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Naked Ambition

Final Report of the Critical Ethnographic Evaluation of Amb:IT:ion

David S. Leitner & Lee Wilson

CONTENTS
FOREWORD 1. 2. 3. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY INTRODUCTION EVALUATION 1 3 5 7
7 7 9 10 12 12

3.1 Networks 3.2 Innovation in Amb:IT:ion 3.3 The Importance of Play 3.4 The Knowledge Portal 3.5 So What About Change? 3.6 Conclusion

4.

RECOMMENDATIONS

13
13 14 15

4.1 Its not all about technology. 4.2 Consultants are worth their salt 4.3 The Importance of People

Foreword
In March of 2007 we were contracted as social anthropologists by the Manchester Digital Development Agency to conduct a qualitative and ethnographic evaluation of the Amb:IT:ion project. This report is the result of the critical ethnographic evaluation we subsequently conducted. It summarises the findings from our two earlier evaluation reports (available in the appendices following the report and online at http://www.getambition.com), and provides further analysis and recommendations for future interventions in the arts sector. Our evaluation is critical in the sense that it goes beyond the practice of ethnography as description by providing a formative evaluation for the project. Our aim throughout has been for our observations to provide the basis for reflection in the project that it might constantly work to better achieve its stated goal: bringing about organisational change in the arts through the implementation of digital technologies. This has involved a range of methodologies including the analysis of policy and project documents, semistructured interviews with project members and participant organisations on an individual and group basis, participant observation at workshops and events and, importantly, in depth discussion and appraisal of our research findings and conclusions with our informants though face-to-face meetings, telephone conversations and email. Our findings have been fed back to all stakeholders as part of a collaborative evaluation process (CEP)

designed to provoke interaction and discussion between different stakeholder groups. By their very nature, qualitative methodologies like ethnography highlight and sometimes amplify the complexities that other methodologies might deemphasise. Ethnography is an interrogative method that requires personal engagement and open dialogue with people as well as close observation of them and, in this case, their organisational environments. It is a means through which the intricacies of human social relations might be understood contextually in a way that is too difficult to achieve, for example, through the use of survey tools alone. Both productive and destructive tensions between people and the political realities of working in groups are more readily apparent through ethnographic inquiry. The emphasis in ethnography on describing things as they are understood on the ground makes it a methodology well suited to the task of generating qualitative accounts for the purposes of project evaluation. As a methodology it is equally well suited to providing an early warning of potential problems and issues as they arise and to conducting post-mortem analyses of the effects of those problems. In evaluating the Amb:IT:ion project our goal as ethnographers has been to assess not just whether the stated aims of the programme were being met, but how and why social and organisational realities figured in this. We have necessarily sought to bring into question some of the key assumptions that underpin the stated aims 1

of the Amb:IT:ion project and to provide a critical perspective in light of our ethnographic engagement with the arts organisations, the project management team and other stakeholders. However, our questioning these assumptions should not be mistaken for an overall negative evaluation of the project. Rather, this is an investigative strategy for producing an iterative and reflexive ethnographic evaluation. This process might be thought of as an ongoing conversation between the project team, the arts organisations with whom we worked, and ourselves. As such, we were frequently in a position to provide perspectives on issues, both positive and negative, as they arose during the course of the project. The two interim reports articulated many of the tensions voiced by participants in the intervention, and hence there exists a difference in tone between the two documents, one prior to and one after the implementation stages of Amb:IT:ion. That such tensions would arise was, we felt, both a necessary and ultimately productive aspect of any project involving such a diverse range of arts, organisational structures, audiences, people, and their differing ground level priorities. As evaluators, our aim has been to provide a means through which the project team might identify and address emergent issues in situ. The assumption being that, for the intervention to best achieve its stated aims, an iterative and grass-roots approach to project management was the most appropriate strategy. In this respect, the management team made a brave decision to allow social scientists free rein to

