Design-thinking: a way forward for audience development?

In recent years, the arts have invested in audience research and in many successful projects to engage audiences. However, there is still not the consistent and long-term growth in audience breadth and diversity that is needed.

In some cases projects might have been too safe and while catering better for traditional core audiences they did not necessarily reach other groups, in other cases they might not have been maintained long-term. Or organisations got stuck between insight and action.

New approaches to audience development seem to be needed. In other industries services are increasingly designed in a user-centred way and through an approach referred to as service design, human-centred design or design thinking.

Image by UX Indonesia on Unsplash

What is design thinking? It is a human-centred approach to problem-solving and to innovation. It helps teams understand people’s needs and motivations with empathy and supports experimentation to create innovative solutions.

A design thinking process can unlock the gap from insight to action by placing people at the heart of the challenge, by working in multi-disciplinary staff teams and by imagining and testing new solutions.

Key elements of the design thinking process are:
• bringing together quantitative and qualitative data to build empathy with different audiences, seeing the experience through their eyes
• reframing the challenge to open up to a broader range of solutions
• developing ideas, and
• experimenting and prototyping to test and learn.

I believe that applying this process or elements of this approach holds a lot of potential for the cultural sector. It can help to make more of the insight generated, it is practical and cost-effective and it embeds new ways of working. I am not alone as this article from the Audience Agency in the UK shows: “Time to ditch old-school approaches to audience development“.

I have recently become a certified design thinking facilitator. Please get in touch if you are interested to explore this approach for your organisation.

Author: sabine.doolin

Strategy consultant working with the cultural sector

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