Audience development is about putting people centre stage - making an effort to understand what people want; presenting your facility, collection or activity in a way which is accessible, and inviting; and encouraging participation and engagement.
In recent years there has been an increasing emphasis on audience development, particularly on the part of Government, public sector agencies and grant giving bodies such as the Lottery funders. The feeling is that developing a wider cross-section of support is crucial to building future support for the heritage and that publicly funded organisations have a duty to engage with all sections of the community.
Whilst audience development is concerned with developing new audiences and seeking to reach under-represented groups it is also about strengthening and deepening relationships with existing audiences. This is not just about reaching out to visitors and school groups but can also be about building stronger relationships with volunteers, trustees, employees and the local community.
The Tourism Company were commissioned by the Heritage Lottery Fund to write a short guidance note on audience development – Thinking about Audience Development - to help applicants for HLF grants. This can be downloaded here.
This guide provides an introduction to audience development. It makes the point that there is no standard model - each organisation needs to think this through and work out what makes sense in the light of its own circumstances.
Following a change in HLF's application procedure, it is no longer a requirement to create or submit an audience development plan with an HLF application. However, HLF advise that if you are applying to Heritage Grants you may find it a helpful way of collecting and preparing information for developing an activity plan, which is a requirement of second-round applications to the Fund.
Audience development is best seen as a continuous process, not a one of exercise. We propose a five step process:
The five-step process
1. Thinking about who you are and what you do
The starting point must be your heritage whether building, site, landscape, collection, or anything else. Be clear about the nature of what you have to offer, its appeal and importance, and the aims and objectives of your organisation. Describe what you currently provide for the public and who is responsible for it. Describe what you are trying to achieve, where you want to be and how audience development fits into this. This is likely to require internal consultation and discussion with external stakeholders.
2. Understanding your audience
The next step is to set out what you know about your current audiences. How many people take part, who are they, where they come from, and what they think of the experience on offer. Are there barriers which get in the way of participation? Think also about the people who don’t take part. Is your audience representative of the local area, which groups are under-represented and why? (Section 7 of the guide suggests some tools and techniques you can use).
3. Setting priorities
Given the nature of your heritage and the project you have in mind, what is the scope for widening or deepening participation? What groups does it make sense for you to focus on? Be realistic in terms of the balance between consolidating existing audiences and reaching out to new or under-represented audiences. Show how your aspirations relate to your overall aims, set out what you hope to achieve and how you will measure success. (Section 8 of the guide discusses how to do this in more detail).
4. Taking action
Draw up an action plan detailing what you will do to encourage participation. Your plan should set out clearly what you propose to do and who will be responsible; it should identify target audiences, activities, timescales, measures of success and the resources required (staff, money, facilities, and skills/knowledge). We provide some examples of the type of things you might do in Section 9.
5. Seeing if it works
Measure and evaluate what happens as you carry out the project. Have you developed your audiences? How do you know? Have numbers or satisfaction levels increased and have you achieved what you expected? In the light of experience is there a need to revise what you are doing and for whom? (See section 10 on evaluation)
For some examples of Audience Development Plans we have undertaken in the past, visit the marketing section of our Project Archive.
For more information about Activity Plans and how audience development plans can help with their development, you can download the HLF guidance 'Planning Activities in Heritage Projects'