comment on and critique the project as it unfolded. Such a critical approach to project evaluation is unique in the arts sector. Moreover, it is a rare occasion when any publicly funded project might lay itself bare to such scrutiny. In achieving its stated aim of bringing about organisational change, the project has met with considerable success. While not having been plain sailing all the way, the ability of the Amb:IT:ion management team to respond to issues as they arose and, critically, to learn from their mistakes, has constantly impressed us. It is clear that change is never easy, but out of the hiccups came real innovation. We believe there are lessons to be gleaned from the Amb:IT:ion project that are more widely applicable to the arts sector as a whole. This final evaluation report is our encapsulation of those lessons and the qualitative outcomes of the project. It has been written for the benefit of future digital change management projects, whether initiated by arts funding bodies or by individual organisations. Amb:IT:ion was originally intended to be a pilot project for further interventions. Due to changes in the Arts Council funding strategy, the subsequent projects originally envisaged have yet to be rolled out. However, Amb:IT:ion Scotland was launched in August 2009, incorporating all the lessons learnt from Amb:IT:ion England, including social networking across the arts sector from the outset of the project1.

For further information see the project web site:

As a model of an innovative change management initiative, the Amb:IT:ion project has been a success on a number of levels. The lessons learnt about the importance of social networking and the limitations of technology, the use of qualitative formative evaluation methodologies, the need for a flexible and, critically, responsive project management team and structure, the subsequent socialisation programme that has broadened the impact of the project across the arts sector, are just some of the elements of the project of which similar interventions would do well to take note. By detailing the take home points to be learnt from Amb:IT:ion, it is our hope that this final evaluation report will be of use in the design and evaluation of future change management initiatives. David S. Leitner, Lee Wilson Cambridge, August 2009

1.

Executive Summary

Based on our ethnographic evaluation and on conversations with various stakeholders, we find that the Amb:IT:ion project has been a considerable success. Despite early difficulties, the Amb:IT:ion teams responsive and flexible approach to project management repeatedly accommodated unforeseen circumstances and occasional setbacks in ways that ultimately improved the project and the experiences of the organisations involved. We expressed concerns early on about the degree to which assumptions about innovation and knowledge dissemination embedded in the proposed project Knowledge Portal might rely too heavily on technological solutions to what are essentially social problems. The project management team, responding to these criticisms and to the expressed desires of the participating organisations, invested more time and resources into real world social-networking opportunities, using Web 2.0 to enhance and facilitate those social relations rather than relying on it to create them. In our view, this shift is typical of the sort of flexible and responsive approach to project management exhibited throughout the project by the management team. This approach is clearly a key factor in the successes that Amb:IT:ion can lay claim to. Every organisation we observed made significant strides with regard to both the uptake and the innovative use of new media and digital technologies. Several went beyond their business cases and improvised new ways to exploit these 3

http://www.scottisharts.org.uk/1/latestnews/10065 92.aspx.

resources in the interest of fulfilling their educational and artistic missions, as well as improving their business and marketing practices. The degree to which organisation members felt encouraged and willing to play with the new technologies did seem to have some bearing on how likely they were to innovate in this way. Earlier problems prior to the implementation stage of the project notwithstanding, we were impressed with the degree to which Amb:IT:ion gave the organisations access to the training and expertise which enabled these people to play creatively with digital technologies, thus enabling creative innovation within the organisations. The inclusion of consultants in the change process was vital to the success of Amb:IT:ion. The expertise they brought to the table greatly aided the organisations in understanding and assessing their technological and organisational needs. Likewise, the presence of consultants on the ground in the Tier 1 organisations seemed to provide insight into how those organisations operated beyond their organisational charts. Although some Tier 2 organisations had frustrations with the initial Tier 2 consultant, they were eventually satisfied and benefitted greatly from the chance to work with his replacement. This begs the question, as important as the consultants were, to what degree was the matching of expertise and personality between consultants and their organisations a factor? Overall, we find that the Amb:IT:ion team has done an exemplary job in managing and implementing a project that was complex

both in the range of organisations and actors involved and in the scope of its aims. We find that they have certainly achieved their aims to initiate organisational change in the ways that arts organisations practice business and art, even in the face of a few unexpected setbacks. Travelling road shows featuring stories and lessons from Amb:IT:ion participants, has proved to be a popular and successful way of disseminating to the larger arts sector the experiences and lessons that project participants have learned. The latest iteration of the project web site, now publicly accessible, has overcome many of the earlier issues that the project encountered due to the assumptions that informed its approach to web based resources, and is quickly becoming a vehicle for connecting the real world road show experiences with an online audience. We would urge that the Arts Council England clearly encourage and include future projects such as Amb:IT:ion in their long term arts funding strategy. The lessons of Amb:IT:ion should be both emulated and built upon by future digital change management initiatives. In our view, it is an example of a successful effort to prove the supposedly unthinkable: that it is possible to simultaneously do good business and good art.

