Category Archives: research

How intelligent is AI today?

I recently attended a workshop by Arts Impact AI, which is undertaking conversations on AI across Canada. I discovered quickly that my expectation of what Artificial Intelligence (AI) is, wasn’t quite in the right place for the conversation at hand. I expected the discussion to centre around intelligent machines thinking and working similar to humans. Where attributes like self-learning or the ability to intelligently change its programming based on new input would be explored.

Algorithm Making

We spent the morning considering algorithms capable of rapidly analyzing vast amounts of data. An intuitive example came in the form of a group exercise where group 1 developed an algorithm (five characteristics based on a set of 12 images of convicted criminals) to identify the most likely criminal in a crowd, group 2 – the computer – applied the algorithm and group 3 – the humans – were tasked to simply identify the criminal without an algorithm. My colleagues in group 1 –  which was made up of people from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities who live on the traditional territories of self-governing First Nations in the Yukon (and yes, that might have mattered to our decision-making) – opted to select criteria that did not include racial stereotypes. Needless to say, we broke the machine.

Each group had serious struggles with the ethical implications of their group’s role. This was the point, of course: do the designers of algorithms simply reinforce the stereotypes based on a highly biased judicial system that disproportionately affects Indigenous people and people of colour, and often men that are visibly part of these groups; or do they write an algorithm that does not fall into those stereotypes but focuses on other aspects.

Big Data Analysis

In my way of thinking this kind of AI application lives in the realm of big data analysis. While I imagined AI to feel unfamiliar and new, this felt extremely familiar to me: As a market researcher, I have followed for years work on “big data” analysis and how with the aid of faster computers our ability to analyze truly vast data sets has increased many fold. The biggest advantage, indeed, being speed that cannot be matched by a single human brain.

The AI application this group exercise mirrored is based on the analysis of a vast amount of data, e.g. 10,000+ photographs of convicted criminals, using computer facial recognition. This analysis identifies statistical probabilities for the parameters that were set.  Those probabilities are then used by humans to program an algorithm. That algorithm seeks to identify people in large crowds that match the analysis. By definition, this kind of analysis is looking to the past to inform the future; or in this case, to become the future.

Ethical Dilemma

The humans who build such algorithms  – which itself is void of AI self-learning or the acquisition and application of new information and capacity – determine their outcome.

When these humans do not apply a greater understanding, or an ethical lens (related to systemic impacts of oppression of certain groups in society, for instance) to the parameters analyzed in the first place, or to the resulting statistical probabilities, they are bound to create algorithms that reinforce the systemic biases evident in society.

In short, they may miss a lot of criminals and identify a lot of non-criminals. In so doing, they may also ensure that more of the same groups of people are pursued with the government’s righteous rigour, resulting in higher incarceration rates for these groups. Rather than discover what is real, it perpetuates a seriously biased reality that increasingly would disadvantage specific groups. The past literally becomes the future.

AI governance as data governance

This discussion of what algorithms are today centred on big data and what we can and should do with it was fascinating. Alas, it didn’t paint a picture for me of artificial intelligence in the sci-fi sense.

In any case, as a result of this data focus, the AI governance discussion was heavy on data governance, i.e. the collection, storage and use of personal data. Personal Information Privacy and Electronic Documents Act and  provincial laws govern information that is identifiable to an individual already. Canadian Anti Spam Legislation tries to combat spam and other electronic threats. There is a Do Not Call List to regulate how landlines can be used. These legislative tools tend to deal with a specific technology. This approach leaves much grey and blank space as companies explore and create more advanced technological innovations.  Simply put, technology changes more rapidly than laws.

In the end I feel it is this conundrum that AI governance should address – to move away from regulating one specific technology at a time to contemplate the notion of privacy and social licence we wish to adopt in our society.

Definitions of Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is an area of computer science that emphasizes the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans.

