Evidence-Based Audience Development

Achim Müller from the Centre for Audience Development on how to find out more about your communities through in-house audience research

The need for audience development in culture, the Arts and theatres in specific has been widely discussed. European societies are changing and are subject to severe strains because of economic imbalances and migration both within and from outside of Europe. In the field of leisure activities the societal role of the Arts is questioned due to the obvious convergence between entertainment and the Arts. In the light of these developments it has become critical for the Arts and for theatre to establish and intensify relationships with existing and new audiences. Only by doing so they will be a relevant participant of society and maintain the legitimacy for their existence, be it through public, private or corporate funding.

Research Questions in an Integrated System of Audience Development

Leadership of an arts organisation that embraces audience development in order to meet the challenges of the current reality has to be grounded in empirical knowledge about their audience, the public and the nature of their relationship to the organisation. Starting from an operational definition of audience development as a task of systemic management, research in the context of audience development has to be ready to address informational needs. Basic principles need to be outlined for the setup of research that provides valid evidence for these needs; principles illustrated by references to solutions initiated by the EU-funded theatre network Theatron.

To be comprehensive, research questions within audience development have to be derived from a broad definition of the topic. To have a sustainable effect on arts organisations, audience development should be regarded as a comprehensive and integrative organisational practise that focuses all activities of an arts organisation on the audience and more generally on the public as a potential or general audience.

The implementation of audience development within this integrative definition includes all areas of an arts organisation. For systemic consistency, these areas can be structured into normative, strategic and operational. The following table (next page) shows examples of the type of research questions leaders will need empirical evidence for in their pursuit of audience development.

The examples show that on each level of audience development empirical evidence is critical in the realisation of the overall objective: to establish lasting bonds with existing and new audiences.


Achim Müller, Zentrum für Audience Development am Institut für Kultur- und Medienmanagement der Freien Universität Berlin

Read the full article in the Culture.Shift Workbook