Why Change?

Graham Devlin, Independent Cultural Strategist, answers the question “Why do organisations who wish to be more audience-centric need to change?”

Why Change at all?

There are different drivers behind the decision for organisations to change to become more audience-centric which can be broadly categorised as voluntary and involuntary – or alternatively, strategic or desperate.

Change can be forced upon organisations by the profound pressures emerging from the political and financial landscape, specifically declining income arising from both local and national government cutbacks. Cultural organisations of all kinds need to review every aspect of their operation to ensure maximum return on both public and private investment.

Societal shifts can also inspire change. Ageing populations, increasing cultural diversity, massive diversification of leisure options and platforms, the rise of digital media and social networking, climate change and the nature of public space are just some of the drivers which influence a transformation in an organisation’s approach to audience patterns which are uncertain, especially in terms of box-office spend.

Particular organisation-specific issues can also have a change-inducing effect, such as losing audiences or funding; the necessity of a new building, a change of leadership, and the new opportunities

Organisations also have to adapt in line with the increased emphasis on collaborations and entrepreneurialism, and the blurring of the distinction between creation and consumption with new ways of working – including exploiting the potential of the Internet. Traditional models of production are becoming increasingly challenged as new technology and platforms allow young people to create their art at home on laptops.

Particular organisation-specific issues also matter – losing audiences or funding; a new building, change of leadership, new opportunities. In each case, it’s essential to analyse the real reason for the need to change and whether the proposed solution is the right one (especially if it has big cost implications like building works). Sometimes the analysis is faulty and an organisation tries to answer the wrong question.

These factors can easily seem overwhelming. We must think our way strategically through them for three reasons. Firstly, cultural organisations which become fixated on current, immediate economic events run the risk of overlooking core issues; this leads to the organisation not seeing beyond the uncertainty to longer term strategies. Secondly, challenging as the current situation may be, it won’t reverse some fundamental trends – such as the ageing of consumers in Europe and North America, the continuing economic development of Brazil, Russia India, and China, or the technological developments of the creative industries. Finally, given the scale of the changes of the last few years, cultural organizations already have a body of experience of navigating through choppy waters. They are better prepared now to anticipate and work towards new strategies that are change-responsive.

To do that, we have to be prepared to transform; we need to change our working habits, our priorities, perhaps even the work that we do and the way that we do it. And any such strategy for transformation has to serve both the art and audiences. It should be art-centred and audience-focused. It mustn’t be a constraint on artistic creativity, a document on a shelf or a stick to beat someone with. Rather, it must balance artistic imperatives and organizational efficiencies. It should be a directional tool; dynamic and living.


Graham Devlin, Independent Cultural Strategist

Read the full article in the Culture.Shift Workbook