2.

Introduction

Arts organisations have been perceived to lag far behind other sectors in the uptake and use of digital technologies in most areas of their business and artistic practice. Therefore, the explicit aim of the Amb:IT:ion project was to change the business and artistic practices of arts organisations through the introduction of digital technologies. Our evaluation has been partly framed by this stated aim as a criterion of success, whether or not this has been achieved by the project in the course of its implementation, and what the implications of the intervention might be. However, it is important to note that this stated aim has also been an object of inquiry, and we have sought to examine the assumptions that inform it. We have strived to provide a critical voice within the structure of the project management, and this would not have been possible without the cooperation of both the project management team and the arts organisations with whom we worked. In this final report we summarise our findings to make them more widely available to all who have an interest in the challenges to be met in the implementation of new technologies in the arts sector. It was our intention from the outset of our engagement with Amb:IT:ion that the arts organisations themselves would provide the basis for the evaluation. That is, we felt that the assessment should be largely based on their experiences of the project and whether it met their expectations and selfdefined needs. For this purpose we

developed the Collaborative Evaluation Process, or CEP, a means of conducting a critical ethnographic evaluation intended to be genuinely dialogical. Ethnography is a practice of describing human social relations and cultural assumptions, and entails the use of a variety of methodologies of close observation and participation in order to elicit data. Traditional modes of ethnography tend to assume a certain social distance from the people being studied in order to produce descriptive accounts of social relations. Critical ethnography is a more reflexive and participatory process with the explicit aim of intervening in and transforming the local context2. A key aspect of the Collaborative Evaluation Process was to engage the projects participants in the production and refinement of the ongoing evaluation. Through making the evaluation documents that we produced publicly available we located ourselves more firmly in the process of evaluation than if we had assumed the role of strict social observer. As a participatory methodology, the CEP is a means through which our understanding of the project as ethnographers was shaped in interaction with our informants. Practically, the evaluation reports that we produced were developed iteratively with the various parties with whom we worked. Each report

See Barab et al, 2004. Critical Design Ethnography:

Designing for Change. Anthropology and Education Quarterly 35, 2: 254-68.

was made available to our informants for comment and feedback, which subsequently was incorporated into the final versions of the evaluation documents. Ethnographic case studies formed the core of our evaluation. The case studies focused on four arts organisations, chosen to represent a cross section of the groups selected to participate in the Amb:IT:ion project. Site visits were carried out before and after the implementation stage with Hoipolloi, Ludus Dance, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Aldeburgh Music. Semistructured interviews with people in each of these companies were conducted to ascertain individual and organisational concerns, attitudes towards Amb:IT:ion, and to collect accounts of individual experiences with the new technologies that were implemented. We attended Amb:IT:ion project meetings and events, talking to people at these meetings and following up where appropriate with interviews, both in person and by telephone or webcam via Skype. Group interviewing techniques were employed as a means to elicit collective narratives, which proved useful in gaining insight into the personal interactions between people and information flows within organisations. It also provided a forum that some participants found useful as a space for reflection on the project in relation to their own companies and their working lives. Issues raised by these interactions were used to generate further lines of inquiry, informing subsequent iterations of the research framework and interview questions.

The case studies were supplemented with data elicited from participation in Amb:IT:ion events as well as individual and group interviews with members of other arts organisations, the project management team, consultants and other academics responsible for the production of the Amb:IT:ion Knowledge Portal. Our aim throughout the evaluation has been to provide the basis for ongoing reflection on the strategic aims of the project, the effects of their implementation and, where necessary, their modification. What our evaluation could not do, and which we feel would be of some value to future projects, was assess the work of the consultants who were working with the arts organisations as part of the project. While we were able to convey the impressions of the experiences that the groups had of the consultants, the long term effects of their advised strategies require long term observation beyond the immediate scope of this evaluation.

