By Christopher Hunt, Lead Developer at i-DAT, Plymouth University.
This article is part of our series: a day in the software life, in which we ask researchers from all disciplines to discuss the tools that make their research possible.
Organisations use a wide range of methods to measure how audiences engage with a cultural experience. These include audience surveys, focus groups, interviews, blog posts and a range of more experimental and creative methods. However, most of these methods are expensive, use a great deal of resources and lack a standardised set of metrics. Often they focus on evaluation data and lose sight of the users’s incentives for leaving this feedback in the first place.
Artory, part of i-DAT’s on-going open source research project, Qualia, attempts to tackle this through the use of data driven smartphone applications and open-source data analytics systems. It is developed as an incentivised “what’s on” app for cultural events in Plymouth, which enables users to leave feedback and cultural organisations to understand their audiences better.
Central to the development is the recognition of user motivation and the requirement for independent user driven evaluation data, or rather, automated data collection and analytics, which saves organisations valuable resources and staff time. The project pilots cross-artform metrics developed with Warwick University’s Eric Jensen and is informed by the work of recent initiatives such as the Manchester Metrics Pilot.
Users can download the free Artory App, available for iOS 7.0 + and Android 4+, which has been developed in partnership with Elixel and ten of Plymouth’s leading cultural organisations. By filling out their profile, checking into venues, exploring the listings and building a schedule of events they’d like to attend, users create their own personalised cultural journey.
Based on these activities the app can intuitively prompt the user to leave feedback for events both before and after they attend. In return, the users are rewarded with ArtMiles - points which they can trade in for offers around the city. If they earn enough, they are then awarded VIP status and receive invites to exclusive events.
The user’s interactions are sent by the app to the Artory Engine, a web application developed by i-DAT primarily using Django, Python and Postgresql. The engine provides a REST API where the app can retrieve and submit data, a dashboard where arts organisations can upload content and view analytics, and an administration interface where the system can be managed and maintained. The dashboard provides rich and interactive HTML 5 data visualisations and a very simple form interface for uploading content, which guides the organisation through every step of the process.
Qualia itself is not a technology product per se. Rather, it is a set of open tools, code and design methodologies which allow us to build user experiences and data systems around visitor feedback. Each Qualia project we undertake builds from the same code base, infrastructure and open source software. This allows us to focus on bigger projects, which all draw from the legacy of work done before. Nothing gets thrown away, and each element and be remixed and reused.
Core to Qualia is the concept of microinteractions – small moments where a visitor interacts with one of our user experiences, be it smiling at a camera, recording a message on a probe or leaving feedback on an event within the Artory app. These are all moments which only take the visitor a few seconds to complete, but can be repeated many times in many different contexts. This means we can build a database of these experiences, allowing us to create a rich set of analytics and statistics, which we can use to improve an Arts Organisations delivery, support a funding bid or more.
For Artory we are currently working with over 15 different organisations from across Plymouth and around 1500 registered users. This allows us to build a picture of all the events happening around Plymouth, enabling art organisations to better plan their activities and collaborate with and support one another. It also helps us discover the demographics of our users and relate that to the events they go to and the ways they choose interact.
The automation inherent in open source and data driven systems like Artory opens up audience analysis and market research to all arts and culture organisations, not just the select few that can afford expensive consultants or hire in-house expert technical staff. Larger institutions can also benefit from the high quality integrated data collection, with automated analytics tailored to the business and engagement needs of arts organisations.
The use of robust open source technology provides a sustainable and versatile platform with its own expanding community of users and developers. Importantly, the research places the audience at the heart of the data gathering, creating new ways to engage, incentivise and participate.