The Arts & Everything in Between

April 17, 2023 | Duration: 29 mins

Live from RECHARGE! Data Spark: Using Data to Tackle Organisational Challenges


Lucy Costelloe

Get Recharged! In this episode, Lucy Costelloe talks about The Arts & Culture Collective – a Ticketsolve initiative – that explores the main challenges facing arts organisations. She takes us through what they have learnt so far.

The initiative looked to understand how the arts and culture industry uses data in times of great uncertainty, and how data helps to inform innovative practices. The aim is to see how these practices can lead to greater sustainability throughout the sector. 

Lucy reveals how challenges such as fundraising, changing tastes, relevance, leadership, diversity and technology have shifted from 2016, through the pandemic to now. And how the Arts and Culture Collective, questioned really questioned their data, their data practices and what they really wanted and needed data for to help make positive organisational changes that stick.

This is part one of a two part series, in the second part, you will hear from the participants of the study and hear, in their own words, their experiences and insights around data, data driven organisations and decision making. 

A big thank you to the Irish Research Council for their collaboration!



It’s tough but rewarding working in the arts and often so busy you have little time to share with your peers and investigate new ideas. Every couple weeks join the team at Ticketsolve as they interview arts industry experts getting their take on the biggest issues facing the arts world today. There will be ideas to try, practical tips, lots of learning and of course – lots of laughs. If you work in theatres, venues, festivals or the arts and cultural sector this podcast is what you need! 



If you have some great tips and tricks or have an idea for a topic you’d like to learn more about or share with the arts industry, drop us an email on [email protected]



Interested in learning how to use your data better? Want to work with organisations who are looking for better ways to do things and safeguard our industry? Join us! The Arts & Culture Collective is a cohort of organisations across the UK and Ireland, looking at the biggest challenges facing the arts and how we can tackle them together.

Irish Research Council



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About Our Guest

Featured Guest

Lucy Costelloe

Head of Marketing

Lucy is an experienced arts professional having previously worked at The Ark Children’s Cultural Centre, Celtic Connections and the Irish Memory Orchestra. In  her role as Head of Marketing she collaborates with our sales and marketing team with a strong entrepreneurial spirit and a talent for generating innovative ideas and solutions. Lucy is also an accomplished fiddle player and a member of the board for Ulster Orchestra having gained valuable experience working across the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors of the creative industries in Ireland and the UK. She is currently an Irish Research Council Scholar conducting her PhD at Ticketsolve. Her project looks at identifying resilient methods and agile practices around decision-making in times of crisis and in the re-opening of the arts & cultural sector in Ireland and the UK.

