Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Late Shows

 Evaluation case study | The Late Shows

To share or not to share? When it comes to sharing evaluation for The Late Shows, Newcastle and Gateshead’s annual Museums at Night event, the short answer is yes, we do need to share evaluation. But how?

The team here at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums has been running The Late Shows for six years now. In 2007 it started as a one-night event with 14 cultural venues taking part including Discovery Museum, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and the Laing Art Gallery. All the venues stayed open late and put on free events and exhibitions, which aimed to entice a new, younger audience through their doors [see image].

 The Late Shows 2012 took place over two nights on 18 and 19 May and we had a record 56 venues in the line-up and saw thousands of visitors brandishing their Late Shows glowsticks as they swarmed through the streets of Newcastle and Gateshead, visiting as many venues as they could [see the image of the Late Show CitySightSeeing Bus]. Venues which took part in the 2012 event included the Castle Keep, Mushroom Works artists’ studios and Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society. We achieved 30,000 visits across The Late Shows venues in 2012!

With so many venues and artists taking part, and The Late Shows being a free, non-ticketed event, it has the potential to be a difficult or expensive project to evaluate but we have tried to keep it as simple as possible.

All the marketing and evaluation for The Late Shows is carried out in-house by the Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums communications team. Through our evaluation we aim to not only evaluate our marketing and track visitor satisfaction [see image of happy visitors] but also to see whether we have achieved various aims which include encouraging people to visit venues they have never been to before and inspiring them to return again throughout the year.

Every year we work with a fantastic team of Late Shows volunteers [see image] who act as ambassadors for the event, welcoming visitors to each venue, keeping track of visitor numbers and, of course, handing out those sought-after glowsticks. Another of their key tasks is to encourage people to fill in our incentivised evaluation survey which they can do online [using Survey Monkey] or by returning a freepost form after the event.

The findings from our evaluation are essential when it comes to shaping subsequent years’ events. It’s vital that the results are shared with all 50-plus participating venues so they can take the feedback into account when they programme their event for next year. We have seen everything from ghost tours and snake handling to mass drawing and performance art in The Late Shows programme over the years and each have played a role in making The Late Shows what it is – a showcase for the outstanding creativity and culture here in the North East. However, no venue wants to take the risk of programming something blind, with no knowledge of the audience and what they value.

The important thing about The Late Shows is that it’s a collaborative effort, with more than 50 different venues coming together to make one of the biggest events in our region’s cultural calendar. That can only work if we share what we know.

All venues are sent the headline survey results so they can see who came, which venues they went to and what they thought of them. Comments on specific venues or artists are shared individually, although many of the venues then choose to share these with each other. There is close, two-way communication between The Late Shows team and staff from all the venues so that experiences can be passed back and forth.

We also share specific feedback with some of our suppliers and partners – for example, feedback on the free Late Shows bus services, which transport visitors around the cities on either an open-topped bus or a mini-bus, is shared with the bus drivers so we can work together to tweak the route or timetable the next year.

We are also keen to share knowledge more widely. Every May, thousands of venues around the country – and the world – stay open late for Museums at Night. We are in conversation with Culture24, who promote the Museum at Night festival nationally, to share our experiences with other areas whom may wish to put on a partnership cluster event.

Although it’s so important to know the answers to those quantitative questions – did we meet our visitor target? Did we reach our target audience? - every year, I find that some of the most enlightening feedback comes in the form of the visitor comments we receive via social media and through Survey Monkey, which can really capture the spirit and atmosphere of The Late Shows.

We always include an open ended question so that people can give us any suggestions they might have for improving the event or let us know if there is something they especially enjoyed or didn’t like. One of my favourites from 2012 was: ‘It was an amazing event. I took my two children (both under six) and they had an amazing time learning to make a clay pot on a wheel, making masks, decorating tiles, learning circus skills and seeing magic. My son said "it was the best night of my life". Thank you!'

The Late Shows is a collaborative effort and with feedback like that, why would we keep it to ourselves?

The Late Shows 2013 takes place on 17 and 18 May 2013.

Author | Bill Griffiths, The Late Shows Project Manager
Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums

All images courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums

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