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Whose Amb:IT:ion?

First Interim Evaluation Report of the Amb:IT:ion Project

Report authors: Lee Wilson, David S. Leitner (Cambridge University) Researchers: Lee Wilson, David S. Leitner, Alice Street, Lee Wilson

Table of Contents Ethnographic Evaluation of AmbITion: First Interim Report .................................... 2 Summary ..................................................................................................................... 2 Aims and means of qualitative evaluation ................................................................... 3
Aims of evaluation .................................................................................................................... 3 Evaluation methodology .......................................................................................................... 5 Research questions ................................................................................................................... 6

Cases to be Compared and Rationale for Selections.................................................... 7

Rationale ................................................................................................................................... 7 Case 1: Hoipolloi Theatre ......................................................................................................... 7 Case 2: Ludus Dance ................................................................................................................ 9 Case 3: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic ...................................................................................11 Case 4: Aldeburgh Music ....................................................................................................... 14

Summary of findings ................................................................................................. 16

Introduction ............................................................................................................................ 16 Project structure...................................................................................................................... 17 Social Engagment ................................................................................................................... 17 Revenue streams ..................................................................................................................... 18 Commerce versus creativity ................................................................................................... 18 Skills development and training ............................................................................................ 18 Knowledge Base ..................................................................................................................... 19 Technological Focus .............................................................................................................. 20

Points for action ........................................................................................................ 21

Ethnographic Evaluation of AmbITion: First Interim Report Authors: Lee Wilson, David Leitner May 2008 This interim report is the first deliverable for the AmbITion project in satisfaction of the requirements of Phase 1 of the programme of work defined in the contract between Cambridge University Technical Services (CUTS) and the Manchester Digital Development Agency (MDDA) to provide an ethnographic evaluation of the AmbITion project. We would like to thank all those that have given so generously of their time and engaged with this evaluation so positively. Our evaluation strategy is collaborative, and we invite further comment on this report and our initial findings. All responses should be sent to either Lee Wilson ( or David Leitner ( Summary The stated aim of the AmbITion project is to change business and artistic practices in arts organisations through the introduction of digital technologies. While our evaluation is to some extent framed by this project goal as a criterion of success, the stated aim has also been the object of enquiry, and we have strived to examine the presuppositions that inform it. Further, it is our intention that the arts organisations themselves provide the basis of the evaluation in relation to their own experiences of the project and whether it has met their expectations and self-defined needs. It is not clear to us that the current ways of thinking about social interaction and knowledge in AmbITion are in line with the expressed desires of the members of arts organisations for social interaction. There has been an emphasis to date on the development of the web based knowledge portal as the means by which experiences of particular organisations might be disseminated and form the basis for examples of best practice and learning. In our opinion this has been informed by a didactic approach that has undervalued existing levels of knowledge and expertise within some organisations. There is a desire to share knowledge and experiences among arts organisations on which AmbITion has yet to capitalise. The project has yet to develop the mechanisms which might facilitate and support greater social interaction and collaboration between organisations across the sector. This has been exacerbated by an over-reliance upon the technological means to disseminate knowledge and the limited importance placed upon social networking events. As a result there has been no real systematic attempt to generate a sense of shared community amongst the AmbITion constituencies. Long lead-in times for funding to be released and a lack of project visibility after the initial contact and sign-up to AmbITion have contributed to a sense of disillusionment felt by many of the people we have talked to. The AmbITion project priorities need to be better communicated. At initial meetings high hopes were placed on the potential for the intervention to transform organisational capacity in the pilot groups chosen to participate in the project. In some cases what the project has been promoted as capable of delivering is incommensurate with the resources available. This has been the source of some disappointment over what the project has been able to achieve and a sense that a relatively large amount of time and effort has been invested for

what in some cases seems like a limited return. This is especially true in the case of Tier 2 organisations. There is a danger that this disillusionment will increase when it becomes common knowledge that the Arts Council funding will not be forthcoming for subsequent projects in the same vein as AmbITion. Given that AmbITion was originally promoted as a pilot intervention, its larger goal being to change business and artistic practice across the arts sector, this is a matter of some concern. However, in our view there is still the opportunity for the project to contribute to wider sectoral change. To achieve this AmbITion needs to change its focus on digital technologies as the driver of organisational change and instead strive to facilitate and support sustained social engagement between its target constituency and the arts sector more generally. To coin a term favoured by the AmbITion management team, the project needs to implement its own personalisation agenda. In our opinion it is here that AmbITion has the potential to make a lasting contribution to the arts sector. We would note that both the project management have been very receptive to our calls to address more directly the issue of socialisation within AmbITion1. There has been recognition of our earlier concerns over the technological focus of the project, as Adrian Slatcher, the project manager for the Manchester Digital Development Agency, succinctly summarised it, an over-reliance for technology to fill in the gaps. How well the need for more networking events, a commonly expressed desire by members of the arts organisations that we have spoken to, is addressed remains to be seen. However, we have been greatly impressed by the flexibility of both the Adrian Slatcher and Hanah Rudman in managing and adapting the project as it has developed over the last six months. We therefore remain confident that if our concerns in this interim evaluation are addressed AmbITion can at least go part way to achieving its stated aims. Aims and means of qualitative evaluation Aims of evaluation In the project documents AmbITion is defined as a pilot support programme to enable arts organisations to integrate effective use of digital technologies across all areas of their business and artistic practice, improving their offer and competitiveness in a 21st Century market2. The project has two main strands. First, through the provision of expertise and support to target arts organisations it aims to effect digital change management. That is, to integrate the effective use of digital technologies in all areas of business and artistic practice in these organisations. Second, it aims to develop and implement a national knowledge base or portal to facilitate knowledge transfer and to provide examples of best practice for the target organisations initially and subsequently across the arts sector nationally. It is these stated aims that frame our evaluation of AmbITion.

Leitner and Wilson, Initial Encounters: Summary of Preliminary Findings of Ethnographic Evaluation of AmbITion, 2 November 2007. Adrian Slatcher has recently announced a programme of networking and training events and seminars that may well go some way to address the need for greater social engagement within AmbITion. 2 AmbITion: IT and Digital Content capacity development for the arts sector a national pilot.