3.

Evaluation

The following sections summarise the main themes and issues that emerged during our research. They include both ethnographic commentary and analysis, and are detailed here in order to provide some background to the following sections in which we summarise our recommendations for future action.

3.1

Networks

Since the 1999 Baker Report on innovation and productivity in Public Sector Research Establishments calls for the formation of more or less formal networks between people and institutions have been a common feature of innovation policies in high-tech sectors in the UK. Although this might be a relatively new feature of arts sector policies it is no less relevant in the arts than in the sciences. Indeed, one of the innovative pieces of Amb:IT:ion has been to focus on the ways that peoples relations can be the conduit for multiplying digital change across the sector. There is good reason for this. Since the late 1990s there has been a resurgence of interest in social networks. A growing body of literature has developed that focuses on the ways that these invisible networks of relationships produce effects that are greater than the sum of their parts. Many of these findings have profound implications for organising and shaping the opportunities for innovative growth in the creative sector. However, calling for networks to be created is much easier than actually doing it.

To some degree this was the case at the beginning of the Amb:IT:ion project. In conceiving of Web 2.0 as the vehicle for transforming arts organisations, important assumptions about what social networks can do were not initially interrogated. However, in the final evaluation we do not see this as a failure. On the contrary, when faced with the shortcomings of the Knowledge Portal concept, the Amb:IT:ion team quickly shifted their ideas about networking from a technologically based approach to one which combined the strengths of peoples face-to-face networks and the potentials of Web 2.0 for bridging distance and time. Real world networking and training events provided people with reasons to network and a basis for interacting with the virtual face of the project. Furthermore, in keeping with the projects original aims, these networkers became, as time went on, a conduit for disseminating the practical lessons they had learned about digital change, the enthusiasm they had for their projects, and the larger message of Amb:IT:ion: that it is possible to be true to your artistic principles and creative mission while modernising and updating the way you do business. In this respect we feel Amb:IT:ion excelled, and that it should be a lesson to future planners. It is simply not enough to wait for networks to form. You need to give people a reason to join them, preferably by connecting the virtual/real divide.

3.2

Innovation in Amb:IT:ion

A main goal of the Amb:IT:tion project was 7

to make arts organisations more commercially viable entities through realising the potential of digital technologies to identify and generate new revenue streams. However, the project has also helped seed innovative developments in a number of other areas, most notably education, performance and outreach. New forms of creative endeavour and experiments in public engagement and audience development are the hallmark of Amb:IT:ion, and in this respect the project has been a great success. However, the initial approach of the project does prompt a cautionary note. What became clear from our research was that there was already considerable knowledge and many examples of innovative practice within some of the companies that comprised the project constituency. Amb:IT:ion could perhaps have better keyed into this expertise at the outset. As a result, some people from the arts organisations saw Amb:IT:ion as overly didactic in its approach and initially it seemed that Amb:IT:ion itself was perceived as the agent of change by the project team. That is, Amb:IT:ion was seen as an interventionist rather than facilitative venture. From our perspective as ethnographers, it seems that a more in depth organisational analysis at the outset of the project would have more clearly identified levels of existing knowledge, expertise, and innovative practice in the organisations as well as providing opportunities to clarify Amb:IT:ions role as a facilitator. However, as the project unfolded the

management team were exemplary in their use of responsive management to deal with issues as they arose, and to facilitate and encourage innovative practice in the use of ICTs. In this respect, their use of a small, flexible project management structure is an example of the innovation-friendly structure of the project. Likewise, their willingness to open themselves up to detailed scrutiny through the inclusion of a formative and critical ethnographic approach to evaluation might itself be seen to be highly innovative. Worth citing here is an example of innovation in the development and use of digital technologies linked to Amb:IT:ion: the whiteboard widget developed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. Working with the Wirral Children and Young Peoples Department, the RLP has identified an absence of applications that can be employed in the classroom to see and hear an orchestra. The whiteboard widget will enable students to hear and see a real orchestra in its natural setting within the Philharmonic Hall via an interactive whiteboard. By introducing students to a virtual Philharmonic Hall they aim to socialise new audiences by breaking down preconceptions of what an orchestra is and does and, in so doing, to transcend the class and cultural barriers that keep certain types of audience away. While the Amb:IT:ion project did not fund the initiative directly, involvement with the project was cited as being the catalyst for the development of the widget. However, the RLP was not alone in innovating beyond the project 8

