How our consultants are engaging with capital projects and the heritage sector from end to end - establishing baseline insights, through the development phase and consultation to delivery and evaluation.

November 22, 2023

Capital development is everywhere right now, and at The Audience Agency we’ve been busy working with many organisations on their recent and varied capital projects, including a number of projects funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF).

Our team of expert consultants have been engaged with these projects across all phases – from planning, establishing baseline insights, through the development phase and consultation and testing, to delivery and evaluation.

Here, we share some top tips for starting out as well as some of our learnings from working on these projects.

Top Tips

Three things to remember if you are starting out on a capital project

  1. Do your background checks – use data and research or get out and have a chat.
  2. Be people-centred, make sure you walk in the shoes of those you want to benefit and design and develop under their advice.
  3. Keep assessing your progress against your mission, vision, Theory of Change or other touchstone and keep learning as you go.

Contact us to see how we can help with your planning, development or evaluation of capital projects and read on to learn more about our expertise in this area.

Our Expertise

We have extensive experience in audience development, audience targeting and sector level insight, working with hundreds of organisations every year and our approach is always user centred.

Penny Mills, Director of Consultancy says: “These projects are fantastic for connecting people to their heritage - whether by sharing stories, the redevelopment of an iconic building in the heart of their place or by bringing people together in an inspiring space. They might result in great visitor experiences which have meaning to a local community or provide a space which can be owned and organised by the people who live nearby.

At the early stages, our datasets have enabled business planners, master planners and economists to provide robust insights as part of their feasibility studies for new developments into the profiles and needs, opportunity and potential for visitors, audiences and participants. We have considerable experience with feasibility projects, working with organisations to develop new programmes, spaces and buildings and strategic masterplans, including: University of Oxford, Sunderland Culture, Brewhouse Theatre, Taunton, Oldham Council and more.

We provide locality specific insight – for specified catchment areas – drive-times/distances, at ward level, postcode-sector. Our deep knowledge of the available datasets, measures and metrics informed the NLHF announcement of £200m of new funding.

We've also delivered several research studies and consultations with visitors and non-visitors to inform strategic planning and capital programmes, including with CADW Caernarfon Castle, National Museums Northern Ireland, Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle, National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port and more.

Of course, the data provides context, can inform target setting and helps make the case,” says Penny, “but there is no substitute for getting out and talking to people, hearing what they are saying in their own words. Whether it’s a population panel survey or a community consultation session, we have enabled projects to hear the voices of those they are looking to engage.

These capital projects are not only designed to make physical engagement easier or do justice to the heritage or collections, but also to host inclusive activities, to change perceptions and attract new people, or to provide learning, training and other opportunities in an equitable way to local people and communities. Our co-creative approaches to involving communities in development, design and decision-making are therefore vital to ensuring the developments are more sustainable.

Measuring the impact of capital development is vital and we have worked to support organisations to report the outcomes and impact of investment to key funders. This includes evaluating the impact of the V&A Exhibition Road Entrance; and most recently the evaluation of the Black Country Living Museum £23million Forging Ahead programme. We also work with Kala Sangam, appointed to evaluate both the potential impact of Kala Sangam’s redevelopment during capital works and after reopening – including the effects the redevelopment has on local economic growth and productivity. Following our work with Staffordshire Archives in the earlier NLHF development phase around audience development, we’re now working with the team to evaluate the Staffordshire History Centre build and development programme.

With capital projects our focus is how a development will be used and what benefits it brings (social, cultural, economic etc). We know that buildings don’t sit in isolation. They support local development and change, whether it’s the visitor economy like Black Country Living or about hosting the stories and activities of communities like Kala Sangam,” says Penny.

Our consultants continue to work on capital projects at all stages, balancing both quantitative and qualitative approaches, understanding the wider context for where and how things are being funded and other developments in the place. It’s never a one size fits all approach, and we’ve amassed a great deal of experience in this area.

Contact us to see how we can help with your planning, development or evaluation of capital projects.