The baseline for our evaluation is generated from engagement with selected organisations prior to and after the implementation phase of the AmbITion project. Our purpose is to ascertain the degree to which the stakeholders feel that the stated aims of the AmbITion programme are being met, and whether these aims map onto the perceived value of the project to end users. The basic premise underpinning our research is that organisations are not merely composed of structures in which individuals are suspended, but are assemblages of embodied, often tacit knowledge practices. Thus organisational change often requires not only a shift in the relationships of the members of an organisation or the introduction of new technologies, but a negotiation of the tensions between the old and new knowledge practices that these shifts engender. Because knowledge practices are often learned and developed by doing them over time, articulating and making explicit the assumptions on which they are based is not always easy. Different stakeholders will necessarily have different expectations of the potential and purpose of a given project, and expectations might only appear to be mutually understood. For these reasons and by virtue of its comprehensive scope and aims, the potential risk for misunderstandings in the AmbITion project is significant. The large number and variety of target arts organisations, their division into tiers of intervention, the development and coordination of a knowledge portal and the conduct of multiple, interconnected research and evaluation activities all occur within the interests of the Arts Council, and their agent, the Manchester Digital Development Agency. Each of these groups of actors and organisations has its own interests in and expectations of the project. One aim of this evaluation is to uncover where potential tensions might lie between the various stakeholders in AmbITion. A second aim is to provide the opportunity for an in process and ongoing reassessment of the priorities and methods of the AmbITion project, putting them in line with the criteria that the target organisations will find most useful and meaningful. To achieve this we have adopted a critical approach that takes its lead from participatory action research 3. In this respect the research objective is not just to evaluate the degree to which AmbITion achieves its stated aims of bringing about organisational change in arts groups perceived to be necessary by the projects main agents, the Manchester Digital Development Agency (MDDA), the Arts Council and Hannah Rudman. Rather, our intention is that the arts organisations provide the basis of the evaluation in relation to their own experiences of the project and whether it has met their expectations and self-defined needs. Importantly, then, our focus is not just whether project goals have been met, but also to refine or even re-define the goals from within the organisations themselves. We take our lead from the notion of evaluation anthropology as a type of anthropology of knowledge that examines how people in specific social settings (a project, program, etc.) determine the worth or value of a set of planned activities created to promote particular results4. In the

See Wadsworth, Y., What is Participatory Action Research?, 1998, accessed 3 June 2008. 4 Copeland-Carson, J., Odell Butler, M. Evaluation Anthropology Futures: Next Steps in an Emerging Paradigm. NAPA Bulletin 24, pp. 179181, 2005, p179.

context of this evaluation participatory ethnography is thus a process by which the various stakeholders are invited to comment and reflect upon our findings as we lay them out in this and subsequent reports, which we have termed the Collaborative Evaluation Process, or CEP. The basis for critical reflection is generated from the juxtaposition of the explicit and implicit aims of the AmbITion project with the views and perceptions of the clients that AmbITion proposes to act on behalf of, namely the arts organisations. Evaluation methodology Our evaluation is based on a case study approach, providing ethnographic data relating to the sequence of events through which the implementation of digital technologies within selected arts organisations takes place. Ethnographic data is a qualitative account of a particular set of knowledge practices and their attendant social relations. Methodologies employed in the elicitation of ethnographic data include participant observation, semistructured interviews via face-to-face, telephone and email exchanges, and critical readings of relevant literature, policy and other documents. As part of the methodology we have developed for this project, the CEP, we seek to bring together action and reflection, theory and practice, in participation with others, in the pursuit of practical solutions to issues of pressing concern to people, and more generally the ourishing of individual persons and their communities5. We have actively engaged in the project while making observations which derive from the experience of contributing to project activities in a variety of sites and social locations. We have endeavoured to contact a cross section of personnel from the organisations with which we have carried out site visits, including those directly involved with AmbITion and those who have little direct contact or engagement with the AmbITion project in their professional capacity. However, it should be noted that this is not an attempt to provide an exhaustive stakeholder map of all members of the AmbITion community, or for that matter within the selected organisations with whom we have worked. Rather, our intention is to elicit data on the perception of digital technologies and potential organisational transformations prior to and after the implementation stage of the project from different perspectives within a particular organisation. Through a comparative analysis of the data elicited we have identified the central themes and issues that define the respective aims of different stakeholders in the AmbITion project. Within these organisations we have interviewed a cross section of individuals, including those identified as responsible for liaising with the AmbITion team members. Working out from these individuals as our main point of contact with a particular organisation, our aim has been to ascertain awareness of and degree of engagement with the AmbITion project from different positions within a particular organisation. The primary data source for our ethnographic evaluation is derived from site visits and interviews conducted with four arts organisations. This data has been greatly enriched through participant observation. We have attended a number of events, workshops and project meetings hosted by the AmbITion project. At these meetings we have talked to and

Reason, P. and Bradbury, H., Inquiry and Participation in Search of a World Worthy of Human Aspiration. In Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice. Peter Reason and Hilary Bradbury, eds. pp. 114, London: Sage Publications, 2001, p1.

observed the interactions between the various actors who interact through AmbITion: members of the arts organisations, Arts Council representatives, project consultants and members of the academic research team. The programme of site visits and participant observation has been supplemented with telephone interviews with other groups outside of our selected sample set, interviews with project staff and consultants. At each of the organisations where we have carried out site visits we have conducted loosely structured interviews with participants. The aim of these engagements is not merely to work through a questionnaire, asking informants to respond to a set of stock questions in a survey tool. Rather, in keeping with our ethnographic approach, we have endeavoured to facilitate conversations with informants around some of the issues relating to the AmbITion project. Issues raised have been used to generate further lines of enquiry, informing subsequent iterations of the research framework as part of an inductive process. The first drafts of the case studies that we produced have been reviewed by the respective organisations as part of the CEP. Their comments, corrections and further reflections have been incorporated into the case studies that we include in this report. Research questions Through engaging with informants our aim has been to elicit the perceptions and impressions of the diverse range of social actors engaged through the AmbITion initiative. We have gathered information on informants professional backgrounds, their knowledge of AmbITion and interaction with project members. With respect to our site visits, conversations with informants have been structured around several general questions: How and why was the decision to engage with AmbITion taken? What level of knowledge do they have of digital technologies, both in their daily working practice, and more widely within the arts sector? What kinds of activities constitute their daily work routine, and how might this change with the implementation of new technologies? What are the perceived benefits, if any, of engaging with the project? Has the experience lived up to expectations? How could it be improved? What other resources and sources of information are available to them other than those that will be provided by the AmbITion project? Given unlimited resources and freedom to act, what would they change within their organisation?

