One of the interesting aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis has been the way that data has moved centre stage.

August 13, 2020
Photo of the author - Jonathan Goodacre

Jonathan Goodacre

Hardly a news broadcast goes by without the need to list statistics, show graphs or compare statistics, and the data, its interpretation and presentation has come under much scrutiny as it is used to support one position or another. Now it seems we are all experts in the R rate, the difference between raw and per capita cases, the demographic comparisons and the claims made for various mitigations and cures.

Occasionally, it has brought attention to a range of familiar problems. The word ‘data’ originally derives (in Latin) from things which are given and reminds us that it does not arrive out of thin air but has been created somewhere by someone. The debate has also been about the consequences for action resulting from what is known with, theoretically at least, governments and public authorities acting according to what it shows.

Looking at it on a global scale is enlightening in understanding what can be understood or discovered and some projects such as the Our World in Data project does this by using a marvellous range of data sources, agglomerated and presented in interactive tables, graphs and maps. It also uses the data to assess key questions such as which countries have been most ‘successful’ at containing the virus suggesting possible explanations as to why. Whilst culture isn’t directly addressed, there are many related relevant aspects of interest, such as the effect of different types of lock-down on behaviour.

Similarly, many studies, though not specifically addressing the cultural sector, do provide useful relevant outlines of public opinion related to Covid-19. The European Barometer provides weekly updates on research that has taken place in national and multi-country studies. It demonstrates that there are, of course, many differences between countries such as the degree of trust in governments and public institutions, but there are some common themes, most notably a general fear amongst the public that the situation is not stable and will see the continuation (or return) of Covid-19 in the months to come. This manifests itself in different ways, such as in Spain with mixed feelings over tourism – beneficial to local economies but regarded as potentially re-introducing the pandemic to an area. It is these sorts of issues we will need to confront in the cultural sector in the months and years to come.

The JRC Science for Policy Report on European Cultural and Creative Cities in Covid-19 times is useful in a different way. It is based on the Cultural and Creative Cities Monitor and demonstrates why those working in the cultural and creative sectors are especially vulnerable to the effect of the crisis due to high reliance on self-employed, seasonal and part time workers. It also shows the particularly difficult experience of CCS in what it calls ‘medium sized cities’ compared to capital or large cities which have been able to adapt more readily.

In other findings, it demonstrates the dramatic onward influence of the lack of cultural provision on other parts of the economy such as food, tourism and transport. However, it is not all ‘doom and gloom’ though, as it shows how cultural institutions have adapted to the situation in a variety of imaginative and enterprising ways. Two of the report authors are involved in the Adeste+ conferences; Pierluigi Sacco spoke in the first session and Valentina Montalto will take part in the second. [make link back to the Adeste+ conference series within IA].

There are several international studies that focus more particularly on audience attitudes in the light of the pandemic. Wolf Brown’s ‘COVID-19 Audience Outlook Monitor’ is undertaking research in several countries. In the USA they have already demonstrated key trends for the way that audiences are thinking about re-attending, with a more favourable attitude to museums, outdoors, smaller and local venues.

Although it has been much speculated that the nature of cultural engagement has changed as a direct result of a greater online offer, there hasn’t been much research into this area. However, The Audience Agency, has been looking at this issue in the UK with its digital online survey and there have been interesting findings already, such as, for example, that 75% of first time visitors to organisation websites had never visited the organisation in person. This indicative of many parts of the research which demonstrate the different views and behaviours of various parts of the population. The initial results are outlined here with further findings announced in the autumn.

If you are looking for more studies, there is a comprehensive round-up in the bounce forwards section of The Audience Agency website.