specifications. Ludus Dance made unexpected and innovative use of the video equipment they purchased for performance. These technologies found an important and unexpected new role in the organisation by communicating the qualitative value of Ludus work to funders. Through the use of video they were able to portray the intangible benefits of their work such as the excitement and joy on a persons face when he realises that dance is something he can do. It is difficult to describe in words something as personally powerful as transforming someones view of themselves. However, in moving images it is extremely compelling. Video diaries now figure prominently in the working practices of the company. Importantly, video production is also being used as a means to share best practice across the organisation. We wish to stress the importance of being able to share examples of best practice within an organisation. The challenge for organisations is to ensure that innovative practices are not confined to particular people or departmental silos. Rather, lessons learnt in one area of the company should ideally feed into practice in other areas. In this respect using web sites as a platform to engage both audiences and company personnel would seem to be a good use of this resource. However, web sites and intranets, while useful tools in this respect, are not in and of themselves the answer to the problem. It is important to remember that knowledge transfer does not happen in a social vacuum. Companies, such as Ludus Dance,

that held regular interdepartmental meetings in which all members of staff participated seemed to have a stronger sense of shared mission and understanding of what might be achieved through the use of digital technologies.

3.3

The Importance of Play

Having the time to experiment and discover the potential for new media, to play around with it, has been an important part of engaging with new technologies in Amb:IT:ion. The use of digital media to engage and challenge audiences in stimulating and exciting ways is not just about economic rationalisation or making companies more efficient. Often, the innovations we encountered had the effect of expanding the creative potential of individuals and their respective companies. At Ludus, for example, dancers were able to incorporate the use of video into their work with children to achieve learning objectives by exploring the similarities between video direction and choreography. They were able to do so because they had the space and time to experiment in their workshops. The process by which this experimental learning takes place is, in a sense, improvisational. That is, it is generative of new kinds of practises and new ways in which existing practises might be enhanced or transformed in a fluid and changing social world3. The repetition and

See Hallam, E and Ingold, T. (eds.). (2007)

Creativity and Cultural Improvisation. Oxford, New York: Berg.

standardisation of tasks necessary in some departments of larger companies, for example ticketing and accounting departments, make this difficult. It would seem that the creative potential of new media is more likely to be explored in practice-based environments in which peoples roles are more fluid. For example, the performer/instructors at Ludus also carried out the majority of their own administrative tasks, and in our view this helped to develop a more holistic understanding of digital technologies, from databases to video production.

derive from it. At times this seemed to derive from disagreements within the Bedford development team as to just what their purpose and approach was. At others it seems to have had more to do with fundamental misunderstandings of the different qualities of virtual and face-to-face social relations on the part of both the Bedford Team and the Amb:IT:ion management. We found that the approach to social learning and dissemination of knowledge that the Bedford team expressed in the phrase each one teach one was fundamentally at odds with their approach to constructing the Knowledge Portal. The overall emphasis for the knowledge base was on gathering and producing information in a single place. The production of that information was largely envisaged to be the task of the users of the site who would keep blogs and record their experiences of change. Other users, it was assumed, would respond to and interact with these users and with other resources. Unfortunately, this assumption failed to take into account the time constraints most of the prospective users faced on a daily basis. Communication problems were also evident between the Bedford team and the Amb:IT:ion project management. The user survey carried out by the Bedford researchers was deemed by the Amb:IT:ion management to be nave in its assumptions and approach and the relationship between the Amb:IT:ion management team and the Bedford development team deteriorated during the course of the project. While 10