While these lines of enquiry have provided the framework for conversations, the intention has been to encourage discussion on issues relevant to AmbITion, and not to direct or constrict the conversation. As a methodology this has served us well and several informants have told us that the conversations provided a welcome opportunity for reflection that was not easy to come by in their busy work schedules.

Cases to be Compared and Rationale for Selections Rationale The four groups with whom we have carried out site visits prior to the implementation phase of AmbITion are Ludus Dance in Lancaster, Hoi Polloi in Cambridge, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Aldeburgh Music in Suffolk. These groups have been selected to represent the diversity of organisations participating in the project from the perspective of their core artistic activities, organisational structure, regional location and appraisal by other means of evaluation. Project timeline permitting, our intention is to compare our qualitative evaluation of the AmbITion project in these locations with the proposed evaluations to be carried out by Price Waterhouse Coopers and the Bedford University research team. Our purpose in doing so is to establish whether our findings are indicative of more general trends and issues elicited through other evaluation methodologies. Organisation Tier Main Activity Bedford Evaluation PWC Evaluation Ludus Dance 1 Dance No Yes Hoi Polloi 2 Theatre Yes No Liverpool Philharmonic 1 Philharmonic Orhestra/Concert Hall No No Aldeburgh Music 2 Music Production No Yes

Case 1: Hoipolloi Theatre The smallest of our sample organisations, Hoipolloi, a Cambridge based touring theatre company, employs three full time and three part time staff. Depending on how busy they are, the staff meet once a month to discuss the running of the company, while the Board of Directors oversees the company. Hoipollois core funding comes from Arts Council Regular Funding for Organisations (RFO), income generated from touring, and other grants. Audience participation is an important part of productions staged by Hoipolloi, a factor that contributed, by their account, to being invited to participate in AmbITion. Dawn Giles of Arts Council East had watched an excerpt from Floating, a show making creative use of several multi-media technologies to present its narrative to the audience6, after which the company had been invited to be part of the AmbITion process. Hoipolloi had originally wanted money from AmbITion towards a creative project and research and development and felt that this had initially been encouraged, but the minimal amount of funds on the table in the end meant this was not possible. They were about told one and half years later that there was actually only 15,000 in the pot for Hoipolloi and this was a huge disappointment. It was agreed that the money would be best spent in the end on improving the companys IT infrastructure. They had originally pitched to be a Tier 1 organisation, and were disappointed to be told that they had been accepted as a Tier 2 group. They felt they had not been given clear enough reasons as to why they had not been given

The excerpt from Floating was performed at Connected Worlds, an event organised by the Arts Council.

Tier 1 status. When told that they would only be able to apply for 15,000 as part of the AmbiITion project to be spent on IT infrastructure and that there was no monies towards creative development, the Artistic Director expressed his disappointment to the AmbITion team. They were subsequently told that they could apply for an extra 7,000 to be spent on equipment that could be used in creative development and performance. This money has been earmarked to purchase video projection equipment to be used in the company. As one informant noted a considerable time had gone into this process which was not really proportionate to the amount of funds received in the end and, it seemed, perhaps just applying for a capital grant would have been easier and quicker. Although time with Roland, the original consultant has been useful in helping them begin to think about how best to use the 15,000 and in developing their IT infrastructure in the end, which is in urgent need of improvement, they would have liked to have done more. In response to our questions about the benefits of the consultant, one of our interviewees stated that whilst his initial independent advice was fine, the implementation process of getting tenders for the new IT infrastructure, etc is something we could have handled on our own and did not necessarily need his input. The AmbITion timeline, from the original briefing on the project to the implementation of the first phase, was of serious concern to the company members with whom we spoke. They had originally heard about the project over two years ago. They said that they felt the process has been long and drawn out, and while they had received an initial consultation, they had yet, at that time, to receive any idea of when funds might be available7. Their concerns over lack of information on project timelines and feelings of disconnection from AmbITion has probably been exacerbated by the loss of the consultant with whom they worked. At that time they felt very unclear about where they stood with AmbITion, or at what stage the project was currently at. There was a very mixed response to questions about what they felt they had learnt from the initial phase of the project and their work with the assigned consultant. Hoipolloi were chosen, as they understood it, to be a model for other organisations on account of their existing practice and use of ICTs. Yet they feel that what they have learned to date is limited, and that these have been things they would probably have explored anyway (such as pod casts). They feel as if they have been made to jump through a lot of hoops for little benefit. They also expressed some concern over what the Arts Council had paid out in consultancy fees to give them this service while allowing them to only apply for 22,000. It was felt that this money might have been better spent on the organisations themselves, and that the extra resource invested in AmbITion added little of real value. It was thought that strategically it would have been better to have applied for grants from other Arts Council funding sources to implement the improvements to the IT infrastructure that will now be paid for from Grants for the Arts funding allocated through the AmbITion project. This would have taken less time and required less effort than had been demanded of them through their involvement in AmbITion. Another concern voiced was over the rate at which new technologies develop. It was felt that the focus of AmbITion might have benefited from looking to what might be possible in

This information was correct at the time of our site visit on 24 January 2008. Funds for AmbITion were released in March 2008.