 My session today is titled connected Energy Sources. And what I’m guessing I’m trying to do is to connect a few dots. But before I do that, if I’m honest with you, I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for this project. So on the slide that’s behind me, I have a pink slide that says the Arts Working Group. My role is marketing. And I’ll be honest, that all changed during 2020 and it changed for the better. So the Arts Working Group came together between 2000 and 22,021 to find answers to things we simply didn’t know. We were baffled, confused, frustrated and isolated for much of that time. My friends and colleagues who are here today to in particular, Kai Aberdeen and Peter Ling. Just a quick shout out to you both. I hope you’ll look at this session and anyone else who I might not have spotted on the lunch break from the Working Group. But I really hope that you see just how much of an impact our work together with Ticketsolve has created. Two years later. So I may have mentioned I’m a marketer and I thought, well, what better way to connect the dots of this session than through setting up a good storyline? As you can imagine, I work in Ticketing and I always think, what’s going to sell? Let’s keep those bums on seats. So this story is simple. It’s an insight into a project and it’s a project built from a problem. I’d like to think it’s a universal problem. So as part of my role, I’m extremely lucky to be working on a project that’s been funded by the Research Council. And basically what our project wants to do is it wants to know how do we use data, how are we using it currently and how can we use it when we’re feeling uncertain, how can we use it to support us during times of crisis? And how can we be used by data as well so that we make more informed decision making within our organizations? So then I begin by just my story, by introducing you to an initiative. And it’s the first real initiative of this project and it’s called the Arts and Culture Collective. And it’s a piece of research that we are conducting. And basically the collective came together to workshop through the current challenges that we’re facing in the sector today. The best bit of feedback I have to say that I’ve gotten so far is that it’s not just your average therapy session. So buzzwords and alliteration, if you’ve ever read one of my marketing email subject lines or my blog, clickbait titles, you will know that there’s very little else that brings me joy, apart, of course, from Pawns and Memes. But they will definitely make an appearance later in this presentation, no doubt. I also do love a good stash. So, in numbers, the Arts and Culture Collective looks like five workshops conducted so far, four of which have been online, one in person, 28 organizations involved, with 38 participants. We’ve had two workshops in the Republic of Ireland, one in Northern Ireland, and two as well that have been UK wide. In the workshops, you might be surprised, we spoke a lot about the feeling of chasing our tail and this is where the fun of the story begins. So we spoke about some of the main barriers and challenges that we are facing, that you are facing in the work that you’re doing today. And we also spoke about what it would be like if we could remove these barriers on a day to day basis and what this idea of a utopic sector could look like for us. Our session revolved heavily around data and we began, I suppose, to challenge some of the ideas that we have around implementing it within our teams, and also the possibility of embracing a data led culture for our organizations. This is what the workshop looks like in Word Clouds, and some of you might recognize some of these words on a day to day basis. We’ve got money, brochure, time insights, organization funding, festival program, rising costs, staff burnout, stress, lack of understanding. So, as all good stories go, they provide an insight. Okay, well, I’ll be honest, I did look at this slide and think, well, I could wrap up my 30 minutes and eight slides and say, don’t go looking for problems. This quote in particular has been something that I suppose I’ve been really thinking about since designing the session and trying to give an insight into some of the work that’s been going on amongst the ticketsolve community members. So, as CS Lewis would say, the future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of 60 minutes, 60 minutes an hour, whatever they do, whoever they are. After conducting five workshops with the Arts and Culture Collective, I’d like to present an insight into that quote. So we believe that the future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of 60 minutes an hour, unless they work in the arts, whatever their role. What do we think the future would look like of embracing data for our organization? Digital technology is growing at a rate faster than any other industry in this world. How does it feel? Feels chaotic. Feels like we’re chasing our tail, fighting fires quite a lot of the time. So, in 2020, our sector was hit with the biggest uncertainty. Most of us have ever experienced in our professional lives. The COVID-19 Health Pandemic. It accelerated some of the challenges previously encountered by the sector, and it also brought new uncertainties to our attention. And also this fear of what other barriers lie around the corner in the very near future. In 2016, the Arts Journal blog conducted a poll asking their readers what’s the biggest challenge facing the Arts. So they received over 3000 votes, and the areas that they highlighted include funding, relevance, changing tastes, diversity and leadership. So in 2023, I decided I’d like to revisit this question to see what changed what I predicted. I predicted that we’d see a vast, vast shift