Building tools that meet the cultural sector’s desire for greater data collaboration and benchmarking

Author: John Knell



When the Impact & Insight Toolkit launched, we asked National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) registering for the Toolkit to identify what opportunities could be created by those taking part in the initiative. We posed the question to 259 funded organisations at Induction Events across the country in 2019.
At those NPO Induction Events, a number of clear sector-wide benefits arising from the Toolkit were identified, including:

• Standardising evaluation across the sector- creating a shared dataset and a common language to help build evidence of the value of cultural experiences
• Collaboration and benchmarking across organisations

NPOs welcomed the opportunity to benchmark against other organisations, and for there to be greater dialogue across the sector about how to share data and experiences, allowing NPOs to learn from each other more easily. NPOs consented to their Toolkit evaluations contributing to a large-scale, anonymised, publicly available dataset that could unlock these benchmarking and collaboration opportunities.

Since the beginning of the project, Counting What Counts, NPOs, and Arts Council England (ACE) have been working together to ensure we meet these sector aspirations and, in November 2020, we launched the Dimensions Interpretation Tool.
The Dimensions Interpretation Tool allows Toolkit users to compare their survey results to other Toolkit evaluations, providing artform-specific context for their individual results. This interactive tool gives NPOs using the Toolkit access to the anonymised aggregate dataset and allows them to see where their Toolkit evaluations sit within it, enriching their understanding of their achieved results.

Building on the success of the Dimensions Interpretation Tool, we are now excited to launch the Insights Dashboard. The Dashboard presents aggregate data from users of the Toolkit to allow for a deeper reflection and analysis of how the huge breadth of ACE supported creative work is being received by audiences, peers, and creatives alike.


What data does the Insights Dashboard include?

This dataset powering the Tool comprises anonymised, aggregate data taken from regular users of the Impact & Insight Toolkit, where that data meets the publication criteria*. It can demonstrate what general
perceptions the public has around particular artforms, or in particular geographies, against a set of frequently-used Dimensions.


Why release the Dashboard now, well before the Toolkit Project has finished?

The Insights Dashboard is nowhere near its full potential, as inevitably COVID-19 has impacted on evaluation activity, meaning that the dataset is not as large as we had anticipated at this point*.
That said, it is important we publish it at this early stage for a number of reasons:

1 – To emphasise the potential of this unique dataset, one of the largest consistent datasets of public opinion relating to arts and culture.

2 – To help NPOs understand the potential for a rich set of metadata to be attached to the dataset, covering things such as:

  1. Specific types of work
  2. The size of audience
  3. The topic of the work
  4. Where the work took place

3 – To highlight that it is not intended to support ACE internally; it is designed and intended to become a useful tool in supporting arts organisations to inform their creative practice.

4 –  To invite dialogue about data insights, via engagement with the Dashboard, which will help everyone involved in the project define the questions that we need to ask of the data.

The more NPOs that evaluate using the Toolkit, the richer the aggregate dataset will become and, therefore, the insight value of the Dashboard will increase also.
We want to know how you would like to use the data; to test how the Dashboard can be improved; to support its wider use.


How does one access the Insights Dashboard?

The Dashboard can be accessed via this link. Prior to using the Dashboard, please take the time to read the accompanying guidance document to ensure that you understand how to maximise your use of the Dashboard.
The Insights Dashboard presents a fantastic opportunity to learn about the breadth and value of publicly funded and and cultural experiences and, the more data that powers it, the more insight it will generate for
arts and cultural organisations, funding bodies and the general public.


Side Note

Arts Council England is committed to encouraging data use and transparency whilst fully meeting all of their Data Principles. If you are interested in learning more about the Data Principles, please see the appropriate guidance on ACE’s website.


*To read more about the publication criteria and limitations of the dataset, please see the accompanying guidance document.


Image credit: Zach Lucero on