I’ve done a presentation on the headline results of our ‘Stakeholder Focus’ survey twice this week, once to staff and then to Regional Council. It’s a kind of customer satisfaction survey, where people get the chance to say what they think of Arts Council England, their relationships with us, how we work, our impact and so on. So it’s always a bit nerve-wracking opening the document and seeing how you come out.
Fortunately, things are heading very much in the right direction, and it's certainly a far more positive feeling than last time we did it, when there a few 'difficult messages'. Obviously not everyone thinks the Arts Council’s great (1 in 10 respondents consider us ‘unfavourably’, for instance), and there is, as ever, plenty to work on – reducing bureaucracy, being even more flexible and responsive, being more open with partners, for instance - but also lots to build on – being supportive, helpful and strategic are already strengths we can use. (According to the 896 people who responded, not according to me.)
There’s lots more interesting stuff, such as that 7 out of 10 members of the public have heard of the Arts Council, but most of those know nothing about us and that North East respondents have a very low propensity for taking the ‘Don’t know’ option. This may help explain why more people than average would be critical of us whilst more people than average also think we make a positive impact difference in the region. (In fact that welcome group seems, according to my maths, to include some of those who'd criticise us when asked.) So lots of useful feedback and issues to dig deeper into over coming months so we can carry on improving. (Blimey, that sounds a bit corporate, doesn't it? Rest assured Alan Davey is not standing over me whilst I write this. I can't think of anyone in the organisation not genuinely committed to listening and improving.)
There was one figure which puzzled me, staff and Council members alike. 15% of arts organisations, artists and partners thought that the Government benefited most from Arts Council activity at present. This is more people than thought artists benefited most, and nearly as many as said the public (18%). When asked who should benefit most, only 1% of respondents said the Government. (I will return on another occasion to which categories came out top in perceptions of current benefit and ‘should benefit’.)
This feels really interesting, assuming it's not some kind of blip. One in eight people think the government benefit more than the public, or artists or arts organisations from our work. It may just be a survey poke in the ribs for us from the Intrinsic School. It may be a sign of scepticism about government full stop. But what returns is it thought the government are getting that the public aren't? How does a government benefit without the public, or the economy benefiting, anyway? Popularity-by-announcement? Given the government decide on levels of funding, what should they get in return for their money? What image do arts organisations and our partners have of government - and, of course, the Arts Council? Is that a sign of healthy scepticism or of a kind of solipsism and myopia, expecting, presumably, continued government funding with no 'return' to government? I'm not saying the Government should benefit most, I just find it very interesting.
You can read a summary of headline results here, though there will be more detail and a full response in due course. This is not part of the Arts Council response!
(By the way, those of you who get this by email subscription, and read it on your blackberry or some other mobile device, do go to the actual site and you'll find a free gift, courtesy of Manchester and YouTube that you might not see in your hand. You could even leave a comment - Arts Counselling is also committed to listening!)