in the pie chart that you can see below me. So funding coming in at 37%. Diversity is around 15 as well. So I invited a series of some of the busiest people that I know into a room, either online or in person, and asked them to tell me what the five top problems or challenges that they’re facing at the moment would be. When our arts and cultural organizations closed in 2020, we were still determining what reopening would look like nearly three years later. We’re very much living that reality right now, and we’re working through recovery. Still, while some anticipated that audiences return in droves, some of the surveys showed that a nugget of our most loyal attendees are still yet to return. We’re also fighting against those last minute bookers. Where are they? So I was not ready for what I was experiencing. So we used a tool called Myro. This was an interactive online workshop. Some of you may have taken part in some of these workshops, so thank you for that as well. So we basically documented everything and we mapped them out. First insight there are more than five problems. For example, climate change. Thank you, Emma, for your session earlier. Absolutely. This is something that we’re speaking about now more than ever. We have before. This summer alone, climate crisis impacted the operations of multiple cultural organizations, including the British Museum in London, whose premises was unsafe to open due to high temperatures and the lack of safe infrastructure for staff and visitors. Every day we’re reading on the stage an Arts professional concerns over extreme rising costs. We’ve also seen drastic changes to policy from the Arts Council as well in terms of NPO funding. So there’s lots of signaling going on at the moment for mass closure of our beloved cultural hubs and our mahogany stages. If you have any involvement with running a building, which I know you all do, these concerns are impacting you and they’re impacting your team. And these other challenges are escalating the problems that we met in 2016 fundraising, changing tastes, relevance, leadership, diversity and technology. So I dug into them and I wanted to find something entirely new. So I thought I’d get a bit scientific and I mapped our sticky notes onto the pie chart from 2016. So far, it’s looking pretty good, right? We’re still coming in at funding. I was trying to find something new. I was trying to find an answer to this problem, to the multiple problems that we’re facing. So I added on a new layer, no pun intended, for rising costs for 2023. So getting bums on seats and keeping lights on are regular sayings that we use in the sector, and we use them to simplify some of the goals and challenges that we’re facing in the current times. We’re facing the challenge of having to make tough, tougher decisions, and we have to make them more, faster, quicker than we’ve ever had to before. We also have the pressure that we have to make sure that they’re informed because we need to safeguard our resources. So I asked the Arts and Culture Collective, what are your primary goals? And this is what we got. So mapping this felt quite right. We’re still getting scientific with our sticky notes, our primary goals, and our primary objectives mapped on top of our challenges. It’s looking pretty even in terms of the grid layout that we have. So I’ll add on another layer, and now I’m going to throw in a few more shapes. On top of my very scientific mapping exercise, I asked the Arts and Culture Collective, okay, what is it that you want from your data? What is it that you look for on a daily basis? What is it that you love about using it? What is it that you learn? And what is it that you can’t currently get right now in your practices? What is it from your data that you long for? And we did a bit of an exercise there. Okay, so another layer started to get a little bit interesting because I started to find it really hard to map the quantity of sticky notes that I wanted to within the larger segments of the pie. And I realized maybe we could be using it better. So I’m going to talk about value for a little while because as the next chapter in my story, this is about making sure that every investment of resources is worthwhile. So I’ll ask you now to have a think. What types of information really contribute valuably to your organization and in the practices that you’re doing? And when or when do you not rely on your data as well? When does it not provide you value? So I’m going to conduct a quick data temperature read. So whether you’re looking at launching your next season program, sending out your brochure mailouts, or working on audience development plan, there’s probably a blend of facts and knowledge that we need to gain from metrics and also what I call our mind messages, what your gut is telling you. There’s answers that will take the form in figures and metrics and questions you can only be answered through your thoughts or through your motivations. Do you love the metrics, or do you love intuition? So I’m going to introduce you to two colleagues that you might have met before. So my first colleague is Geo, and we nicknamed Geo our dashboard guru because there’s nothing that Geo enjoys more than populating pivot tables, designing bar charts, and presenting the headline stats to the board every month. Geo likes to bring everything into one space to grain a unified picture of everything that’s happening in their organization. What’s performing well, what’s underperforming for the organization. Geo also likes to help other colleagues with reporting, particularly around times of arts council funding. Any confidence or any confident GEOS out there today? I’m looking at you, Donnas and Darren, and those reporting skills of yours are something else. They’re