five years time, rather than looking at what is currently available. They had an impression at the outset that AmbITion would take them further than it has. The disappointment has been exacerbated by the two-year lead time before the project began. Sustainability is a big issue. While Hoipolloi might improve their IT infrastructure, they will have to continue to find funding to improve systems. On the matter of the impact of digital technologies on work roles, it was felt that they were often promoted as being about saving time. However, providing content for web sites, processing and analysing data, and so on took a lot of time. It was put to us that, rather than saving time or work, the implementation of digital technologies is actually about a reallocation of resources. Hoipolloi is now touring larger venues than it was three years ago. These venues have more sophisticated means of gathering data on their audiences through box office sales and are able to offer greater support for marketing departments. However, some venues are unwilling to share audience data with performance companies. It was stressed that venues and companies need to improve the ways that they gather data together, and share it with performance groups. Google analytics has helped Hoipolloi to gather some data about who visits their web site and when, but there is still a need to address this knowledge gap in the arts sector. Venues and touring companies need to improve the ways they talk to each other and share knowledge. In this respect AmbITion, as an initiative to promote the sharing of information across the arts sector, is perceived to be of value. We were told that further AmbITion networking events would be welcomed. Events like those held in Birmingham in November are thought to be very useful, particularly when they provide a chance to hear presentations of case studies offering concrete examples of how technologies have been implemented in and by arts organisations and discussions of the attendant issues that arise in such initiatives. Case 2: Ludus Dance Ludus Dance, based in Lancaster, is unique amongst the AmbITion constituency in that it is run as a co-operative. There is a strong sense of the ownership of the company by the personnel, or as one informant put it, if one fails all fail. Formed in the mid seventies, they are run as a not for profit organisation. The aim of the company mission is to ensure that dance is recognised as a significant force within society. To promote the development and consolidation of dance as an art form which recognises cultural diversity and difference and is accessible to all through education, participation and recreation8. The company has two producing departments: dance development and the touring company. Dance development focuses upon delivering community dance programmes throughout Lancashire, while the touring company focuses upon professional performance and pedagogy. The goal is to develop a dance infrastructure to develop communities, with an emphasis on working with socially marginalised groups. Department heads meet each week to discuss matters on a management committee. Three company meetings are held each year to discuss all major policy matters, and the decision to be involved with AmbITion was a decision taken at one of these meetings. With regard to

Ludus Dance Company Handbook, 2004: 3.

the needs of the company in relation to AmbITion, there are two main aims. The first is to develop the in house IT infrastructure through the implementation of a unified database. The second is to develop the capacity of the web site as a medium for capturing and delivering performances to customers. Ludus employs a staff of 15 people, and in 2006 had a turnover of 579,910, generating a surplus of 8,081. Much of this funding has come from the Arts Council. However, Ludus has been told that there will be no more Grants for the Arts funding. While involvement in AmbITion offsets the financial threat to Ludus and will go some way to help generate surplus, there is a strong concern with the implications of making the company more profitable. In general, peoples experiences of the AmbITion project to date have been good. Ludus first became aware of the AmbITion project through Hannah Rudman, and the Arts Magnet event at which Hannah had presented. Pam Johnson from Arts Council North West had expressed their interest in the project to Hannah, and they were subsequently sent details of the project. Jane Scott-Barrett, the director of the company, and Hannah Rudman had made the case for the inclusion of Ludus in the project to the Arts Council. Prior to the agreement of their participation, Hannah and Adrian Slatcher had conducted a risk assessment to ascertain the suitability of the company for participation. Concern had been expressed at this stage over the fact that Ludus is a cooperative, and whether they would be too slow in the decision making process to successfully participate in AmbITion. However, what impressed us most at Ludus was the extent to which the decision making process was devolved. While this is in part a practical necessity, there is a high level of trust between the members of the company and they are confident in each others ability to perform their respective roles and duties. The sense of group ownership coupled with sharing a common goal to promote dance as a community led activity underpins a well developed company identity that facilitates the devolution of decision making. Ludus is a community based organisation, and the challenge its members face, as they see it, is to balance the needs of the community with the need to produce a surplus on their balance sheet. This tension is felt more strongly by some members of the organisation, to whom the notion of generating profit in a not for profit organisation was anathema. If the company is to become more commercial what are the implications for the identity of Ludus as a community based organisation? Because Ludus was founded on radical politics, addressing the needs of a middle class client base was seen by some to fly in the face of these ideals. In part due to the general meetings held to discuss the AmbITion project, there is now a far greater financial awareness at all levels of the company of the costs of running Ludus. Jamie, the head of marketing, told us that two years ago members of the company would probably have had no inkling, or even would have cared about the importance of collecting, collating, storing and using information on customers. Now all members are aware of the importance of maintaining a database, and knowing who the customer is. There seems to have been a shift in identity amongst the company members of Ludus from an ideologically informed community led dance troop to an organisation that, in todays funding climate, needs to generate surplus, to rationalise, in order to continue to provide those services to the


community. The AmbITion intervention seems well timed to capitalise on this change in attitude. Increasingly Ludus are asked to accommodate the requirements of their core funders, the Arts Council, Lancaster City and Lancashire County Council, and provide evidence of the impact of their activities, demographic information on who they are working with, and other indicators of performance. A major criticism of the Arts Council is that it requests such information without properly addressing the provision of skills and training needed to do so. Within Ludus, the focus on process rather than output meant that there was no clear evidential basis for the allocation of resources. The organisation has to strike a balance between artistic excellence and accessibility, but the implementation of performance indicators has created an extra administrative duty and placed an additional burden on already overstretched staff. Questions were also raised over standardisation. As one dancer put it, her aim is not to produce clones in teaching. The challenge Ludus faces as an organisation is to preserve diversity while taking on board the need for commercialisation. They feel they must address this if they are to continue to pursue a participatory approach to engaging with and serving their target communities. There is a perceived tension between diversity and quality assurance on the one hand, and the need to develop a more commercial focus on the other. A focus on quality, not quantity guided members of the company in allocating time as a resource. However, in an extremely busy working day there was often not enough time to reflect on practice. The views of one informant epitomised these concerns over time, and the hopes for the kinds of transformations in working practices that the implementation of digital technologies might bring. Ideally the introduction of new technologies would be labour saving, buying time to be creative about ideas. Case 3: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic was selected as an organisation to evaluate in part due to its unusual nature. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society, the last charitable philharmonic society in the UK, manages the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and through a wholly owned subsidiary, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall and Events Ltd., the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. The RLPO IS the only orchestra in the UK to have its own hall. The Philharmonic Hall also hosts over 250 events per year that have to be coordinated with the orchestra performance schedule. The balancing of the priorities of venue and orchestra is at times a source of tension between the two entities. Funding in the form of grants comes mainly from Liverpool City Council, the Arts Council England and the Liverpool Culture Company supports the symphony orchestra. It is these grants that enable them to operate. Sponsorship and box office revenue (roughly a 60:40 ratio) contributes to the running of the Philharmonic Hall. The venue programme is completely supported by box office revenue and hire fees, and generates a moderate surplus. The Society has benefited from support this year from the Liverpool Culture Company due