3.4

The Knowledge Portal

Part of the initial project strategy for Amb:IT:ion was to develop a Knowledge Portal, a web based resource for arts organisations taking part in the project. A team from Bedford University was contracted to develop and implement a proprietary database and platform for the Knowledge Portal. The web site was populated with commissioned case studies and accounts of the experiences of selected organisations that had undergone similar processes of change to that which the project hoped to initiate amongst its constituents. Early attempts to distribute information and experience through a knowledge portal in the form of text-based case studies and other online resources such as blogs met with little success, a situation that was exacerbated by poor communication about the Knowledge Portal, what it was intended to achieve, who the end users would be and what benefit the arts organisations might

Bedford fulfilled their contractual agreements to the project in principle, the Amb:IT:ion management team deemed the database they had developed not fit for purpose. In our view, the initial approach to the use of the Knowledge Portal was poorly conceived by the Amb:IT:ion management, relying far too heavily on a technological solution to social issues. It took a technocratic view of social-networks which was underpinned by an assumption that there was value intrinsic to the Knowledge Portal itself, and that a community of users would coalesce around the site simply for this reason. This might be described as a field of dreams model for the creation of social networks; build it and they will come. Critically, the Knowledge Portal remained a gated community for much of the timeline of the project. The Amb:IT:ion management team took the view that use of the web site should initially remain confined to the project domain. The aim was to develop it as a resource before opening it up to wider public access, an approach that seemed to us to be at odds with the wider project goal of effecting organisational change more widely across the arts sector. For much of the life of the project the knowledge portal remained an underutilised asset. Too much time was spent on trying to implement a bespoke solution for the site when open source software might have provided a better and more cost effective solution. An opportunity may well have been missed to facilitate an online

community through which arts organisations themselves would initiate and facilitate the conversations about change and technologies. While the efforts of the Manchester Digital Development Agency to implement the knowledge portal in its current format are to be praised, our view is that it was a mistake not to generate a more public presence for the project from the outset. Some potential benefits to be gained from this could have been greater transparency on issues of governance and management (thus addressing some later misperceptions on the part of project participants), advertising the project and its benefits, and providing a wider forum in which the larger arts sector might participate in discussions of best practise and innovation using ICTs in arts organisations. Despite this rough start, during the course of the project the management team became increasingly aware of the uses and effects of digital media. From an earlier insistence on the development of the Knowledge Portal as a gated community, to the sophisticated use of digital video production as a means of communicating the projects key messages, the team travelled a long way in their use and understanding of how to deploy digital technologies and social media to effect the kind of knowledge sharing they had envisaged. A revamped Knowledge Portal has now been launched publicly, and indeed provides a valuable resource for arts organisations. However, future projects would do well to take note of the concerns 11

we voiced in our interim reports about the knowledge portal and the assumptions that underpinned its development and use. The over-reliance on technology in the earlier stages of the project was overcome through the use of road shows and increased networking activities in the latter stages of the project. This demonstrated the kind of flexible and responsive attitude to project management, which, we feel, is a vital factor in the achievements to which the project can lay claim.

3.5

So What About Change?

We have found good evidence of wide ranging transformations in practise in the organisations that participated in Amb:IT:ion, and in this respect it seems fair to say that the project has achieved its goal of change management amongst the project constituency. Amongst both the Tier 1 and the Tier 2 groups it is clear that the project has provided the funding, expertise and impetus for addressing issues with: information systems, the use of new media, strategic marketing through the use of web technologies and customer management systems. New job roles have been created and precious resources have been committed to addressing interactivity and personalisation agendas through the use of digital technologies. It is clear from the interviews that we carried out over the course of the project that knowledge, both of digital technologies and the issues that surround their uptake and use, was vastly improved amongst the members of those groups with which we worked. The AmbITion project management team

have responded to the challenge of finding mechanisms through which information and experiences might be exchanged between members of arts groups. The extra funding provided for the road shows seems to have been well used. The project management team have made exemplary use of video showcases detailing the challenges and experiences faced by organisations embracing digital technologies. The team are clearly committed to a vision of effecting change across the wider arts sector, and of leaving a lasting legacy for the sector through Amb:IT:ion. With the prospect of funding cutbacks for the arts on the horizon, and the news that there will be no further funding from the Arts Council for subsequent iterations of projects like Amb:IT:tion, it remains to be seen what the longer term impact of the project on the arts sector more widely will be.