Some of the activities computers with artificial intelligence are designed for include:

  • – Speech recognition
  • – Learning
  • – Planning
  • – Problem solving

[Source: Technopedia]

4 Types of AI

  1. Reactive machines – e.g. Deep Blue chess playing machine
    • Reactive machines have no concept of the world and therefore cannot function beyond the simple tasks for which they are programmed.
  2. Limited memory – e.g. autonomous vehicles
    •  Limited memory builds on observational data in conjunction with pre-programmed data the machines already contain
  3. Theory of mind – e.g. current voice assistants are an incomplete early version
    • decision-making ability equal to the extent of a human mind, but by machines
  4. Self-awareness -so far only exists in the movies
    • Self-aware AI involves machines that have human-level consciousness.

Source: G2

Cross-posted on https://digitalartsnation.ca

Published! Digitizing the Performing Arts: An Assessment of Opportunities, Issues and Challenges

The thrill of release! Yes, we published today our latest national report – already billed as landmark 😉 – titled  Digitizing the Performing Arts: An Assessment of Opportunities, Issues and Challenges. It is also available in French:  La numérisation des arts du spectacle : Évaluation des possibilités, des enjeux et des défis.

I hope that this assessment provides a springboard for new conversations and digital capacity in the presenting field.

The question at the core of this work is who will be the digital intermediaries for the performing arts; and whether the presenting field can carve out a digital space that supports and benefits the entire performing arts eco-system. Doing so, I think, would require both a transfer and an expansion of the arts presenting expertise we see on the theatre platform to new digital platforms.

Presenters historically have been the dominant platform where performing arts and audiences connect. The theatre, stage or the festival site literally act as a platform. With that, this report seeks to begin to answer – or at least inform – big questions:

  • Can live arts presenters re-invent distribution of performing arts at digital scale?
  • How will Canadian artistic talent be nurtured and supported to grow viable careers and earn fair compensation in the digital realm?
  • How can we, and should we, as a free, vibrant society assure a broad diversity of voices that reflect all of Canada is heard in digital spaces as well as live performance spaces?
  • What is the future of live Canadian theatre, dance, music and other performing arts as digital technologies and capacities of data networks continue to advance?

This report by CAPACOA and Strategic Moves is the culmination of several years of conversations that emanated from our study on The Value of Presenting: A Study of Performing Arts Presentation in Canada. We are grateful for an initial round of financial support from Canadian Heritage to undertake this assessment.

On a personal note, I so appreciate and enjoy working with my colleague-client, Frédéric Julien, Director of Research and Development at CAPACOA. He is a tireless advocate in the arts; and equal parts smart, rigorous in his thinking and affable. Thank you, Frédéric, for your work and your collaboration!

New study on the arts in rural communities examines three regions in Canada

“The specific characteristics of the performing arts eco-system matter to whether they can fuel vibrant rural communities.” With this hypothesis in mind, I have been investigating whether there are common criteria or success indicators for building a sustainable, rural arts community. This exploratory research draws on existing literature about arts in rural communities as well as my work with organizations in rural communities from coast to coast to coast. In this initial phase of the study I focus on three communities: Haliburton County, Ontario; Temiskaming Shores, Ontario; and Wells, BC.

I will present findings from this new study for the first time at the SPARC Symposium taking place in Haliburton from October 27 to 30, 2016.

My work with SPARC goes back to 2014: I presented a keynote at the first SPARC Symposium in April 2014 on “Co-creating a Culture of Place in Rural Communities.” Then SPARC invited me to co-facilitate the SPARC Network Summit in November 2014. In my ongoing consulting practice I also work with small, rural and remote communities to help strengthen local capacities and capabilities.

A key goal of the SPARC 2016 Symposium (a project of the SPARC Network) is to create an environment where people can network: exchange ideas, find opportunities for collaboration, discuss solutions to tricky problems and identify big ideas. Attendees will have an opportunity to meet people engaged in the performing arts from rural communities throughout the province and across the country.

Whether your goals are professional development, learning strategies to attract new audiences, innovative approaches to sustainability, opportunities for information exchange, or developing creative methods for marketing campaigns or mentoring programs, it is SPARC’s belief that this year’s program will facilitate them: http://www.sparcperformingarts.com/sparc-symposium-2016/

See you in Haliburton next month!