to the city being nominated as European Capital of Culture which has generated a marked increase in business and available funding. The operational management of the business areas of the organisation is led by regular meetings of the executive directorate, who answer to the charitable board of the trustees of the Society through the CEO. The directorate is comprised of the head of the orchestra and ensembles, philharmonic hall and events and learning and engagement. The final two Directors of Finance and marketing, communications and fundraising, act for both the hall and orchestra. Departmental managers do not attend the directorate meetings. Recently however a decision was taken to allow managers to introduce items to the agenda of the Directorate meetings. The organisation has made very rapid progress in updating its IT infrastructure. In 2003 it relied heavily on third party contractors to fulfil its IT requirements. It has subsequently pursued a policy of employing IT proficient staff, as well as its first in house IT support staff. In the words of Simon Glinn, the Executive Director of Philharmonic Hall & Events, the venue operation is systems driven, and occupancy rates and event frequency are extremely high as a result. It has grown at the core of the business, and the orchestra administration has followed the venues lead and specification9. The Liverpool Philharmonic maintains a prominent web presence, and makes good use of existing initiatives to bring in expertise to the organisation. A knowledge transfer partnership with the University of Bangor provides the organisation with its current new media development officer. The implementation of the new web site has apparently led to a significant increase in box office revenue, although the development of the web site is still being worked out. This, we were told, is a process that requires someone to drive it forward. While the orchestra takes precedence on the web site it was pointed out that the majority of visitors to the site do not come to look for more information on orchestral events. It was noted that historically the orchestra has taken priority over the concert hall, which seems at times to be a source of tension between the two entities. In September of 2007 the orchestra performed in Second Life, developing a virtual replica of Philharmonic Hall. This was done with the aid of an intern from Harvard. However, while the event itself was headline grabbing10, very few people actually viewed the event. The Philharmonic Hall has not broadcast any of its concerts in Second Life, and at present has no plans to do so. The broadcast was expensive to produce, and on the basis of market reach and quality cannot be justified as a means of distribution. Millicent Jones, the Executive Director for Marketing and Communication, was responsible for instigating the Second Life broadcast. Based in San Francisco before coming to Liverpool, Millicent is the main point of contact for the AmbITion project. Millicent can be seen to be one of the ICT champions in the organisation and made the case for the Second Life broadcast to the Board. Others in the Directorate embody a wide range of ICT skills

Email response to earlier iteration of Liverpool Philharmonic case study, 3 July 2008. See for instance: Martin, N. Second Life hosts world's first virtual concert, at, 17 Sept. 2007, accessed 3 June 2008.


and similarly champion the use of new technologies. Simon Glinn and Andrew Cornell, the Executive Director for Orchestras and Ensembles, together wired the Philharmonic Hall to capture digital audio performances, and to date 25 performances have been broadcast on national commercial radio. Andrew has great experience as a record producer, and Simons passion and advocacy for digital production and non-mainstream music drives the venues innovative use of and engagement with new media. Strategically the digital agenda at the Liverpool Philharmonic has been driven ahead by champions within the Directorate. However, other personnel expressed the view that there is a need for greater awareness of the potential for and training in digital technologies across the organisation. As David Lawson, the new media development officer, put it in response to a question about what technological changes he might like to see implemented within the organisation, you cant have the technology without the people who can use it. The box office collates customer data from ticket sales11. The ways in which this data is used to inform management decisions and marketing initiatives varies according to the imperatives and needs of the different departments. There were some concerns expressed to us over the lack of access to this data outside of the box office and its use in developing marketing strategies for both the Hall and the orchestra. It seemed at the time of our visit that there was a perception of ownership of the data by a particular domain, the Philharmonic Hall, a tension that stems in part from differing perceptions of the value of this data and how it might be best used. The needs of the marketing department for the data to inform audience development are quite different from the venue managements focus on the capacity for capturing and disseminating performances. There was some disappointment expressed over what AmbITion has to date been able to deliver. It seemed that there was a perception that the project would bring with it the expertise as well as the technology to bring about significant changes in the production capacity of the venue. 2008, the year that Livepool is celebrated as the European City of Culture, is a very significant year for the organisation. The AmbITion timeline has meant that funding has not been forthcoming in time to meet deadlines for this momentous occasion. The Bays and The Heritage Orchestra headlining the Fresh Festival at the Philharmonic Hall 12 celebrating Liverpool as the European City of Culture was an event that the Liverpool Philharmonic aspired to have the new technology in place to capture. This did not prove possible, and from the perspective of venue production is the source of some frustration amongst the venue management. Just what the added value is that involvement in Ambition might bring is unclear. As it was put to the interviewer, [The original idea] was a very simple thing of why dont we just video everything that ever happens here [the Philharmonic Hall]. We didnt require, with all due respect, social anthropologists to talk to us about it. [We] just needed to buy some kit and plug it in.


The Box Office is the first online operation in the city, and the commercial possibilities of the box office to serving other locations in Liverpool are currently being explored. The integration of the OPAS (Orchestra Planning and Administration System) and Artifax Event software (the venue diary) allow for the coordination of the Orchestras schedule with programming events at the venue. 12 YouTube - The Bays and The Heritage Orchestra at The Liverpool Phil,, accessed 24 June 2008.


Case 4: Aldeburgh Music Aldeburgh Music, a Tier 2 organisation based in Suffolk, describes itself as a worldrenowned meeting place for artists, students, audiences and academics 13. Home of the annual Aldeburgh music festival, from which the organisation sprang, the site also has an international concert hall and studio facilities, which are currently being expanded. It also runs a training programme for young musicians and offers residencies for more established performers. The organisation receives very limited funding from the local authority, and receives much of its core funding from the Arts Council. Roughly one third of its funding comes from box office receipts, a third from the Arts Council and the remainder from private sector sources. Aldeburgh were first approached in 2006 by the AmbITion project, and asked if they might like to participate in the project as a Tier 1 or Tier 2 organisation. They met with Hannah Rudman and the assigned consultant in order for them to identify the organisations needs and key issues. There had been some confusion at first as it had been thought that the money from the AmbITion project would be forthcoming from the Thrive budget, and not from the Grants for the Arts , lottery funding. At the end of January 2008 they heard that they had been successful in securing 15,000, which was disappointing. The initial session with the consultant was also frustrating. The proliferation of databases in the organisation is an obvious issue, and was not seen to need the services of an expert to identify. The AmbITion project has helped to shed light on already identified issues, and has been useful in helping to suggest solutions to these matters. However, as one person put it, placing all the eggs in the AmbITion basket has led to a delay in their ability to implement any solutions. Artistic plans are shared throughout the company at meetings held every three to four weeks at which all staff are present. This may not happen in the future as the organisation continues to grow. Aldeburgh Music has many different functions, and therefore different departments have different IT needs. There are issues with the scheduling of performances in the venue and the festival because individual departments run independent databases, and there is no coordinated scheduling across the organisation. This is also seen to hamper marketing, promotion and fund raising. At present some of the issues that arise from this lack of a shared database are alleviated by the departments sharing the same open plan office space. However, this will soon change with the development of the new premises and the relocation of some departments in different buildings. The lack of a well-developed web presence is perceived to be a major hurdle to marketing Aldeburgh music internationally. This is viewed as a particular disadvantage for the artist development programme, which works mainly with young artists. Much of its new business continues to be through word of mouth, and the development of a more substantial web presence is overdue14.