3.6

Conclusion

In the final analysis, we find that the Amb:IT:ion project has been a clear success. The project has met its own goals for organisational change in the arts. The organisations with which we worked felt positive about the transformations that Amb:IT:ion enabled them to make. In addition to effecting digital change in arts organisations, the project sought to encourage innovation in business and artistic practices with those same technologies. Many found creative and innovative secondary uses for the technologies that have helped them further their missions. Despite early difficulties, the Amb:IT:ion teams responsive and flexible 12

approach to project management repeatedly accommodated unforeseen circumstances and occasional setbacks in ways that ultimately improved the project and the experience of the organisations involved. Based upon the findings of our ethnographic engagement and evaluation, we feel that it is fair to say that Amb:ITion has achieved its stated goal to bring about organisational change in the arts through the implementation of digital technologies.

4.

Recommendations

The following section describes our general recommendations for future digital change projects. We have grouped the recommendations into three areas: approaches to technology, the value of consultants in the change process, and recognising the need to address the matter of personal relations in every step of a digital intervention. Following each section is a brief summary of these recommendations.

4.1

Its not all about technology.

Although much of Amb:IT:ions focus was on creating the potential for arts organisations to use new digital technologies and virtual spaces to innovate organisational change, it became evident over the course of the project that virtual social spaces could not completely replace face-to-face interaction as a means of disseminating knowledge and generating a sense of community amongst the project constituency. Future projects should recognize that, as powerful as new technologies can be, they only work if people make them work. Focus on how to harmonize the goals and desires of targets for change with the capabilities of people and technologies for making those changes possible. In this project there was a particular tension between the designers' desires to create a 'virtual' space in which users could learn and interact with one another, and the participants' expressed desires for direct face-to-face interaction with other people 13

who had experienced similar change processes. They considered knowledge to be most valuable when it came through an interaction with a person and not with a file on a server that another person had created. In the absence of the social context of faceto-face interaction, participants had little incentive to sift through the information on the Knowledge Portal, usually citing time constraints. When asked to travel or take a day off to attend a meeting, they often complained if there was not ample time given to unstructured or loosely structured interaction with the other participants. Meeting with and sharing experiences with others was often cited as the most desirable aspect of these events. It seems that virtuality could effectively address the problems of geographical distance, but this benefit was often lost if it also compressed the 'realtime' aspect of meeting with others face-to-face. In our evaluation reports we have drawn attention to the tendency at times to view digital technologies collectively as a panacea for any number of problems. However, it should be remembered that 'digital technologies' are many different individual tools, each suited to a particular task. Thus, organisations must have a good understanding of why they want digital technologies and what potential they realistically hold for their particular organisation. Importantly, as our informants constantly reiterated to us, the social value of personal interaction should not be neglected in the daily working lives of people in any organisation. The

ambiguity of depersonalised electronic communication is often a source of misunderstanding and tension easily avoided by meeting with people to discuss issues in person. TECHNOLOGY
Technologies only work if people make them work. Knowledge sharing is a social process and works through social relations. Virtual interactions with other people can enhance real ones Technologies are specialised tools, not panaceas. There is no one-sizefits-all solution. Day-to-day personal interactions are important to many peoples work. Preserving this in the face of digital change is important.

4.2 salt

Consultants are worth their

Consultants played a key role in the success of Amb:IT:ion. While we cannot speak to the technical viability of the consultants recommendations, our evaluation found clear evidence of a marked transformation in the organisations perceptions of and relative expertise in the use of digital technologies as a result of the consultants interventions. While the feedback we received from our informants about their experiences with their consultants was good, and in many cases excellent, in the case of the Tier 2 groups this was due more to serendipity than project strategy. During the project Tier 2 organisations had 14