something special. All right, I would like to know. I have recorded them to try and embrace their inner guruness before and wrote them into a few case studies or ten myself. So our next colleague today is Adrian Reed, and we nickname Adrian a whiteboard warrior, so no task goes unnoted or unticked off Adrian’s list each week, including our VIP audience members who have attended the venue that week or the ones who haven’t. Adrian will write them all Christmas cards and post them off at the new season brochure every Christmas because they know that’s what those audience members expect, and they’ve been getting it for the past seven years because that’s when Adrian joined the box office team. So, special shout out to all of my Adrians today. I know a day away from the desk means that there’s a pile up for you all tomorrow, which gets steeper and steeper, but you definitely deserve to be here with us today. So, as Joey from Friends would say, how are you doing out there in Conway Hall? You feeling a little Geo or are you feeling a little Adrian? Well, that’s a funny question to ask because I kind of have a rough guesstimate. Here’s one we prepared earlier. So we asked you earlier, how do you feel about your data? Are you feeling confident, uncertain, or unsure? And what’s come out? We’re feeling a little unsure. Okay. So I just want to take this time to really emphasize that data comes in many shapes, multiple formats as well. It might be located in your sales dashboard, or it might live in the visitors book that you have beside the entrance to your venue. It doesn’t have to be quantitative. It might be the snippets of information that you get from speaking with your audiences in the foyer. It’s living and breathing everything about your organization, or it might take the form of your box office reports. It’s all important. And one thing we want to avoid throughout this session is that feeling that I term data guilt. And it’s a term that I call those conversations that we’re having when we’re already at full capacity and we’re over stretched, but we feel like we should always be doing more. You are doing an amazing job. So this session isn’t to call anyone out who mightn’t be using data in the way that they’d like to, but it’s just to highlight that maybe we’d like to have a little bit more time that we can do the things that we always wanted to. We want more time to plan, we want more time to put ideas together. So I suppose it’s critically evaluating the role of data within your organization at the moment and not the role that we’re performing on a daily basis because without you, there’s no organization. So here’s something that I found really, really interesting, and I’ve already used some of the terms and the terminologies that we see at these conferences and sessions around data. You’re one source of truth, unified. So let me ask you, are you feeling a little pressure to do more with your data? Yeah, few hands. Okay, that’s okay. You certainly will be after this presentation. So what we’re noticing at the moment is that organizations are saying that they need to do more and more and more. There’s more on their plates, less time to look at everything. When we closed our sector in 2020 and it reopened, it reopened with a bang and we put everything back into what we were doing and we became very motivated to do more, possibly doing more with a lot less. So this quote is something that I find really, really interesting. It says, no company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion can be taken seriously until it collects scrutinizes and is transparent with its data. There’s a consideration to take now as well. Okay, but what if I told you that a key element of data isn’t the numbers, it’s not the insights, it’s not the reports, it’s your people. Our use of data, it firstly and most foremostly starts with who it is, who’s on your team. And data culture is something that exists. Either it exists in your organization or it doesn’t. But it’s your people who can create this and who will create this momentum around implementing data driven decision making for you. So it’s fair to say that the organizations that we partner with you serve a specific mission and you add value to your communities. So you’re finding this balance between being data driven and mission driven. And mission is definitely something that’s very popular within the conversations that we have. It’s the piece that Ant gave us earlier. It’s the parts that you’ll take away from today when you’ll go back and look at your audiences, who hasn’t returned to my venue and why? Who’s missing that experience, who’s missing an opportunity. So I’m going to ask you to spend a little time and think about what type of place would the world be if your organization vanished tomorrow, just swept away by the wind. If data provides organizations with primary metrics around monitoring success, then we need to think about the information that your team works aimlessly to capture. Does data have an augmented role in understanding and measuring the value that you’re offering? Does it measure how successful your organization is on a weekly basis? It can become easy and entirely normal to get caught up in some of the vanity metrics of what our ROI, our TBL, or our KPIs are telling us. Data can influence decision making process in so many different ways. Whether you use data to influence your decisions or if you consider your data to be influenced by the decisions that you have made, it’s a key component in helping your team ensure that everyone stays on track in the most challenging circumstances to ensure the sustainability of your organization. So I promised you a meme and I’ve delivered it. So it’s important to remember that it’s not necessarily always