Aldeburgh Music,, accessed 5 June 2008. The existing pages can be viewed at and Time constraints were cited as one of the reasons for not being able to develop the web pages more fully, not lack of expertise.



The focus of Aldeburgh Music is people. They bring musicians together to work and live in the same space, enabling them to interact in ways not possible in other environments. Its geographical location contributes to this. Its main venue, the Snape Maltings concert hall, was originally a mid-19th century barley maltings, the largest in East Anglia. A few minutes drive from Aldeburgh, is located amidst a number of renovated industrial buildings in the centre of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The hall itself sits at the edge of the long expanse of reeds and wetlands bordering the River Alde. We were told that many of the musicians who came for the residencies thrived on the rare sense of being away from the rest of the world and not being distracted by the hustle and bustle of London. For these artists, feeling that the pressure is off often makes them feel that they can enjoy creating again. The experience of rural and small town life adds to the change of pace. Audience members are often also locals and might stop to talk to the musicians at the shop or on the street. The connection to the local audiences and sense of place engendered through the residencies strengthened a sense of community and a sense of creative camaraderie often develops between the musicians involved in the residencies from this shared experience. The company also has a reputation for taking risks. Its location is spoken of as providing a space to think in which musicians feel comfortable experimenting and even failing. Trust is an important part of this process. There is a similar element of trust involved in programming, and not all programming choices have worked out. However, unexpected success is more often the result. Risk is seen as part of the artistic endeavour and creative process at Aldeburgh, and in the arts more generally. That is, artists need trust to take risks, and need to take risks to be artists. Educationally Aldeburgh runs some very innovative and technologically savvy programmes, and those working in these areas seem far better informed as to the possibilities of new media than other departments. The company runs a music programme with both schools and young offenders serving custodial sentences. It works to curate a group of artists, engaging them through the use of emerging and converging media. For instance, Wii consoles and midi trigger pads are used with Mac based systems. Because Aldeburgh uses so much Mac hardware and software, Apple has asked them to be a regional training centre. However, much of the work that they do is with the County music advisor, and current LEA policy is that schools are PC based. Procurement policy does not therefore allow schools to purchase Macs, impeding Aldeburghs ability to do outreach and education with the local schools. It is evident that few people have a good sense of everything that Aldeburgh does. To the wider artistic community, the educational work that Aldeburgh does is largely invisible. Aldeburgh is instead seen to promote music that appeals to a very particular section of the community at large. It is mostly known for the festival and for being and there was a concern that the public might perceive Aldeburgh music as a hoity toity classical music company. Indeed, even within the organisation there is sometimes limited knowledge of what others in the company do or of the many kinds of activities that are promoted and facilitated. Within departments we were told communication is generally good, however this falls down across the organisation because inter-departmental communication is generally face-to-face. While it is the case that only some computers run Artifax, the real issue is not so much


access to databases but rather the level of competence and expertise with software in the organisation. All the people that we spoke with spoke of the high demands on their time. This was felt keenly in the marketing department, which has only two members of staff and seems to be over tasked. It was expressed that there was only time to focus on selling seats to existing customers, and not enough time to research potential new customer bases. The relative IT expertise of Angela, the junior member of the marketing department, also means that some of her time is taken up by helping others to use the various databases that are in use across the organisation. In her own words,15 my experience is that its not so much that people dont have access to the relevant databases, or arent trained on them, but because of the demands on everyones time they find it easier to ask someone else who is perhaps more familiar with the software, or has a more natural aptitude for computer-related activities, and as such can find out the information etc. much more quickly. The problem then is that when people dont use the computer skills they learnt in training courses, those skills are easily forgotten. Some felt that their ability to do their official job as well as at times play an unofficial support role were negatively impacted by these informal but necessary roles. Summary of findings Introduction The following is a summary of the main issues arising from our ethnographic evaluation of the project to date. While the preceding section gave an overview of the state of play and the current context of implementation in the organisations that we have visited at the preimplementation stage of the project, this section explores in greater depth the implications of our findings for AmbITion. It also takes a reflexive approach to the analysis of the project, and is offered as a means of stimulating critical reflection and engagement by the various stakeholders. The aim is to identify and address the main issues that affect action within the project as the basis for constructive dialogue between AmbITion stakeholders and to best address the needs of the arts organisations. The focus of our analysis has been on attempting to articulate those issues that are relevant to the stated aims of the AmbITion project - to bring about organisational change in the form of greater commercial awareness through the implementation of digital technologies in selected organisations. AmbITion is a project that is driven by an agenda to fundamentally transform the Arts sector, and provide a model that can work for these purposes within the sector. The underlying aim is sector-wide transformation, both at the level of policy and practice. AmbITion is driven by a perceived need for digital technologies, and of the necessity for arts organisations to embrace them in order to generate surplus in not for profit organisations. However, it has proceeded on the assumption that digital media are a solution to the problems facing arts organisations in an era of increasing uncertainty, when the perhaps the only real certainty is the apparently imminent funding cull facing many organisations across the sector16. Moreover, that the solution is to develop sound business practices is something the sector has never been uniformly comfortable with.


This response was given to us in an emailed response after the interviewee had read the first iteration of the case study. 16 Arts Bodies Await Funding Bloodbath, The Sunday Times, 16 December 2007.


