Asking “What Would You Like Future Attendees To Know?”

I had planned to write about something different today but this post by Ruth Hartt on LinkedIn grabbed my attention.

Cain Lewis goes on to talk about how he doesn’t care about Airbnb:

So telling me ‘we’d love to know how it went’ doesn’t compel me to leave a review at all 😴

But I *do* care about helping other travellers like me find good experiences. And avoid the bad ones.

Because I appreciate reviews when I’m looking to book something too.

I’d bet most of their customers feel the same way.

So, here’s what I’d change it to:

‘Remember to leave a review for your Northwest Jeep Experience. Your feedback will help other travellers know what to expect!’

Less about Airbnb, more about supporting the community that I rely on so heavily myself.

This got my mind going because Hartt is right, this slight shift in perspective has wider implications. Many arts organizations send surveys after events so directing people to your social media pages when asking people to complete a survey aligns with the concept that their response will help other attendees. Asking people to complete a survey alone based on an appeal to help other visitors know what to expect will likely be met with skepticism.

Even though people may make negative comments on your social media pages, at least those comments are in a place you can see and know about rather than in places far outside your awareness.

Just the same, I think that the perspective of  your answers as a participant are making things better for the next person can be applied to surveys that only staff are likely to see.  Reframing survey questions in this context can communicate a sincere desire to improve the experience.

For example, instead of asking people how they would rank a performance, the service they received and restroom cleanliness on a Likert scale (1 being worst, 5 being best), questions can ask, “What would you like future attendees to know about our performances/ticket ordering experience/restrooms?

Obviously, it doesn’t have to be that exact syntax repeated for every question, but the general subtext can be present.  This line of questioning has “would you recommend us to your friends?” baked into it while adding a sense of “what do you wish you had known/read about us before you arrived?”

For repeat attendees, some of these questions will be a bit less relevant because they are familiar with your physical plant and how to navigate purchasing and attendance. But you can also get feedback about things a first time attendee might think was a one off mistake but a frequent visitor has noticed and wants to warn others about. i.e. “They will tell you they are having problems with X tonight, but it is always like that.”

I also think that asking questions in this manner with a sincere intent to remedy what you can, the first rule of surveying is never ask a question you aren’t willing to act upon, is that it will differentiate your organization from others. Perhaps it will even encourage people to respond to your surveys more frequently.

I know Americans for the Arts are making a strong national survey push over the next year, but their focus is very much on economic impact and asking you how much you spent before you leave the venue. Those who are frequent arts attendees are going to be asked to complete the survey often over the next year. It may be difficult for organizations to find people who are willing to complete their personal, non-AftA surveys, so asking questions focused on the interests of other attendees versus the organizational interest may make the difference.

Just as an added aside – the venue I am currently at will have alternating bursts of reviews for events on our Google profile and Facebook page. I have no idea what the common element is. Why did 10 attendees of a dance recital review us on Google, but a handful of attendees to another event flock to Facebook? Anyone have any insight based on what they have observed?

My Freshman English Grade ≠ 2022 Writing Proficiency

There was an article on The Conversation website back in March by Elisabeth Gruner discussing how she stopped giving grades on student papers in favor of comments and wished she had done so sooner.

I was reminded of Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where he mentions doing the same thing in his classes at Montana State University in the late 1950s. Pirsig’s students reacted much like Gruner’s did some 70 years later. Basically, they freak out at the prospect of not being given a grade.

I have written about Pirsig’s book before, though it has been about 15 years since my last reference to it. My experiences since then have somewhat supplemented my perspective. In recent years I have been writing on the idea that just because you can measure it, doesn’t mean the resulting data is an accurate depiction of value.

In the same way, a grade doesn’t really help you master content and improve. While an instructor can obviously provide a grade and comments, as Gruner notes, students will flip past all the comments to find the grade and then they are done.

Granted, students always have the option of ignoring comments and choose not to improve their skills. But that is a choice all humans have when faced with critique and not limited to educational settings.

