This article addresses the use and impact of the so-called Big Data on arts organisations. The article argues that arts bodies have been slower than some business sectors to enter the data sphere and to contribute to the key debates even though many arts organisations have been developing data systems as a means of responding to the demands of funding bodies for more concrete measurement of impact. The article tests this hypothesis by examining the outcomes of a major NESTA/ACE/AHRC-funded project which applied ethnographic method to analyse the use of data by three major arts bodies operating in London, a project which built on the arguments forwarded in a previous NESTA document, Counting what counts (NESTA 2013). The project, managed by the Audience Agency, on which the present author was principal researcher, was delivered over 12 months from August 2014 to August 2015. The article outlines the methodology, and highlights the emergence of a new ethnographic form, “thick data” grounded in data theory and practice. This form is then used to illuminate some of the practices used by large arts organisations to handle audience data, and to develop inclusive and comprehensive future programming strategies. A range of embedded practices are discussed and examined illustrating the various strategies used by the partner organisations to address key data issues and problems. From this detailed analysis, the article then outlines a number of models for the organisation of data within arts institutions.
- thick data