frustrations with the consultant process, both because of the limited time they had with the consultant and, more substantially, because of the unanticipated departure of the first consultant mid-way through the process. The Tier 2 organisations were largely happy with the second consultant and found his advice useful in considering the possibilities of utilising their selected technologies in ways that went beyond the business cases they had written. His practical advice on how to work with particular technologies was especially appreciated. Key to the success of the consultants in both Tier 1 and Tier 2 was their focus on conducting a requirements analysis that included listening to people at different levels and taking this firsthand knowledge of the organisation into account when planning the business cases. Out of this process a key overarching lesson emerges: Know your organisation! This means not only understanding the nuts and bolts of your organisation, the logistics, management structures, and marketing, accounting but understanding the organisation from a personal level. Understanding personal interactions in the organisation is key to ascertaining the organisations needs, how it approaches and appeals to its audiences, and what priorities lie within the organisational culture behind the mission statement. It emphasizes the ways that each organisation is unique and how each organisation has different strengths and weaknesses to draw upon when considering its digital strategies. Given the importance of external advisors,

we would strongly recommend that future initiatives put in place a selection process that looks to assess the suitability of the consultants that are engaged. Care should be taken in matching consultants personalities and expertise to the organisations they will work with. This might entail a closer engagement with organisations at the outset of any intervention in order to better assess their needs, goals and aims. Issues that affect the success of an intervention such as organisational structure and culture, personalities, tensions and possible sites of conflict within companies might be identified at this stage of the project. CONSULTANTS
Consultants play a vital role in helping the organisations reflect on digital technologies and business practices. Personalities as well as expertise should be considered when matching the consultants to organisations. Consultants can have a ground-level perspective on the operations of the organisation. Peoples personal relations on the ground are crucial to how the organisation will react to change.

4.3

The Importance of People

The people in the arts organisations who were responsible for liaising with the Amb:IT:ion project frequently expressed concerns about the amount of extra time and work that many of the Amb:IT:ion 15

activities required of them. This was typically expressed as a problem of giveand-take. As is often the case in arts organisations, limited resources and understaffing mean that demands on the time of the personnel are great. Participating in activities such as focus groups, surveys or interviews as part of the Amb:IT:ion project was often seen as more burdensome when people were uncertain what they might gain from it. If the purpose of networking activities is unclear, people are unlikely to perceive those activities as desirable. A commonly expressed a desire during the course of the project was for more social networking activities, and the opportunity to meet with counterparts in other arts organisations that were going through or had gone through similar changes. Sharing experiences with another person was seen as a good use of their time, and a desire was expressed for more opportunities to gain skills and training in ways that allowed them to ask questions and get immediate feedback. A key assumption of the Amb:IT:ion project was that change in the arts sector would be brought about as much through socialnetworking as through changes in technology and business practices. In the beginning, it was imagined that this social networking would be largely web based, via the Knowledge Portal containing resources and social-networking tools for the project community. The networking would both disseminate existing knowledge and produce new knowledge through Web 2.0 style technologies.

However, as we have noted, in execution the Knowledge Portal was both slow to come online and, in our view, flawed in its design assumptions. The kinds of social networking activities that the Knowledge Portal was designed for never really emerged. Ultimately, the management team made the correct decision to refocus their efforts on social-networking and concentrated on enriching the real-world workshops and networking events. The decision to appoint a digital content producer for Amb:IT:ion highlights the degree to which curation is a necessary factor in the development of Knowledge Portals. Significantly, securing and allocating additional project funding to stage a travelling road show to showcase and socialise Amb:IT:ion encompassed lessons learnt in the earlier stages of the project in developing the web site. It also demonstrates that, if digital change is to spread across the arts sector, mechanisms must be in place for personal interaction and sharing narrative accounts, knowledge and experience. Future interventions should then take advantage of the social aspects of knowledge and learning. Both the importance of face-to-face interactions with other people, and the labour, cost, and distance saving aspects of online networking tools should be recognised. To this end, a valuable addition to future initiatives of this kind would be additional distance learning and training modules focused on continuing professional development in IT, social-networking skills, new media technologies, database and 16

networking software. Live video communication and chats via services like Skype, interactive virtual meeting software, and virtual reality spaces like Second Life might hold the potential to both preserve the immediacy of face-to-face communication, save participants travel time and costs, and open new opportunities for sharing information. However, these could not be complete replacements for more traditional social networking. PEOPLE
Peoples time is valuable. Give them a reason to interact. Understand what they want out of it. There is no field of dreams. People need a reason to network. Its not enough to build it and hope theyll come. Networks arent made of whole cloth. Draw on real-world networks to initiate online ones.

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