The other issue is that grades and comments are only a measure of your level of mastery at a moment in time.

As I mention in my post from 15 years ago, I wrote a paper based on Pirsig’s book arguing for comments on papers in favor of grades. My professor took me at my word and didn’t give me a grade until after we discussed her comments. (She was obligated by the school to provide a grade, I didn’t feel the need for one.)

Another professor commented on another paper I wrote, observing that the grammatical mistakes were legion, but that I had done a fantastic job of capturing the voice and flavor of the work upon which I based my composition.

There was a grade on that paper. I don’t remember what it was, but I remember the comment. Arguably, my writing skills have improved since then. There have been many factors which have contributed to my higher standard of writing, but it really wasn’t the grades. Memories of my educational experience and how I professors dealt with me are what have endured.

In a similar manner, measures of value that are often applied to the arts like economic impact are meaningless.  How does economic impact inform organizational decision making? How does knowing the economic impact number influence how those in the community conduct their lives?

There is a lot of other data which will help organizations strive to do better or effect change. There are other ways in which people’s lives will be impacted by an arts organization. The value of all this can be examined and observed over the course of years.

Something I wanted to call attention to that is somewhat unrelated to my point about the relevance of grades and certain metrics used to measure organizational value. I feel this is important to note for people who want to read Pirsig, or my early posts on his book, and take some lessons from his experience with grading.

In Pirsig’s book, when he talks about his experience eliminating grading in the classroom, he mentions that the A & B students’ work improved, C students either improved a bit or stayed average, and D & F students basically kept sinking.  Basically, the idea was that the students’ natural talent and work ethic were a constant regardless of whether they were graded.

Gruner has different perspective which I think is a reflection of the differences between who got to attend university in 1958 and 2020s.

My studies confirmed my sense that sometimes what I was really grading was a student’s background. Students with educational privilege came into my classroom already prepared to write A or B papers, while others often had not had the instruction that would enable them to do so. The 14 weeks they spent in my class could not make up for the years of educational privilege their peers had enjoyed.

While I know that background influences the degree to which people are prepared for an educational experience, until I read that paragraph, my recollection of Pirsig’s observations about grading dominated my perspective.

“…Black people, are just living works of art, in our culture and being.”

For years now I have been following and writing on the Culture Track survey.   At one time the survey was being conducted every three years or so in order to measure changing trends and attitudes about arts and culture.

When Covid hit, the folks at Culture Track decided it was important to closely monitor the impact of the pandemic on perceptions of arts and culture. It seemed like there was a new phase of the study being conducted every six months. (Disclosure, my venue participated in the study and has been grateful to receive useful data as a result.)

One of the things they noticed early on was that racial minorities were underrepresented in the survey and worked with NORC at the University of Chicago to collect data to offset that disparity.   In the most recent phase of the survey, they included a qualitative segment in which they extensively interviewed fifty Black and African-American participants to gain insights that the broader survey couldn’t provide.

In early May, Wallace Foundation posted an interview with some of the co-authors of the report on the role of race and ethnicity in cultural engagement. I haven’t read that report yet, but the interview provides some interesting perspectives.

The same interview links to the qualitative report, A Place to Be Heard, A Space to Feel Held: Black Perspectives on Creativity, Trustworthiness, Welcome and Well Being  This is extremely valuable to read.  While there are reasons specific to them that may or may not cause Black residents of the United States to feel an organization is trustworthy or welcoming, there is a lot in the responses that illustrate why anyone in general would not feel a sense of trust and welcome.

The findings are broken into four sections: Creativity, Self-Care, Trustworthiness, Welcome & Belonging. While there is much to be garnered from the executive summary of the study, the respective sections offer a lot to sink your consideration into.

I am always keenly interested to hear how people perceive creative practice and the study did not disappoint.

