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LSO Pulse and Punchdrunk: what lessons will other arts orgs take from our projects?

October 22, 2012 2 comments

It’s been a short while since my last update (not least because I’ve been on holiday!) and it’s been great to come back to so many views and shares on the blog, so thanks very much!

The last few posts in the series have asked questions of some of the projects (for example, we’ve heard why clarity has been so key for the Happenstance project and how, for the Dero project, success is down to committed project partners) – it’s been interesting to see the different answers and compare and contrast, but there’s a wider question I think needs addressing:

What are the wider implications of these projects? What lessons will other arts orgs take from all the experimenting?

For Punchdrunk, and their digital project, it was about rethinking how audiences and companies need to rethink how they connect digitally, particularly pertinent in this fast-paced world of tech and social media. “The conventional model doesn’t fit and needs to be continually interrogated,” said Pete Higgin, enrichment director at the company. “I think as part of a body of projects in the pilot programme, this one is certainly part of a wave of work that will explore further the crossover between digital and the arts. On a company level, our eyes and ears are opened to new possibilities and we are exploring ways to integrate digital work into our company.”

For the LSO Pulse project, the lessons were in mobile

For Nico Koepke, CEO of KODIME, the tech company involved in the LSO Pulse app programme, the lesson was purely mobile: “Students and other young audiences can be very effectively reached and engaged on the mobile channel, and they appreciate the offer and reward with loyalty. We also feel the project showcased that marketing and selling tickets via mobile including the reasonable complex transaction mechanics does not have to cost a fortune or require a new boxoffice system.”

Jo Johnson, digital marketing manager for the London Symphony Orchestra (the organisation behind the Pulse programme) it was about looking at the bigger picture: “We have taken our prototype app and are in the process of widening its scope to include several other orchestras and venues, making one big student scheme for classical music concerts in London. While collaboration between arts organisations is nothing new, this will be the first time that London’s orchestras have worked together on such a large project, pooling resources – financial and people – to reach more of London’s student population to hopefully get them to classical music in greater numbers. For a group that is traditionally in competition with each other, it feels like something pretty revolutionary.”

… which is exactly what the Digital R&D Fund is all about: creating revolutionary ‘things’ and forming revolutionary ideas to filter down through the ranks so that all arts organisations can get in on the action.

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Punchdrunk and podcasts

September 11, 2012 Leave a comment

As part of the next series of posts for this blog, I’ll be asking some questions of the experts behind the Digital R&D Fund to see how their answers compare and what other, perhaps smaller arts organisations can learn from…

Previously we heard from Jo Johnson, digital marketing manager at the London Symphony Orchestra, and Claire Harvey, one of the digital bods behind the Dero project at Sage Gateshead. This week we ask the same question of Pete Higgin, enrichment director at Punchdrunk, and find out about what he thought was the success to his project.

Question 1: What do you think the key to success has been with this particular project?

“The key to success has been good communication between all teams involved. The challenge was always to co-ordinate a project in New York, which was being conceived and built in London, Boston and New York. Undoubtedly the support, resource and opportunity offered by the project team in New York was key to making the project successful too.”

We’ll be asking this question of the other projects in due course, and finding out their answers to some more. In the meantime, have a listen to the latest Arts digital R&D podcast, the third in the series. This one is all about using digital channels and technologies to distribute arts and cultural content and reach the widest possible audience, including new and international ones.

The LSO Pulse app: good project management key to success

August 28, 2012 2 comments

As part of the next series of posts for this blog, I’ll be asking some questions of the experts behind the Digital R&D Fund to see how their answers compare and what other, perhaps smaller arts organisations can learn from…

Question 1: What do you think the key to success has been with this particular project?

Jo Johnson, digital marketing manager at the London Symphony Orchestra, says that the project’s success was dependent on good project management.

“The nature of our project was such that good project management was key. We had quite a short amount of time to get something planned, built, tested and out into the market and the only way to get this done on time was to set out the deadlines, requirements and expectations from the start and stick to them rigidly.

“Of course it helped that we had a very clear idea of what the project was before we took it into the application process, so we were able to get going on it before the ink on the contract was even dry! And because we were basing it on an already existing student scheme, with an already existing audience to market it to and test it on, the only question as to whether it would succeed was whether the students would adapt to this new bit of technology easily or not, rather than whether the idea itself would work. Thankfully they did!”

The LSO Pulse App: mobile apps, QR codes and the problem with paper tickets

July 5, 2012 6 comments

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

Punchdrunk: the challenges of online, offline, time and space

Pete Higgin is enrichment director at Punchdrunk, the British theatre company and masters in “immersive” presentation theatre. As part of the Arts Council, Nesta and AHRC Digital R&D for Arts and Culture Fund, Punchdrunk has been experimenting in connecting the online and physical performance spaces.

Punchdrunk Sleep no More

Connecting online users…

In particular, Pete and Punchdrunk have been working on connecting a live Sleep No More audience member to an online companion, but when I caught up with him he admitted the project has not been without its challenges, all of which he says have made the project think more carefully about planning and operating – something arts organisations can learn from as well.

“The Atlantic Ocean was a massive challenge in itself, as was working in three different teams in three different cities,” said Pete. “I’m not sure we actually fully overcame this but regular Skype meetings, a pretty constant stream of conversation and making the most of what little face-to-face time we had helped.”

He also added that it can be incredibly challenging integrating a new piece of work into an existing production: “The project attempted to connect two online and offline participants, but this had to happen in a show which demands the audience be silent and turn off all mobile devices, which makes it quite difficult to facilitate.”