What’s the matter with numbers?

With thanks to CAPACOA for commissioning my response to the Culture Shock debate entitled  “Hard Facts VS. Proverbial Truths: The Impact of Arts & Culture on Canadian Citizens & Communities” held on November 20, 2014 at the Community Knowledge Exchange Summit.  Moderated by Canada Council for the Arts CEO Simon Brault you can watch the archived livestream here

Billed as #CultureShock, Alain Dubuc, a journalist and economist, and Shawn van Sluys, who heads up a philanthropic foundation that works to make the arts more central to our lives, debated whether “For arts and culture to be fully valued by society, their impact must be demonstrated with hard facts” or whether proverbial truth are sufficient.

The case for telling the stories of transformation and understanding through art was made eloquently. Yet, I was more struck by the economist’s assertion that hard facts are “the best way” rather than “the only way” to ensure we fully value arts and culture.

This debate brought to my mind Daniel Kahneman’s observation in Thinking, Fast and Slow  that humans  have a propensity to believe that “what you see is all there is.”  He cautions us that we can easily miss important parts of a situation because there may be more going on than meets the eye.

And that reminded me of the old adage that what we count is what matters.  By inference that suggests that we actually count what truly matters, and that those things left uncounted do not matter.  In the arts much of what gets counted are ticket sales or attendance as a percentage of capacity. Until recently, little attention has been paid to collecting the stories, let alone data points, of impact and benefits of the arts. In my view, just because some things are (relatively) easy to measure, like attendance or GDP or employment figures, that does not mean that they tell the whole story – or the most important parts of the story. Conversely, just because some things are harder to measure that doesn’t necessarily make them any less important or, for that matter, immeasurable.

Indeed, I think we gain the deepest insights through a purposeful combination of numbers and stories. For numbers are not meaningful by themselves. Numbers require context and an understanding of the intrinsic dynamics at play. In my work as a researcher and strategist, my task is not merely to produce tables and analysis, but to interpret findings and create meaning. It is this highly creative process of meaning creation and collaboration with all the decision-makers that can lead to new insight. And in creating meaning we bring the numbers to life through examples: the stories.

Some in the arts do not wish to speak the language of numbers which they equate with the language of business. From my experience working with corporations I know that yes, numbers are important, but many invest heavily in innovation and creativity in order to solve significant problems and improve quality of life through new products and services. The divide is not so great. Rather, we may well be just lacking translators or mediators; people who are proficient in both languages and who can help us understand each other better.

Watch the debate. 

Research in the arts for everyone!

I was invited to present a webinar on the Dos and Don’ts of Research in the Arts this week by Ontario Presents and Atlantic Presenters Association. The full webinar recording and a few downloadable files are available here.

The audience for this session were people working in arts presenting organizations. They are not researchers typically, but use or commission research and may well put together the occasional survey. The focus of the webinar was understanding what value research brings, reviewing a comprehensive research design, exploring briefly major types of research (secondary, qual, quant and data analysis), a few high level observations on sample design and questionnaire design and, finally, legal frameworks that apply to marketing research.

Obviously, each of these topics merits much more time and depth . In fact, this webinar came out of a 1.5 day arts research seminar I conducted for Atlantic Presenters in St. John’s last June. All to say with this webinar I aimed to raise awareness of what we think about when undertaking and designing research and keep it real in terms of practical applications. The hands-on workshop is a whole different level of learning and practicing research and analysis skills.

 

New marketing mind set in performing arts

Here are three vital elements to performing arts marketing and by extension a thriving arts scene:

1. Arts and cultural research has confirmed time and again that the performing arts sector is not a zero-sum field. Rather, Canadians become ever more likely to attend based on prior attendance at cultural events and performances. These behaviours are strong predictors of attendance while basic demographic factors are much weaker. That means, competition in the performing arts is not other performing arts organizations but rather all the other ways people spent their leisure and entertainment funds. Community-wide, true partnerships should become the rule not the exception in the performing arts.

2. I have a growing body of work that recognizes that performing arts are not only a show on a stage, but that all surrounding aspects contribute to the audience experience either positively or negatively. It is about full experience design.

