This week I catch up with David Jubb, artistic director of the Battersea Arts Centre (BAC), to find out more about the Scratch Online project and how it was all coming along…
(Note – the project’s digital partner is now Native HQ)
Can you explain what the Scratch Online project is and how it works?
Battersea Arts Centre’s mission is to invent the future of theatre. Most of the theatre made in the building is created through collaboration and experimentation. 12 years ago we began our Scratch programme, which gives artists an opportunity to share their ideas at an early stage of their development. As a process it also gives audiences the opportunity to roll their sleeves up, feedback on artists’ ideas, and follow the creative journey of an idea from inception to fruition. We have made 1,000s of shows using this process and over the last 12 years, “Scratch Nights” have spread far and wide, from the Royal Shakespeare Company to the Sydney Opera House.
About a year ago we started talking about how the process of scratching ideas might work as an online platform. Especially because one of the main challenges for theatre makers who make collaborative work is to find other collaborators: so we thought that the social nature of the internet might help one creative soul find another who could then go on to Scratch together.
How has the project been progressing?
What have the main successes / eye-openers been?
By creating a web-version of Scratch, we have essentially been exploring creative process. So the project has sometimes felt like an exploration of relationships, psychology and philosophy. This is partly because we are trying to create something on the internet that in the real world is all about the unspoken rules and the behaviours of a room full of people. So in creating an online version, you end up talking a lot about human nature, so our some of main discoveries have been how to adapt Scratch for an online environment.
Equally, what have the main challenges been, and how have you overcome them?
One has been translating the qualities of live interaction and human behaviour to an online equivalent. The other is the timeline, which has been tight in order to generate and deliver real innovation. We are entering the final phase of the project where we will face up to both of these challenges – I’m excited about the result.
Scratch is a human-centred creative process. It is what we are making online and it also how we have been making it. And there are such great people involved in the project that I trust that we will use our creativity to come up with something fresh and fun. Come to the launch on 31 August at Battersea Arts Centre, we’ll be Scratching it – and you can give us your feedback to develop the idea.
I caught up with Paul Cutts, chief executive of the Exhibition Road Cultural Group, to find out more about the the Dickens London Trails app and how the project was coming along…
1. Can you tell us a little bit more about the Charles Dickens app is and how it works?
Dickens London Trails is an iPhone app that enables users to experience London as characters from Dickens’ fiction would have. It leads you through the streets of London on a series of unexpected cultural encounters. You also discover more about Dickens’ eventful life and some of the secrets of Victorian London.
Your guides are characters from the novels who introduce dozens of places mentioned in the novels and the stories behind them. Each character also represents a particular theme that’s as relevant today as it was in Victorian times. The trail of Artful Dodger (from Oliver Twist) covers themes of childhood, poverty and power; Abel Magwitch (Great Expectations) embodies crime and punishment; Lady Dedlock (Bleak House) is the trail for those interested in the lives of women in Dickensian London and Samuel Pickwick (from Pickwick Papers) leads the food, drink and leisure trail.
Users can choose to follow a thematic trail or randomly select destinations. Each has a map, an accompanying image and – if a cultural destination such as a museum – telephone details and website inks. You can also share your favourite destination on social media (Facebook, Twitter etc) as well as tell people where you are through Foursquare.
2. How has the project been progressing?
The app went live in late April so progress in terms of editorial and technological build was quick and we’ve essentially finished what we set
out to create.
3. Have there been any real eye openers?
A number of things – the consumer focus groups were really helpful in clarifying our thinking. We ended up with something less ambitious than
we’d envisaged and took different editorial options largely in response to the feedback from that initial audience research. The main success was
having so many editorial partners from across the London cultural sector contributing free content. Our primary ambition was to develop a tool in partnership and collaboration – we ended up spending far less on content generation than budgeted, which gave us flexibility to spend elsewhere.
That said, we’re happy with the content and because it’s not time-sensitive it will have ongoing value. The Dickens theme was – for many of us –
secondary. The primary purpose was to create a collaborative forum that could be populated with different content. We negotiated with our
technology partner to have ownership of the IP so we can license it at low cost to other arts organisations. We’ve got interest expressed from a few others already.