about numbers. If data can tell you anything that you want, what exactly is it that you want answered? Do we know? Can we consider that question for a moment? If you had a burning question to answer, what would it look like? How would you propose that question to yourself? Would you know exactly what the data is that you’re looking for first? Or would you go in and dive and then find the data after? Over recent years, I believe we’ve come greedy for data. Yeah, we all want it. I want more. You want more. We’ve abused it. We’ve given it away. We’ve taken it from our consumers. But have we really ever looked into the use of what we’re doing with it once we gather it and actually look at it? Are you an influencer on the data that’s generated from your organization, or are you action driven? Do you put something into process and then go back and look at your data afterwards? Do you allow data to influence the decisions you make within your organization, or are you insights driven? Do you trust your gut and do you go where the wind takes you? Are you doing something revolutionary without a map for navigation? Have you considered yourself as someone encompassing an influential mindset? I’ll be really honest. In our sector, with the resources that we have, our teams can be kind of reluctant to try something that’s never been done before. And it makes sense. It can be hard to take a risk when you’re not sure what it will generate for you. But that’s okay because it’s a nice, safe feeling to know that what we’re doing has worked or is working. And it’s also nice to kind of keep an eye on the neighboring theater up the road to see what they’re doing as well, and how is it working for them. So this is a question that I followed up with some of our members from the workshop. What exactly is it that you want to know? And they responded and said, what exactly is it that we think we want to know that we want to know. So we still got a few questions to work on and this is something that we’ll be continuing going forward as well. So the next dot that I’m trying to connect into the storyline is another buzzword here. It’s Insights. So I’m trying to move away from using the term data now and kind of dive into a little bit deeper of Insights. Up until this moment, we’ve been speaking around data as a whole, but we’re going to break it down just that little bit further. Yes. I love a good game of buzzword. Bingo. Okay, so we speak a lot about data in our sector, and I’ve already spent 10, 12, 15 minutes chatting with you about data today. But in fact, if we needed to turn our head on data and focus on just the information that matters, if we were to think of data as a structure, as a shape, what would it look like? Well, I propose that it looks like this triangle. Okay. And the term data sits down right at the bottom there. Okay. So let’s take the analogy of what Ticketsolve does. Ticketsolve processes your data. So it’s going to be down here at this nice wide part. Okay. And then what does data lead onto? Well, once we’ve worked through the data and it’s clean and we’re working on our reports, it’s going to give us some information. And we like that term information. Information feels like a good word. So that’s the next layer on our triangle. Okay, but if I was to say to you again, to say, okay, well, let’s take that one step further and let’s talk about Insights. Insights sits at the very, very top of your period or your pyramid. So if you’re saying maybe I don’t have the time, or I’d like to be able to do more with less, you probably don’t need to sit down in this bottom, bottom area of the pyramid. You probably should just aim for the top. What is it that’s going to generate real value to the decision making that you’re currently doing in your organization? The next thing that we need to think about is what we do with the information that we’re given and the insights that we want as well. And it’s important to remember that data is not unbiased. You actually could argue that data, depending on how you pick it up, how you read it, how you interpret it, how you’re using it, can be biased. So the concept of data storytelling helps us to understand the multiple layers of data and the roles of each layer in our use of using data as well. So I’ve taken you from data to information to Insight, and I’m going to pop in Data story. So before we begin to use data, we need to be really clear and understand the narrative that we’re creating. Are you writing a report to the Arts Council or are you trying to understand how successful was your brochure this year? Are you trying to understand from that brochure mail out how many people from the brochure actually purchased tickets? Or do you actually need to reverse your question and say, but how many didn’t? Who received that brochure? How much did that cost? Are there other ways that we could be looking at this? So we’ve lots that we’re trying to answer and where does the plot taken? What is the overall ending? Where do we want to get to? Until we understand this, we aren’t really fully equipped to make an informed decision. We want to make action and we want to deliver value to our organization. And they’re the final two steps of our story when we use data. So how do we get there? Well, I’m going to go back to my pyramid to make this even more complicated. I’m going to add an extra layer and it’s called Actionable Insights. Okay? So it sits right at the top. It’s our saffron, it’s our gold, and it’s an insight that drives action. And it’s typically more valuable than one that just answers a question. So I can tell you how many brochures you sent out, I can tell you how many people purchased brochures or tickets from that brochure mail out. But does it end there? Where’s the full