every single one of those questions.

It’s interesting that the final question seems to hint towards trying to get some information of value, although when the answer is just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ I’m not sure how deep any insights are going to be. We could have an entire suite of carefully developed educational materials, or we could have a pdf of a handout that is completely unfit for purpose, regardless we would still answer ‘yes’.

But, as ever, maybe I’m missing the point, maybe this is intended to be one big, snapshot, bean-counting exercise designed to create a giant spreadsheet of essentially pointless information.

Although while this is the level of interrogation that the digital element of an organisation’s activity is subject to on a sector-wide basis, from the body that funds everything, I can’t really see things improving any time soon.