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Looking for strategic digital opportunities for Newcastle Gateshead Cultural Venues

Posted on Fri, 19 Feb 2010 by Jonathan Briggs

Updated: 2 March 2010

I have been tweeting about a series of workshops I have been running for a group of arts and cultural organisations. This is part of a much bigger collaboration between 11 organisations including the Baltic Mill, the Sage Gateshead, Live Theatre, Northern Stage, the Tyneside Cinema, the Theatre Royal, Way Good, Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums, 7Stories and Dance City. The bigger project is being lead by Clare Cooper of Missions Models Money and is looking at all aspects of collaboration between the partners.

My goals for these workshops has been to get senior people from each organisation to share their questions about digital, map the vast digital landscape from their perspectives and look for light-weight opportunities for collaboration.

I will be writing and presenting a report for the group but I thought in the spirit of keeping the conversations open I would summarise some of my thoughts and findings so far. This may also spark some ideas in other similar organisations and if so I’d love to hear from you so that we can feed these reactions into our on-going conversation. I am not, of course, going to reveal confidential information about any of the partners although I was excited to discover that every one of them is doing some things very well.

Is digital really going to help our organisation?

I can identify a number of common worries that will be familiar to many organisations and not just in the cultural sector:

  1. It is hard to know how to keep up to date
  2. How to select from the bewildering array of opportunities
  3. Digital is hard to buy because want and need are poorly defined
  4. Building a business case for many digital projects is often difficult
  5. It is easy to make mistakes and back the wrong horse, technology or social channel
  6. Scalability is a concern; what if this is a big success, how will we cope?
  7. Separating public and private personalities is very tricky both for organisations and for their staff
  8. Making money is harder than it looks

What do we mean by digital anyway?

Our discussion of what constitutes digital demonstrated clearly the widely differing perspectives from which the landscape can be viewed: digital as the product of a cultural process (a DVD or installation), digital as a means to an end (using online to allow artists to collaborate), digital for marketing and communication (effective uses of the web or social networks), for operational improvement (reducing printing costs) and for audience engagement (user generated content or discussion). In defining opportunities for collaboration it is useful perhaps to separate these dimensions.

It is easy to take a technological perspective and I spent some time with each group discussing mobile, social platforms, ticketing, ecommerce, iPad, tracking, analytics, streaming and changes in behaviour such as crowdsourcing, piracy and paying for content.

What are some of the opportunities for collaboration?

This was the heart of our workshop and together we produced an impressive list of activities and guidelines that appear worth exploring further.

Here are a few of them:

  1. Share the employment of a blogger, journalist or content writer
  2. Agree on standards for publishing and exchanging data such as events
  3. Share workshops on key topics such as SEO, PPC and analytics
  4. Divide up some of the small projects between the partners and let them report back to the whole group. This would reduce the sense of there being too many things to try
  5. Make sure that lessons from both successful and unsuccessful experiments are shared
  6. Develop shared social networking guidelines through shared staff workshops
  7. Help each other identify u201cwhite labelu201d services that can be used to experiment with some additional ideas such as retail, t-shirts and print on demand
  8. Help each other’s web visibility through partner pages on websites
  9. Agree to promote each other more often in email, social media and offline
  10. Swap time and expertise between the organisations or allow staff to work together on a particular experiment
  11. Help each other to further develop their digital strategies by discussing common key performance indicators
  12. Create a series of integrated themed days involving multiple partners online
  13. Run some pre-procurement workshops to help create better requests for tender


Yesterday's (1 March) presentation focussed on these collaborative actions that can be taken by the group and was well received.

I presented a lightweight digital strategy that every one of them could use as a template for their future experiments:

  1. Define possible digital outcomes for their organisation and assign each a value
  2. Bring their digital presence in all channels up to a minimum standard
  3. Focus on developing unique content (and/or service) including rich media
  4. Take specific actions to build their digital (channel) audiences
  5. Track and monitor the value they are creating according to the metrics defined at the start
  6. Define a series of experiments (collaboratively with other partners in the group)
  7. Share success and failure within this group as well as time and skills
  8. Make sure that internal staff are fully involved at all stages
  9. Rinse and repeat (as necessary)

This has been a very enjoyable piece of work for a remarkable group of creative people. I am looking forward to following the actions they take with interest.