Data and Community Theatre - A Six Part Series (Part 3)
How are you going to become a scientist, investigator and archaeologist to gather the important data you need? Maybe you already are!
More great news: some of the data and research to support your projects or programs might already exist (in other words, someone else might have already done some of the broader science, investigations and archaeology. For example: there are numerous studies on the impact of youth involvement in theatre (or arts, or performing arts); your job in garnering funding for a drama camp for kids may be to take that existing information to supplement your own specific numbers.
What specific numbers are important?
Of course, it will vary by theatre and by project, but, in the example of above, you may wish to know the number of youth you have (or have had) participate in your existing programs. You may wish to know their age ranges, the city or region in which they reside, and how often they participate with your theatre organization, and in what ways.
This is a good starting point for most statistics you may need to gather on your volunteers, actors, designers and technicians, staff, board members, and some apply to your patrons: age range, ethnicity, number of hours dedicated to your theatre annually, number of years of participation with your theatre, region or city in which they reside. These building blocks will help show outside individuals who you serve.
More specific data can be sought depending on the funding or support you're looking for. For example, you might have the participation info from your youth theatre program, but do you know 'bigger picture' info, such as if the participants finish high school, have entered college, or have been involved in other arts activities? If you have a senior theatre program or a senior-focused project, do you know how many of your participants in a senior age range live alone, for example, or are unable to drive? Those more detailed numbers can help support your soft data.
The more subjective and less measurable data (soft data) is important, too. Soft data related to the examples above would likely come directly from the participants, and could include unquantifiable info such as a youth participant who decided to attend college as a theatre major because of his or her involvement with your theatre organization; or a senior participant who states that their involvement at your theatre provides the social stimulation they otherwise lack.
Ok, so how do we get this hard or soft data?
Right away, surveys are going to be your main tactic in gathering both kinds of data. The good news is that there are a plethora of ways you can distribute surveys: digitally in numerous platforms, and surveys can easily be tweaked, reused, and resent. You can also have hard copy surveys to hand out to your folks who are less likely to participate online; gathering the data will require a bit more manual labor with hard copy surveys. The bad news on surveys? It's hard to get a good quantity of results, or it may be likely you get a less-than-diverse set of responses. One remedy for this issue is to offer incentives for survey takers.
What are some out-of-the-box ways to gather info? In-person options may include interviews. The results can be recorded manually, or by use of video/audio tape with permission granted by the interviewee.
However you choose to gather, analyze and use data, the most important thing is that you are doing it. Your numbers will be welcomed by many external stakeholders who want to have a better understanding of the importance and relevance of your theatre. You will likely learn a lot about your participants in this process, too. Enjoy!