Be Sure Your Data Doesn’t Just Mean You Are Good At Posting Memes

If you have been reading my writing for the last few years, you know that in addition to employing the preceding phrase fairly often, I argue that not everything that can be measured about an arts organization’s activity is a valid measure of the value of the organization and the work it does.

What should also be acknowledged as a corollary to that is that not all data is created equal or equally valuable. Since there is a growing push for arts organizations to do a better job of embracing data-driven decision making .

Over at Arts Hacker, I recently summarized a post by Colleen Dilenschneider distinguishing between key performance indicators (KPIs), diagnostic metrics and vanity metrics.

Briefly, KPIs measure progress toward your mission/goals, diagnostic metrics inform KPIs and vanity metrics sound impressive, but aren’t an indication of any sort of progress. (i.e. Your social media engagement increased 1000% in a week because you posted a kitten meme.)

The problem, Dillenschneider says, is that valuing vanity metrics can result in allocating resources away from mission focused activities and evaluation. For example, the executive director may suddenly gain national prominence and invitations to speak at conferences, etc. which may raise the profile of the organization and make many stakeholders extremely proud of their association.

But if this isn’t contributing to a recognition of problems with the quality of the work being done and the poor community interactions that are occurring, then there is no value to having a year over year increase in the number of speaking invitations.

If you are trying to use data to inform your decisions, take a look at the post. The line between KPIs and diagnostic metrics can be confusing and it can be easy to categorize the latter as part of the former without a reminder of the dividing line.


Yes, Data Driven Decision Making. But What Data Is Important?

An Eye For Justice And Opera

I knew Ruth Bader Ginsburg loved opera. There are stories about her and Justice Scalia’s friendship and shared love of opera. A few weeks ago, I had written about the artistic director of the Tulsa Opera’s comments in a documentary film about being married by Justice Ginsburg who had admired the director’s work as a composer.

I have to say I appreciated that Chief Justice Robert’s eulogy today used her love of the performing arts as a significant theme, referencing opera multiple times, her rock star reputation and speaking of the court as her stage.  I wish more eulogies were that way. It makes the deceased seem like they lived a more well rounded life versus simply talking about their professional accomplishments.

So I was annoyed that some news sources edited the performing arts content out of videos of Robert’s speech.

There were a couple article this weekend about Ginsburg’s passion for the arts, but the one I like best was written by the Washington Post’s Peter Marks.

Not only was she a passionate spectator, she made cameo appearances in some productions and appears to have married a whole lot of creatives along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.

It was interesting to note that the very first commenter on the Washington Post article says he asked for a refund as soon as he saw Ginsburg was performing that night because he paid good money to see professionals, not amateurs perform.

That, of course, is a whole other discussion.

Music Doesn’t Make You Smarter, You Were Smart Already

Not long ago I saw a link on to a short news piece saying a study found music won’t make people smarter. I sought out the study in on the Memory & Cognition journal website to learn a bit more about this metareview of previous studies on the subject.

The study authors state the following:

We can thus conclude that these findings convincingly refute all the theories claiming that music training causes improvements in any domain-general cognitive skill or academic achievement (e.g., Moreno et al., 2011; Patel, 2011; Saarikivi et al., 2019; Tierney & Kraus, 2013). In fact, there is no need to postulate any explanatory mechanism in the absence of any genuine effect or between-study variability. In other words, since there is no phenomenon, there is nothing to explain

Later they discuss that musical ability and intelligence are connected, but it is innate, rather trained, musical skill that is associated with intelligence. For awhile it appeared their findings might support that there is value in music education because it helps to strengthen those entwined roots at the base of natural musical aptitude and intelligence, basically activating a natural capacity which may have otherwise been dormant. However, the following statement seemed to eliminate that possibility.

These findings corroborate the hypothesis according to which the observed correlation between music training and particular domain-general cognitive/academic skills is a byproduct of previous abilities…Therefore, there is no reason to support the hypothesis that music training boosts cognition or academic skills. Rather, all the evidence points toward the opposite conclusion, that is, that the impact of music training on cognitive and academic skills is null

They do say it might be worth studying whether music training is beneficial for things like prosocial behavior and self-esteem. They say this is an understudied area along with exploring whether some “elements of music instruction (e.g., arithmetical music notation) could be used to facilitate learning in other disciplines such as arithmetic.”

Culture Track Report Says The Same People Won’t Be Returning

You may have seen the news today that the results of the Culture Track Covid-19 report were publicly released today. While some of the data about audience willingness to return to arts and culture organizations is a little dated due to the survey being conducted at the end of April through May 19, the majority of the findings can be very valuable to arts and cultural organizations.

They had only expected about 50,000 people to participate but had over 124,000 respondents to the survey. Participants ranged from knitting groups and walking clubs to organizations you might typically associate with arts and culture activities. Back on June 17, Advisory Board for the Arts hosted a webinar where staff from Slover Linnet and LaPlaca Cohen gave an early preview of the results to organizations that had participated in the study. If you want a deeper view of the results, you can watch the webinar.

The infographic layout of the report that came out today does a good job presenting the data, but there is one thing I don’t think they made clear enough which may cause people to question the results. Especially since the methodology is explained in a separate document rather than included as an appendix to the Key Finding report.

Since so many of the respondents were people on the mailing lists of arts and culture organizations around the country, you would correctly assume that it might skew the data. The Culture Track folks worked with another organization to distribute the survey a representative sample of the US population. The results you see in the key findings report are weighted to be representative of the US population.

The webinar presents both the core subscriber/ticket buyer response percentages and weighted percentages.  While the core supporters are much more likely to say the arts are important and worthy of preservation than the general population, they also more likely to expect organizations to implement strict health and safety protocols upon re-opening.

A couple of the bigger takeaways for me:

• People said they were feeling lonely, bored and disconnected and one of the things they missed most was sharing experiences with family and friends. In the webinar, the presenters suggested if there were a way for arts organizations to digitally allow people to share experiences, it would potentially serve a large need.

• Something to keep in mind is that people may want a much more interactive experience in the future. 81% of respondents said they were doing something creative while quarantined. Cooking, singing, handcrafting (knitting, painting, pottery, woodwork, etc), photography and writing were among the top responses.

• Many people were engaging in digital cultural experiences in the 30 days prior to taking the survey. In the webinar, the speakers noted that the demographics of people participating digitally was more diverse in terms of education, gender, race/ethnicity than those attending in person. They suggested that digital content might be a way to attract more diverse groups to in person experiences over the long term. (Obviously online content needs to align with an in-person experience–including how welcome one feels.)  There are also some who appreciated digital content as a solution to concerns about affordability, transportation and schedule.

• Unfortunately few people reported paying for digital content. In the webinar, they said 2% of people reported they paid for digital content, but in the Key Findings report that came out today, it says 13% have paid for content. It made me wonder if they received additional or corrected data since June 17. Most of the other numbers I was using to cross reference the webinar and Key Findings report remained the same.

• In general, what people crave the most upon an anticipated return to in-person experiences is ability to enjoy oneself/de-stress in the company of family and friends.

Obviously, a lot of nuance and detail not included here so take a look at the report and/or webinar. Overall the the title of this post reflects the reality of the next normal. Those that physically engage in-person won’t be the same as before in both the literal sense demographically and metaphoric “no one can enter the same river twice” sense. The faces may be familiar, but they will have different expectations.