Art, Big Data and How to Use Tech to Achieve Your Cultural Mission

Cultural institutions have a passion for their missions. That’s what motivates people to enter the profession and that’s what motivates other people to support those institutions. But, many struggle to find ways to attract visitors and, of course, donors. That’s where big data can help.

Understanding the data in your organization is like looking at a Jackson Pollock painting. Your first instinct is to be a little confused by the complexity and seemingly random paint splashes. After you’ve spent some time just looking, you start to notice the sequential layering of color and the connections between the drips. You realize that under closer examination, the painting tells many stories.

Likewise, for most cultural organizations the concept of big data is overwhelming in itself. But starting with a simple data model, such as membership information or the organization’s website analytics, the basics and benefits of big data can be understood. Collating pools of data into bigger containers will help cultural institutions answer big questions about improving their educational programs, development and fundraising, in-person visitors and membership recruitment. 

“There are over 110,000 cultural organizations in the United States. There are almost as many levels of data maturity and skill.”

There are over 110,000 cultural organizations in the United States. There are almost as many levels of data maturity and skill in using the available data as there are organizations. Trying to analyze and integrate the vast amounts of data accessible on just the institution’s website requires critical thinking. For instance, look at the organization’s mission and its strategy for achieving it: What shows you whether you are on the road to success? How do you measure those indicators? A visioning and strategy plan that identifies the goals helps clarify the questions that organizations need to ask themselves. Big data will help provide some answers.

The current statistics for the number of visitors, members, donations, etc., are just the starting point for analyzing a cultural organization’s data. Research also entails measuring and understanding the effectiveness of those initiatives. In some cases, that may mean that the information is not currently available. Basic data gathering techniques – such as counting of visitors in a specific room – can be used to understand visitor interests. Once a sizable amount of data is recorded, you can incorporate it into your data model to determine if you need to develop some conclusions from this information. Fully automated methods of data collection are also available and can be implemented if the value is determined to be high.

Big Data and Education Success Metrics

Education is the cornerstone mission of most museums. How do you measure whether you are achieving that mission? Is it the number of people active in your programs? What is the effectiveness of the educational programs? How do you measure that? How do you account for your online visitors who may be receiving an education but don’t visit in-person? With many different methodologies available to test knowledge and gauge response, by using the data right in their own records institutions can discover whether they are achieving their mission.

Big Data and Financing 

The one necessary resource is the financial means for achieving the tactics you need. With big data, institutions are able to answer questions to assure funding sources that they can use the money wisely. Setting up a data model will allow your development team to identify potential donors through prospects, past donors and current members. If you are able to access and incorporate other second and third-party profile databases, such as corporate and personal networks, you will be able to identify high quality prospective donors. Big data helps simplify the complexity of connecting the dots with the addition of personal connections and knowledge.

Big Data and Attendance

The constant need to stimulate in-person visits requires understanding why people choose to attend one of your exhibitions or programs. Cross-matching detailed attendance along with visitor survey feedback provides a very deep method to achieve that understanding. Online data can provide a better understanding of what creates action in your previous and new visitors, which may be possible to apply those themes for in-person visits.

Big Data and Membership

Turning visitors into members is an opportunity to use available data for your recruitment strategies. Comparing your messaging and incentives across different channels and platforms enables you to identify the most effective methodologies. Visualizing your data on a regular basis enables you to update your campaigns to generate better results.

Big Data and Beacons

With the advent of mobile technology (such as wearables, apps, smartphones), e-commerce payment systems and location–based services (like beacon technology) will only increase the scale and complexity of data necessary for understanding your audiences.  Although the data does become more complex, you can use it to answer more questions. Cloud-based big data services simplify the work and management so you can focus on asking the right questions and getting the best answers.

Effectively managing big data is a great way for institutions to turn what seems confusing into efficient tools for achieving their missions. Reduced costs and simplification of cloud-based big data management systems allow even the smallest arts and cultural organization to take advantage of big data. Now is the time to gain important insights into your public and to achieve your long-term mission. Now is the time to start painting your own pictures.