The necessity for such change, and the potential for digital technologies to achieve farreaching and profound transformations in the working practices of people in the arts sector, was stressed to potential participants. AmbITion is the means by which these changes are to become manifest. Expectations of the project were, from the beginning, very high on the part of the project staff and the arts organisations. If these expectations are to be fulfilled, then in our view the opportunities for change that we outline below need to be addressed. These issues are especially poignant for Tier 2 organisations, for whom allocated resources within the project are very limited. Project structure Although the T1 and T2 designations were not meant to be an indication of the worth of the organisations, it is clear that receiving T2 status has taken some people aback. Understandably, not everyone could be a T1 organisation, but both T2 organisations mentioned being surprised at their placement in that category. They felt they had been led to believe that they would be receiving more intensive interactions with consultants, or that the AmbITion funding would be going towards creative capacity building activities. It is clear that there is still some fundamental disconnect between the expectations of these organisations and the expectations of AmbITion project members. A further frustration mentioned by all, but particularly the T2 organisations, was the problem of distance and isolation. Several people mentioned some confusion about what was going on with AmbITion at the moment, and others expressed a desire for more events like the November meeting in Birmingham in 2007. People who attended that meeting found it particularly valuable to have the chance to see and hear people present what they were doing and the opportunity to talk to each other and swap stories and ideas. Informants called for more such events and for skills workshops on the practicalities of using particular kinds of new media technologies and broadcast forms such as podcasts. Social Engagment The results from the Training Survey circulated on 25 April 2007 clearly indicate the importance attributed to social events by those polled17. The survey shows a clear desire to network on the part of senior managers, marketing and finance staff and artistic staff from organisations engaged in AmbITion. Everyone (100% of those polled) noted that the kinds of networking events they would find most useful would be for staff doing a particular function. Yet from the outset of AmbITion the focus has been on digital technologies as the driver of change. Key to peoples descriptions of the value of events like the AmbITion event convened in Birmingham was the importance of being face-to-face in the same room with other people, and having the chance to ask questions or exchange advice informally. The benefit from these exchanges, and of the programme of presentations from both consultants and other arts organisations, seemed to justify the time spent getting to and from the event. However, many in both the research and administrative teams have been focusing on the role of the Knowledge Base as virtual interaction between people, and specifically in the construction of the Knowledge Base, on documents.

As detailed in Survey Results & Analysis for AmbITion Network: Training Survey, 5 July 2007.


With this in mind, we would reiterate that it is not enough to simply put in place a Knowledge Base as a reservoir for lessons learned in this project. Instead, we would urge the project teams to begin thinking about how they can use the same technologies of Web 2.0 to set up both online and real-world events such as networking meetings and skills workshops that will allow participants both formal and informal interactions. However, this should not replace greater social interaction within the project. Although virtual social interactions might successfully ignore both physical and temporal distance between actors, it is precisely the immediacy of face-to-face interaction that people have told us is most valuable to them. Revenue streams There has also been a potentially coercive aspect involved in the funding of Tier 2 organisations in that this money comes from the Arts Councils Grants for the Arts scheme. The Arts Council, we were told, would give preference to digital projects when reviewing applications for funding. Other priorities that the organisations would liked to have made applications for under the Grants for the Arts scheme, such as accessibility, traditional outreach, or creative work, were subordinated to the aims of AmbITion. Though it is not unusual for experimental initiatives to keep the criteria for awarding grants focused, the establishment of Ambition at the expense of Grants for the Arts, left many organisations with little choice. Most of the organisations expressed frustrations with this. Although each organisation seems genuinely interested in the general aims of AmbITion, the lack of alternatives presented by this situation potentially could have tipped the scale in some organisations decisions to participate. This might not be a problem, but bears flagging up and perhaps further attention in terms of how it affects the engagement and investment that these organisations commit. Commerce versus creativity The organisations taking part in the project have had to justify themselves through the production of a business plan. One part of this submission required the organisations to detail how they are eliminating risk in their implementation of the new technologies provided by AmbITion project funding. While some saw the opposition of community interests to business interests as a false dichotomy, others were worried about the consequences of attempting to eliminate risk from art, and of the appropriateness of a business model for arts organisations. Some welcomed a greater commercial awareness, and saw a need for the arts sector to become more commercially viable. By far the greatest concern was with the possible effects of commoditisation. Nearly all agreed that it is quality, not quantity that should ultimately govern any decision taken with respect to investment in the sector. Skills development and training [Y]ou cant have the technology without the people who can use it. There is a shortage of in house IT skills in some organisations, and this is an area that should be addressed for the sake of long term sustainability of any interventions that are going to be made. However, we are concerned that the focus of AmbITion on technology does not address this issue. The need to develop a greater awareness of and interaction with


audiences and publics is something that new technologies might be able to provide, but not without training. Not enough attention has been paid by AmbITion to ascertaining existing levels of expertise in some organisations, especially it would seem amongst the Tier 2 organisations. There has been an assumption of limited knowledge on the part of organisations, and a didactic approach to bringing them into the twenty first century and the digital economy. Social networking and training events, for example focused around particular organisational roles, might be one way to cultivate wider knowledge across the sector and the sharing of experiences between relevant parties. Another issue is that those with IT skills within some organisations, the person that can, often end up in de facto IT support roles, being called upon to help those less comfortable than themselves with databases or software. This is often an additional role that fell on junior staff members, and might reflect a generational gap in the degree of comfort and knowledge of ICTs. Skills audits within companies and training initiatives both between and within larger companies is something that AmbITion might consider as part of its recently announced calendar of networking and social events. Pooling knowledge, for example, through in-house training schemes or communities of practice across organisations might provide a sustainable alternative to reliance upon external consultants and contractors to fulfil IT needs. At the same time, consideration should be given as to how interested skilled individuals within organisations can be freed up to take on these training and support roles and participate in such cross-sector training. In some organisations, IT and digital outreach are seen, at best, as necessary evils. In such situations it takes an enthusiastic champion to drive change forward. Finding ways to empower these individuals within their organisations is vital. There has been some disappointment expressed by a number of interviewees over the level of technical expertise that has been on offer from the consultants. This is may be due to the ways in which the project was initially sold to them, and the claims that were made as to what might be achieved through participation in the project. It also suggests a lack of engagement with those expressing such sentiments to ascertain their knowledge of digital technologies. Knowledge Base We have some concerns about the web portal. Web sites do not automatically generate communities. The development of an online community around a particular domain of knowledge and the process of collective learning and the sharing of experiences can be greatly facilitated through face-to-face interactions18. The AmbITion web site is now online, but content is at present limited, and it remains to be seen whether it will develop into an active and useful resource for arts organisations. The sustainability of the web site is also an issue that is unclear at present. Is there a definite commitment to fund and to continue to host, maintain and develop the site after the end of AmbITion?