Some preferred to frame their creativity as a state of mind (“feeling like an artist inside”), an attitude they viewed as fundamental to guiding one’s life. One participant described this as an active rather than spectatorial process: “It’s not just about appreciating creativity, but about bringing creativity from the world into yourself.” Others seemed hesitant to call themselves creative, especially if there were people in their lives who had pursued creative careers. “I am very in awe of art and artists,” said one participant. “I think we all have creative sides, I think mine is not as expressed as others’.

The more I see people asked about creativity, the more nuance appears. I am starting to feel this is a topic we don’t talk to people about enough. In fact, the study says that in the first phase of the survey conducted shortly after Covid started, Black respondents reported participating in fewer cultural activities than the overall pool of respondents. In this qualitative survey, the range of activities people reported participating in was much broader.

Having the conversations about what people define as creative really seems to matter.

“And that idea of creativity as ubiquitous and lived was, for some, specifically tied to being Black and practicing Black culture as an important form of creative expression….As one participant put it, “I think that everybody, particularly Black people, are just living works of art, in our culture and being.”

In the trustworthiness section of the study, one of the big takeaways I had was that just because the demographic segment whom you hoped to reach are showing up, it doesn’t mean they trust your organization.

The people we spoke with can hold a “double consciousness” about cultural organizations’ trustworthiness and experiential value…they can enjoy the experience even though they don’t have a trusting relationship with it. They’re used to some amount of cognitive dissonance in these experiences: they can relish the art and overall experience even while knowing it’s problematic in important ways

Some of the issues of trustworthiness are related to who has influence and who is making the decisions are cultural organizations. There has been a fair bit of conversation these last few years about representation on executive staffs and boards. But it is also a matter of what stories and faces are appearing on stages and walls. One of the direct quotes from a participant is particularly pointed.

Traveling internationally…when you go to museums, you see what you are told in the U.S. is not true. The narrative of African race is much more out there than in the U.S. If you go to Sweden to the Nobel Prize Museum, [you’ll be] blown away by how many Brown people have won the Nobel prize. There are a whole bunch of us across the globe… I went to Mozart’s house, and I saw how he played alongside Black classical composers. Look at all this greatness we don’t talk about [in this country].”

The question of welcoming and belonging are closely related to these same factors of representation. Just because someone feels welcomed to a space, doesn’t necessarily translate into a feeling of belonging. While it is more marked when physical traits mark you as different from the rest of the crowd, most people can understand the difference because we have all had an experience where we are excited to be somewhere, but we don’t feel like we fit in. It doesn’t even need to be something like not knowing which of five forks to use at a formal wedding reception, we have all walked into a restaurant or store and shown ourselves to be outsiders by messing up the seating or ordering process.

Just as it takes time to become accustomed to the practices of a new place, making someone feel they belong is the process of small experiences over a long time. As the study points out, this can’t entirely be achieved by making an intentional effort to be hospitable to new arrivals, there are also myriad cues about who belongs, many of which will be invisible to insiders. It will likely take conversations with those with whom you have cultivated a degree of trust to identify what cues may be undermining a sense of belonging for them and their friends.

Take the time to read the report of the qualitative study. For many, there will be some things you are aware of already, things you may have already suspected, and things you haven’t been explicitly told before.  For others, it will be a lot of what you already know and will perhaps appreciate having explicitly mentioned and talked about in a manner it hasn’t been before.

Measuring Our Measures

Seth Godin recently made a post on one of my favorite topics — valuing metrics that don’t really matter.

Just because they’re easy to measure doesn’t mean they matter.


If you’re working with people who say they care about measurement, it might not pay to persuade them to stop measuring.

It might make more sense to give them useful numbers to measure instead.

Personally, I think he is a tad optimistic in thinking people will stop using easily measured data if presented with data that provides a more relevant measure, especially if it is more difficult to assemble.

Though I will admit to being gratified that I am reading posts and running into people who are questioning whether economic impact is relevant when attempting to assess the value of the arts.

As we move toward the next normal, assumptions and customary approaches are being challenged so the concept of relevant metrics is something to be continually considered.

If you are a little newer to my blog, here is an entry on the topic with links to other posts on the topic.