Jonathan Goodacre discusses developing and implementing a user-centered design thinking process through the large scale Creative Europe project Adeste+.

August 30, 2019
Photo of the author - Jonathan Goodacre

Jonathan Goodacre

Without a plan, we are lost. Whilst our brilliant skills might help us to deal with immediate problems or jump on the latest opportunity to deliver short term success, planning helps us to think strategically and deliver our vision. It’s why a large part of our work at The Audience Agency involves encouraging people to do just that.

And yet, mention the words ‘audience development plan’ and many people make for the door!

In Adeste+, a large scale Creative Europe project, we are addressing this issue using the principles of user centred design thinking. In particular it deals with three key problems:

  1. There is still some mystique about audience development and its relevance.
  2. Audience development tends to become the responsibility of one person rather than regarded as an organisation wide operation.
  3. Audience development planning is regarded as a dry functional activity put together in a linear un-creative manner.

Through Adeste+ we especially wanted to help cultural organisations to develop a public facing approach, manage change and to do so in a creative involving way. As the project serves both large well known public organisations such as the National Theatre of Croatia (in Rijeka) and small volunteer led cultural centres like Harinera in Zaragoza, the approacc needed to work for different levels, countries or contexts.

Enter Design Thinking. Workshops are taking place over several months in each organisation facilitated by ‘Knowledge Partners’ like The Audience Agency. These involve a representative working group drawn from different departments, not just those with responsibility for marketing or education and, vitally, involving the leadership too.

It leads the organisation through a user-centred design thinking process, helping them to consider audience needs and the way they interact with the cultural offer. This is taken to the point at which a prototype can be developed to test and inform further parts of the process:

Design Thinking model

The prototype can be of different types and involve a variety of aspects; it needs to be open and imaginative about its own potential. This is where creative approaches to ideation and the use of a visual language can be tremendously helpful. The multi-departmental aspect also brings in other perspectives, so that we can go beyond the marketing campaign.

In the UK, The Audience Agency is working with Mercury Theatre in Colchester - winners of UK Theatre's 'Excellence in Inclusivity' award 2019 - currently re-developing their building and organisation providing an ideal opportunity to investigate and develop its audience. Especially useful so far has been the use of user journey mapping and audience personas, centring on the consideration of real people who actually or potentially interact with the Mercury.

The approach has been great fun and draws on different talents, not just the one that involves writing a plan. As Adeste+ develops, we will report back here on what emerges. It’s an exciting time to be planning for people.

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