This graphic represents key elements of the audience’s arts experience that can and should be fully designed. All have the power to make or break the audience experience, put up barriers to it or enhance it.

It means applying end-to-end design thinking including all the ways in which audience members can amplify the arts organization’s message and reach among their own networks.

Pricing and packaging are aspects that are often taken for granted due to a persistent belief that the arts do not suffer from sticker shock; that if someone really wants to see a show they make it happen. Well, price elasticity is real in the arts, too. The higher the price the fewer people will consider attending. Therefore, considerations should be given to how to price shows that are not expected to sell out at a given price point or that are not selling out despite seemingly well-founded expectations of that. Each of these aspects merits full consideration in your planning and in your evaluations afterwards.

3. Another important idea is that marketing materials are designed for specific purposes to address where a member of the target audience is at in the purchase decision process. Arts marketers need to use the full array of tools in research and evaluation to see how their marketing programs are creating the desired response or not.

An arts marketer’s job is not merely to sell the workhorses of the performing arts – anything by Beethoven and Mozart, Nutcracker and Swan Lake, Shakespeare –  but indeed to lead larger and larger audiences to contemporary, current live professional performing arts experiences that they don’t already know.

To do this requires the integrated use of contemporary marketing strategies and tactics. It is about compelling storytelling, co-creating meaning, and making research on events and purchase of tickets easy and immediate. The increasing integration of services like Youtube, Facebook, Twitter with both desktops and mobile devices and within websites creates new dynamics between organizations and their audiences. this is a good thing.

Today, website pages can be shared with a push of a single button to a user’s social media universe and it can raise awareness, start conversations or solicit sales through their social networks. Similarly, organizations are cross-linking their web sites and social media presence to provide a seamless user experience, going where users are.

This mind-set approach makes clear that an organization’s brand is more than a logo applied consistently. It is how it behaves and interacts with current and potential customers. Or perhaps it reaches even further: it is an entire eco-system’s way of being and interacting in the world – and how the sector (and the communities it inhabits) thrives will depend on this concerted action.

 

Strategies to grow membership

At a recent board workshop we discussed different ways to look at the association’s membership in order to understand better how to grow it.

I proposed to look at the cumulative number of members over several years for a more complete evaluation. Typically, we look at the total number of members – or subscribers – as an annual figure and then we pay some attention to churn (non-renewing members). Growth occurs when this churn figure is lower than the number of new members acquired, i.e. more people join than drop out. Evaluating churn makes clear why the first task in an established organization is usually retention, keeping members/subscribers year after year. High rates of retention mean that growth can be achieved more readily (as long as you have not captured your entire market);  it also means that your marketing efforts should become more cost-effective as retention should cost less than acquisition.

When we look at a wider time span, for instance 5 years or 10 years, we gain a different understanding of the degree to which an organization has reached and engaged its market. Is the the cumulative 5-year figure very close to the annual figure or is it much larger?

If it is very close then you are basically stable. If you wish to grow in this scenario then you need to focus on acquisition strategies to accelerate growth.

If the 5-year cumulative figure is much larger, then you might need to think not only about acquisition but re-acquisition. Re-acquisition means re-engaging with people who have made up their mind already about the value you provide by rejecting it for some reason. Re-acquisition is quite a different task, requiring different strategies, tactics, messages and channels. Because these people are not a blank slate (they have developed firm beliefs about your organization and have perceptions founded in their personal experience) I think that re-acquisition is fundamentally more difficult than gaining a brand new member, subscriber, customer.

Strategically this dynamic has to be considering in light of your total market potential.

There are times when re-acquisition can be critical to ensure an organization’s sustainability in the long-run. Given the nature of re-acquisition, strategies designed to re-engage likely run their course over 3 to 4 years. The focus then has to shift to true acquisition because those you wish to re-engage either have done so or simply are not going to have their minds changed unless something important, and likely out of your control, changes for them.

In both scenarios, retention driven by creating value and a mutually beneficial and meaningful relationship with members remains paramount.