stop? Going to ask one more question. Are you going to push the boat out just a little bit further? So what I’m trying to do here, I suppose, is prompt you to consider when can you push the boat out a mile or two? When can you push it out another inch? When was the last time you used an insight to answer a question? Or when was the last time you generated an actual insight? Something that told you what to do next? Something that helped you rethink your methods for getting the job done, for catching your tail? So I love this, but I would just like to mention that Fitbit have no product placement within the design of the think tank workshops. But this is just so simple. It’s called taking action. And this is what we’re doing in the next part of our story. We’re going to be steered by our data. So if I’m wearing a Fitbit today and I see that I’m just under seven and a half thousand steps and I want to get to my goal at 10,000, I’m going to look at my information and see what it’s telling me. I’m going to gain an insight that I need to generate nearly another 3000 steps and my action. I’m going to go for a walk. I’m going to go for a run. I’m going to do something to get me to where I want to be. So I’d like us just to think about that as well. So my next chapter analysis, paralysis. And it’s something that I may have touched on before if you’ve ever spoken with me in terms of data, but information overload is a real barrier for teams. Analysis paralysis is a real thing. Just don’t go check in the dictionary after my session, okay, google. But it can negatively impact the output of your team. Analysis paralysis occurs when your brain suddenly becomes overtaxed by worry or pressure. Just too much going on, too much at me, at the same time, too much information. Consequently, you find yourself unable to respond in that moment. Yeah, you failed potentially to make the right decision. You feel a little stuck. I think of it as a verbal traffic jam between what your brain is thinking and what your mouse is saying. Too much information can definitely have a negative impact on your team. So you really need to understand what’s important for your team, for your organization, for your mission. Sits right at the top of that pyramid. In the creative sector, we speak a lot about impact, and impact is a strong world. I think it’s a feeling more than anything else, it’s intangible. You can’t simply reach out and grab impact. So how can we measure it? How do we know that we’re measuring it the right way? How do we know that when we measure impact, it’s telling us the story that we wanted to tell us? How do we know that we’re not putting bias within that story? Sometimes as well, we can feel a bit of pressure to measure the purpose and measure that impact, measure the success of the impact that we’re creating within our teams. And what can happen is we can overcompensate by generating metric after metric. But focus on what is really meaningful is my advice. And don’t fall into the trap of analysis paralysis or data for data’s sake. Because basically, once you remove your vanity metrics, you’ll be able to look at everything with a clean slate. In that case, what you’ll do is you’ll gain confidence and you’ll go and you’ll make action. What can happen when we fall into the trap of analysis paralysis is that we can two things I guess. We can have what we call dirty data, where we’re just generating data after data, report after report, adding to that that feel of analysis, paralysis. And then because we’ve got so much going on and so much information at the tips of our fingers that we feel like we should be doing so much more, we can get a bit of a feeling. What I like to call data guilt. And this is something that I’ve had with lots of people recently. And it’s basically a feeling that I wish I could use my data more or I wish I had the time to be able to run my reports or I really know that I should put that automation in place because I know it will work for my organization, but I haven’t done it yet. So again, I just want to emphasize that your data comes in many shapes and formats. Sales, dashboards. Visitor books, but it’s all important. And one thing that we want to avoid is that feeling of Data guilt. So think about the top pyramid, that top line, your actionable insights and what that looks like. It’s critically evaluating the role that Data has in your organization for the role that you’re doing on a day to day basis, the role that your teams are executing each week, getting to your audiences, whatever that might look like for your particular organization. So I’ve given you a quick insight into some of the work and some of the conversations that we’re beginning to have as part of the Arts and Culture Collective and the Think Tank series that we’re doing. If you think you’d like to hear the next chapter, play a role, share a narrative, I’d like to invite you to scan and sign up. We’ll be continuing some of the work that we’re doing, some of the conversations, sharing some of the insights, and mainly just opening up how we can and how we should be using our data in the sector when we’re feeling like we don’t really know what we should be doing. We want to avoid analysis, paralysis and data guilt. We want to get right to the top of that pyramid in terms of actionable insights so that we can support you in whatever it is that you’re doing within your organization.

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March 27, 2023 | Duration: 33 mins


In this episode we are taking you to RECHARGE, Ticketsolve’s recent arts and culture forums. You’ll hear from Peter Ling, Shows & Finance Manager at Ipswich Theatres, who shared experiences of radical changes at his venues.

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