by Mark Scott, Monitoring and Data Manager,
Coventry City of Culture Trust
Understanding a city and its residents is a key challenge for any major cultural festival – even more so for a City of Culture, which aims to reach the widest possible audience by showcasing local, regional, national, and international talent.
Traditional sources of data often tell us about who participates in culture, what they enjoy as audiences, and the kinds of things they are likely to engage with. This gives us an interesting snapshot into a city’s cultural habits, but it only tells part of the story.
In some regards, traditional data sources can be limited. They’ve very good at providing information about who engages in culture, but tend not to include detail about who is not engaging. Since the City of Culture ethos is rooted in place, it’s just as important for us to find out who is not currently engaging and why, so we can make sure we offer opportunities for everyone to get involved and participate in the programme.
For Coventry UK City of Culture 2021, a unique partnership has formed between the Coventry City of Culture Trust, Coventry City Council, Warwick Business School and Indigo Consulting to help unearth that information. By bringing together data from the cultural and non-cultural sectors in one place, we are able to gain a greater understanding of the city and the people who live here.
It’s through this partnership that we have developed the Coventry Cultural Place Profiler – a tool which gathers information about the demographics of different areas, how people participate in culture and how they feel about the neighbourhoods they live in. It allows users to view this data both at a wider city level, and broken down by smaller geographic groupings. This is really useful for the organisers of different City of Culture events, particularly when working in specific neighbourhoods or communities.
One key part of the Cultural Place Profiler is Household Survey data. Thanks to the Household Surveys that have been undertaken by Coventry City Council roughly every two years since 2013, Coventry is now a very data-rich city. These surveys use a representative sample of the city’s population, which means that, at an individual neighbourhood level, we know a lot about the population of the city.
When brought together with data from the arts and culture sector, this non-cultural data allows us to see patterns and trends, helping us to tailor events to the specific neighbourhoods where they take place. It helps us to ensure the best possible experience for local residents, creating bespoke cultural experiences which meet the needs of different communities.
One example of this was in 2019, when the Trust took its Carnival of Lights to the community of Foleshill. Foleshill has had historically lower levels of cultural participation than many other parts of the city, yet we found that the residents are more willing to get involved with community activities. By taking creative workshops to a specific community, we gave people the chance to be part of a cultural event at a scale they might not otherwise have experienced.
Another example of how we might use this non-cultural data is looking at how safe people feel in different areas at night. This can help us to decide how likely audiences in particular neighbourhoods are to attend evening events, and to think about what additional measures can be put in place to help people feel safer.
Using data in this way enables cultural activity to be really targeted towards place-based outcomes. This means cultural activity can positively address the needs of a specific place, just like the Trust’s Caring City Team responds to the needs of particular groups in the city.
Rather than this information being held by a select few individuals, the Cultural Place Profiler is intended to be a tool that can be used by all cultural organisations, artists and interested parties working in the city. As the world increasingly relies on using data to make decisions and bring about change, we think that the Cultural Place Profiler will only become more important to the city.