See for example the exploration of the issues involved in attempting to broker online communities of practice around digital repositories in Howell, C., Riddle, M., Wilson, L., Hurst, S., Barrett, B. 2006. Knowledge Resource Network Final Report, available at For a well informed and wide ranging discussion of community engagement with and through new technologies see Marleen Huysman, M., Wenger, E., and Wulf, V, (eds.),Communities and Technologies Kluwer Academic Publishers: Dordrecht, 2003.


Technological Focus The main aim of the AmbITion project is to bring about organisational change in arts organisations through the implementation of digital technologies. Whether in the form of IT networks, databases, website development or equipment to enable the production of digital media, digital technologies are seen as the drivers of change, the means by which the target organisations are to become more efficient, commercially aware and to generate revenue streams to decrease reliance on core funding from ACE and regional government. We are though concerned by the degree to which the technology is seen as the agent of change and with the hype that surrounds ICT as offering communication and information networks free of the labour of other forms of interaction19. This is seen to have implications for the project in a number of ways. The initial technological focus of AmbITion has resulted in a missed opportunity to begin to socialise the potential for new technologies across organisations, and as a corollary of this, the benefits of pursing greater engagement with existing and potential audiences. We further feel that, in its over-reliance on technology as a means to achieve a heightened commercial awareness in arts organisations, AmbITion has missed a trick by not making use of existing social resources. The Arts Council should, as part of the AmbITion project, be linking into other existing networks. Creating new resources from existing infrastructures, for example the Independent Theatre Council, or linking to other initiatives, such as the IT for Arts group funded by the Baring Foundation, might achieve this. Other data that could be of use is that kept by local/regional government offices. Demographics on the local population, for instance, could be used to help target resources in line with stated aims. A directory of where and how to find such information might be something worth considering, and perhaps a useful way of adding value to the AmbITion web portal. An assumption has been made about the distinction between user, developer, and consumer - namely that these are three separate actors, when in reality they are often one and the same person. In our view this is in part due to the lack of a proper survey of organisational capacity prior to the strategic planning of AmbITion. Some of the organisations accounts of how they were originally approached to participate in AmbITion would seem to indicate a pattern of selecting for success on the part of the project management. That is, a selection process that was biased in favour of organisations deemed to be of low risk in relation to the criteria of success for AmbITion. Similarly, although the project is an intervention based upon the perceived needs of organisations, one of the key needs that organisations identified, the opportunity for more networking and role based training and tutorials, seems to have been subordinated to many of the technological aims of the project. Although none of this invalidates the AmbITion project or its outcomes, it is worth bearing in mind when extrapolating lessons from the results.


Marilyn Strathern, 2000. Abstraction and decontextualisation: an anthropological comment or: e for ethnography, available at, accessed 28 June 2008. She further notes that [i]t is interesting of course that ICT is a highly visible ally of audit practices. Its speeding up of the performance of office equipment does not just facilitate the production of the audit reports and so forth, but as an entity in itself (as ICT or IT) can be used as an indicator of performance. We would argue that a similar logic informs the rationale for AmbITion and the linking of change and technological innovation.


Points for action As noted previously, our aim with this report is to stimulate discussion around the particular issues that we have identified as sources of tension within the AmbITion project between the various stakeholders. In line with this aim we would suggest that the following points for action be addressed by the project management team as opportunities for change as it currently stands. Greater Networking opportunities. This may go some way to redress a number of the issues detailed above, including the need for greater socialisation of the project within and between organisations, the sharing of knowledge, experiences and resources, the sustainability of the project legacy after the end of the AmbITion funding period, and a focus on experience and knowledge practices as well as technology as drivers of organisational change. Greater IT training opportunities. This provision of further training should be based on an assessment of what organisations would like to see implemented, not what the project team feels that organisations need. Consultation with the consultants working with the organisations might help in to identify specific training needs and deficits in capacity, however the organisations already seem to have a good idea about what their needs are now. An audit of existing resources. This should be linked to the development of the AmbITion web site as a resource for arts organisations. It should include information on existing sources of data for marketing research, for example demographic data collated by local government, and suggestions for how to access such resources, information on training opportunities and continuing professional development in the arts sector, and information on relevant events, seminars, etc., possibly connecting arts organisations to other resources in existing Web 2.0 sites such as Second Life, Facebook and MySpace, thus acting as both a gateway and a vital repository and tool. Evaluation tools. The development of performance indicators and means of evaluation is new ground for many arts organisations. While increasingly this is being asked of them by funders, there seems to have been very little provision for delivering to them the kinds of tools that might be used to help them evaluate their performance. While we are not advocates of assessment for its own sake20, we feel that this is an opportunity for AmbITion to address this omission and provide value to the arts sector more widely. For example, seminars might be convened to discuss the ways in which different groups are addressing this issue. Examples from both the education and development sectors would be instructive in this regard.

It should be stressed that, despite the deliberately critical tone of this interim report, we are still optimistic for the potential of AmbITion to be realised. Although the actions and realignments in perspective that we are suggesting take place are vital to this, we feel that they are not opposed to, but rather in line with the general spirit of the project as it has been conducted thus far. This kind of iterative approach to ongoing project management is an important part of such a dynamic and ambitious project. The project is currently at a critical

Often the danger when any kind of metric is used to assess performance is that the means becomes the end. For this reason if arts organisations are to implement performance indicators more widely as a measure of accountability then these should be developed by them or in consultation with them.


stage and we would strongly suggest that the actions we have outlined above are implemented if the intervention is to align itself more closely with the needs of arts organisations. Our purpose in this report has been to raise issues to stimulate discussion among all stakeholders in AmbITion. We expect, and even desire, disagreements with our assessments. Furthermore, it is our hope that those disagreements will be voiced so that an even clearer picture of the way forward can be forged and AmbITion can continue its work of change.