Top Tips | Digital Planning

Katie Moffat offers her views and tips on ACE's new digital plan requirements

Last week Arts Council England released details for the next round of NPO funding. For the first time, they’re encouraging all organisations to make a digital plan (it’s an application requirement for band two and three organisations). This is a smart move, since although there’s a credible school of thought which argues that digital shouldn’t be hived off and treated as some special case, the reality is that as a sector, we’re some way off digital being so integrated that it negates the need for a stand-alone plan.

For many smaller organisations becoming more digitally savvy can seem like a massive mountain to climb, with multiple potential paths and numerous obstacles on route. And when you’re already overstretched, it’s easy to fall back on the familiar and to put anything you’re less comfortable with to the bottom of the list. That’s why Arts Council England’s insistence on a digital plan is smart, it places digital front of mind for all organisations and helps to ensure it’s at the top, not the bottom, of the to do list.

As with your audience development plan, your digital plan needs to sit comfortably with your overall organisational aims, other aspects of the strategy, your structures and resources. It usually makes sense to integrate both plans into your overall strategic plan. And don’t be afraid to do it your way: one organisation we know, for example, added a digital aspect to the four areas of their strategy (marketing, programming, building development and staff development) and then summarised all the digital activities in a single action plan which was driven by an inter-departmental task force.

However you choose to approach it, let’s acknowledge that for many individuals, having to write a digital plan will cause them some anxiety. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have suggested to me that they’re not comfortable when dealing with digital, lack of confidence is a real and present issue in the sector.

This seems to stem from a fear of not knowing everything, of a sense that other people know a lot more than you. But here’s a fact: you don’t have to be a digital expert to write a solid digital plan. The starting point is asking the right questions and not being afraid to accept that part of your plan may involve finding out the answer to those questions before you proceed with actual activity.

The Arts Council’s Digital Policy Guidelines has some good advice about how to approach a digital plan but if you feel you need to start right at the beginning, here are our five pointers for success:

  1. Don’t panic: it may seem facetious but the rabbit caught in the headlights approach won’t help. To repeat the earlier point, it doesn’t matter that you’re not a digital ‘expert’, your job is to pinpoint the challenges facing your current organisation and consider how digital might help mitigate some of those challenges.
  2. Identify the areas where you feel your organisation is currently weakest: that might be digital marketing, or a good CRM, or using Google Analytics effectively. Prioritise this list. Yes it would be great to do everything but you have to be realistic, so your plan needs to tackle things step by step.
  3. Identify what is stopping you tackling those weaknesses tomorrow: is it due to lack of skills? Lack of resource? No idea of what tools might be able to help you achieve a particular aim? In each case, you need to figure out how to remove the challenge. Need to up-skill? Make training a priority. Limited resource? Consider how others within the organisation (or external resource) may be able to help you. And so on. Apply ruthless common sense to this process.
  4. Don’t be afraid to seek help: there are lots of useful free resources online (for example, CultureHive) plus help available from many sources (for example, you can sign up for one of our free surgeries). Talk to other organisations about what they’re doing - most people are really happy to share ideas and discuss approaches.
  5. Accept that this is a learning process: nobody has all the answers and due to the fast changing nature of digital technologies it can sometimes feel overwhelming but if you’re at the heart of your organisation then no-one is better placed that you to decide how digital might help. What you learn along the way is all valuable, including if you try something and it doesn’t work.

In short, take heart! In terms of the opportunities digital technologies afford, we’ve never lived in more interesting times. Digital transformation won’t happen overnight but small, significant steps will set you on the right path.

You can find the Arts Council England digital plan guidelines here (opens a pdf).

Katie Moffat, Head of Digital

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