But Pete actually saw this, in part, as an advantage because it forced the team into working around something specific and focused: “Interestingly these parameters helped shape the project and gave us debilitating but important boundaries – ultimately, we had to embrace these and find distinct moments for communication.”

Another challenge that Pete mentioned was time: “It was a massive challenge, and we could have done with much more and also a second iteration of the project.” But learning from these kinds of challenges is what will make the next rounds of experimenting and testing so successful.

Happenstance: making software and making art – the Agile manifesto

June 18, 2012 1 comment

As part of the Nesta, Arts Council and AHRC Digital R&D for Arts and Culture Fund, the Happenstance project, developed by Caper, looks to fund six technology residencies at three major UK arts organisations – Site Gallery in Sheffield, the Lighthouse in Brighton and Spike Island in Bristol.

In an extract from the Happenstance blog, Natalia Buckley explores the relationship between making art and software and experiments with a more ‘Agile’ way of working.

Generally speaking, tech companies try to get good at investigating and reflecting on their own processes – often this results in exciting ideas that challenge the traditional ways of running organisations.

At GitHub, for example, there is pride in the lack of managers – or as Ryan Tomayko puts it, the fact that “everyone at GitHub is a manager… each responsible for managing a single person: their self.”

Another example, Valve, has no formal corporate structure – everyone can pick what project they work on and the desks are furnished with wheels for setting up impromptu temporary teams. Decisions are made by getting enough supporters from across the company who want to work on the project. Their employee handbook describes exactly how it works and it’s a fascinating read.

But there is a philosophy that at first doesn’t seem quite as radical, though it appears the entire software making world is practicing it: the Agile philosophy.

I can quote the entire Agile manifesto here because it’s so short:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it – through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

Happenstance was supposed to help consider whether the Agile philosophy of making software could be useful to arts organisations and, obviously, there are many differences between the ways in which software and art are made. The biggest difference is in the way they are funded; arts funding is mired in bureaucracy, paperwork and relies on relatively few bodies, which grant money to projects that fit within their goals and agendas.

For a while I wondered whether an Agile approach is even useful. Lighthouse is a small team working in one room – most of the work they do is about strategy, planning and managing, rather than making things.

But as I considered it more I realised that agility comes from a specific culture within the organisation and has relatively little to do with making things or technology. The idea that face-to-face conversation is the best way to convey information surely applies outside of the software-making world.

Agility comes from not fearing change or small mistakes and learning to respond to them quickly and efficiently – it’s about responding to change.

I have recently felt like I’ve gained enough trust among the team at Lighthouse to be able to propose anything and that they would at least try it out, knowing that I’ve got their best interests at heart. So I decided to give it a go, and completely banned email as a means of internal communication.

Obviously I have no way of of checking up on everyone, but judging from the feedback and the amount of work-related discussions that are happening in the office, they decided to follow it.

I’ve also introduced daily stand-up meetings where we all very briefly describe what we were working on yesterday and what we are going to be doing today. Somehow the format stuck and we even describe what we all did on our days off as well – it’s actually really nice to be always in the loop, and occasionally hear a funny weekend story.

It made me realise how much and what kinds of work everyone does – all the boring bits: catching up on emails, reviewing things and so on. So after these things were practiced for a while, what good did they do?

I find it hard to quantify it after a short period of time, partly because I don’t actually work on any of their projects, so I can’t tell whether things are easier, better, worse or without change yet.

… I will gather more feedback and then I will report on it.

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

Find out more about the Happenstance project here

Culture Cloud: the digital implications of putting art online

June 13, 2012 1 comment

Culture Cloud is a digital space for artists to upload their artwork to a web portal where both recognised curators and public audiences will vote for the works they like.

The most popular and intriguing will be exhibited in August 2012 at the New Art Exchange (NAE) – an international contemporary visual arts space and creators of Culture Cloud. I caught up with Skinder Hundal, chief executive at NAE about how the project has been coming along.

He was keen to mention that a project as ambitious as this does not come without its challenges – and for a project as technical as this, making the digital platforms work so they are easy to use is crucial for a smooth operation in the back-end and for the online users at the front-end.

For Culture Cloud there are two key digital platforms – one for artists to register and another for audiences to interact with the work. The challenge for the project was to make sure the registration site was easy to use and that it came across as visually appealing and informative about the partners and key stages of the competition.

Skinder admitted that the site may have actually been too easy to use: “The process to upload the art was very straightforward, so perhaps we could have asked more questions to reduce workload for us later, ie dimensions, mediums, titles and dates of the work.

“Also there were requests from artists who registered to see who else and what else was being submitted. We didn’t create this option but did think about it – for example, should we share the whole process of pre-selection too? In the end we decided not to have it.”

Culture Cloud

Artfinder were tasked to create a space on their existing site where users could view the selected works

In terms of voting and the site where users could view the selected 100 works, Artfinder was tasked to create a space on their existing site for this to take place. The key challenge here was to make sure that audiences could navigate from a landing page to the pages where the selected 100 works would be shown, and then move swiftly across them.

“A key challenge was to ensure that the quality of the images and the respective information and descriptions were clear and that audiences felt compelled to ‘Like’ and vote for the works,” added Skinder. “Also, the site should not give certain works any unfair advantage, therefore we implemented a shuffling system and made sure that the voting system was clear and easy to use and able to connect with key social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.”

“The site continues to adapt as we receive feedback and observe how it is working,” said Skinder finally. “In our first week we have had just under 12,000 votes and a top 40 for the physical exhibition at NAE is taking shape!”

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

Find out more about the Culture Cloud project here