4. Equally, what have the main challenges been, and how have you overcome them?
The biggest challenge was probably the under-estimate of how much marketing and comms we really needed to raise awareness; we relied on our own networks to a large extent and the take-up rate was much lower than we’d have wanted.
There’s also an issue in only having been able to fund an iPhone app rather than Android and other platforms. With the increasing take-up of
alternative platforms we missed a large potential audience. We also had a challenge in terms of visibility on the Apple iTunes app store.
There’s a case I think for the whole sector to push for the inclusion of a dedicated arts channel on the app store – there are so many apps out there it’s easy to be drowned in the digital noise. We’ve not overcome that problem but it’s worth pushing for, I think.
The LSO Pulse project is the London Symphony Orchestra’s discounted ticket and loyalty scheme for students – they offer £6 tickets for 10 (thereabouts) on selected concerts throughout the LSO season at the Barbican to students aged 18 years old or more.
I caught up with Jo Johnson, digital marketing manager at the London Symphony Orchestra to find out how the Pulse project was coming along…
“We wanted to update the technology we used to run the scheme and to give it a 21st century feel,” explained Jo, which is why LSO chose to use an app to reach a younger audience. “The app lists all the events included in the scheme, allows the students to share their attendance on their social networks and enables them to buy tickets for themselves and their friends directly from the app.
“It means that they don’t need to leave it in order to call or book online – this also means that they don’t have to pay a booking fee, which would usually be up to a third of the ticket price again on top.”
Jo explained that the tickets are delivered to the app as a QR code, which users can bring with them on the night for scanning on entry: “Students also collect points in the app for completing actions such as sharing with their friends, buying tickets for themselves and their friends and for filling in short surveys after the event. Points build towards a tiered series of rewards, such as CDs, free tickets, free drinks and meals, Amazon and Spotify vouchers – at the end of the season we reward the person collecting the most points with a trip to Paris with the LSO.”
Jo was keen to mention that, overall, the project has gone very smoothly: “We were delighted with the initial take-up of the app by our existing LSO Pulse members and pleased to see that the transition was pretty smooth for them. We haven’t had too many bugs surface in the app itself, and have had a smooth ride on the scanning hardware side, with no on-the-night disasters or total tech failures (aside from a couple of minor Wi-Fi problems!).
“We have been surprised by some of the ways in which the students have used the app – for example, a couple of users without smartphones used the mobile website on a desktop computer and then printed the QR code ticket to bring with them on the night, something we hadn’t considered as a possibility. Luckily this worked just as well!”
Because LSO are yet to do all the data-crunching, Jo didn’t have any concrete numbers but revealed that early indications show that awareness of the scheme itself has grown, with more first-timers attending LSO concerts.
“Our main challenge was related to the scanning process in our venue, the Barbican Centre,” admitted Jo. “When we sat down with them to explain what we wanted to do, they raised an issue with their auditing process – paper tickets were a required part of this and entry to the hall was not permitted without one. They were also concerned about their stewards having to decipher more than one type of ticket quickly when large numbers of people were entering the hall together.
“As a short term solution we decided to set up a dedicated desk for scanning and printing off the tickets that had been purchased in the app – stewards could then hand the purchaser the corresponding ticket after their QR code ticket had been scanned. This also meant the stewards didn’t have to be trained to use the scanners.”
Jo also mentioned another work-around they had considered: “We also thought about a solution whereby we purchased a ticket printer which printed a ticket when the QR code was scanned, but we discounted this solution as the Barbican could only accept tickets printed on their own stock.”
Despite this change to the initial plan, the app team have been working with the Barbican on future implementation of mobile ticketing, and Jo said she’s delighted that their test project has been able to demonstrate to them the pros and cons of this method: “We have however still been able to test the full solution twice at our venue, LSO St Luke’s, with stewards scanning the phones and without handing out paper tickets, which we were pleased to see went smoothly.”
Matthew Caines is a journalist currently blogging and posting updates from all eight projects involved in the Digital R&D Fund for Arts and Culture