AmbITion Scotland’s Make:IT:Happen fund aims to help Scotland’s cultural sector become digitally fitter. Ashley Smith-Hammond discusses its approach and some early results.

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Making Stellar Quines' 3D filmed theatre experiment happen

Drew Ferrell

AmbITion Scotland is an approach, programme and resource to support the arts, culture and heritage sector grow capability, capacity, creativity and confidence to make the most of the opportunities digital technologies have to offer. It is for all and not just early adopters or digital innovators and has touched the majority of the 588 cultural organisations in Scotland (Culture Republic’s‎ internal sector research estimate of the total market of cultural organisations and festivals in Scotland) with the following:

  • Learning events: 42 events since January 2012 with over 2,700 registrants from over 425 organisations in 14 different communities across the country, many of them webcast for the widest possible access.
  • Online learning materials: Content such as toolkits, case studies, video archives of seminars and podcasts have driven almost 32,000 unique visitors to the website in 2012−13.
  • A peer network: The online network of individual professionals in Scotland’s cultural sector has grown steadily, up 65% since 2012 to over 1,200 representing a tremendous resource for peer-to-peer sharing and learning.
  • Direct support: The Make:IT:Happen fund awarded 71 grants totalling £478,329 to 59 arts organisations in Scotland to support new ideas and digital approaches. It received almost 200 applications over its 16-month run. Demand grew dramatically, with a 100% increase in applications to the fund between the first round in summer 2012 (32) to the final round in autumn 2013 (65).

AmbITion Scotland 2010−11 revealed that a small amount of money would have made a big difference in getting practical projects off the ground. It works with primarily small to medium-sized cultural organisations, which often have the following challenges: limited cash reserves, keeping them from making even modest investments towards medium or longer-term gains; boards and senior managers who see digital tools of engagement as risky in the face of ‘tried and true’ methods; lack of a key piece of hardware, software or infrastructure required to unlock an idea or allow them to implement a significant improvement.

It is for all and not just early adopters or digital innovators

Unblocking some of these practical barriers to organisational development, and facilitating organisations and professionals to share information of good practice and solutions among themselves was key. Portfolio Manager for Technology Digital Media at Creative Scotland Morgan Petrie said: “One of its biggest strengths is the way that AmbITion Scotland helps arts and cultural organisations to build stronger businesses through links with peers all over the country ensuring the cultural sector has a sustainable digital infrastructure which is able to adapt to digital change. It is a digital programme but it is very much about real-life connections, too.”

For 2012−13 AmbITion Scotland designed a funding programme, applying what it learnt from working so closely with cultural businesses. A new model for disbursing funding was created that was participatory with a focus on peer review decision-making, and that maximised learning for both the successful and unsuccessful applicants. It is also cyclical, so that organisations and practices could try, learn, reflect and try again. Another feature is that it is connected, recognising the similarities between projects being attempted across the country and connecting organisations with similar ideas to make sure that learnings and practices were shared. It is true to its principles, walking the walk of digital delivery with an online application process. It is also transparent − all applicants were given written and one-to-one feedback and signposting to ensure learning, and to keep forward momentum with the idea.

The Make:IT:Happen Fund involved the peer network of experts and participants, and the reporting process is in the public space: learnings, including positive and negative stories, were shared widely. It has four funding strands:

  • AmbITion approach: The core methodology has been in practice since 2007. It is a digital change management process which supports organisations during the early stages of their digital development by providing an external specialist to help assess and develop strategy and implementation plans for organisation-wide change.
  • Organisational development: This supports organisations to take advantage of digital technologies to grow their business, develop ideas, improve operational capacity and increase their audience reach.
  • Digital content development: This gives organisations the opportunity to enhance their core activity through the creation or better use of digital content.
  • Sustainable AmbITion: This supports organisations to improve their green credentials through implementing digital technologies or approaches that actively lower the carbon footprints of their organisation or audience.

The following is a flavour of the projects and participants each strand of the fund has attracted.

Ambition approach: Platform, a unique venue on the outskirts of Glasgow, serves a hard-to-reach, economically disenfranchised community. Its experience linked its audience engagement with communities, operations, business models, artistic services and cross-artform creative practice. The project highlighted and identified the practical infrastructural issues that affect hard-to-reach communities and provided a plan to overcome those.

Digital content development: YDance developed a digital hub, creating rich media resources to help it achieve its mission of engaging young people with their individual potential through dance. The hub provides training videos, instructions and photography, and is fully accessible to participants both in and outside school, resolving issues raised by the blocking, in many schools, of YouTube and other social media sites. The new hub is a simple, cost-effective way of supporting YDance participants nationwide, helping to maintain relationships with project participants on an ongoing basis.

Sustainable AmbITion: Scotland’s Screen Machine is a mobile cinema bringing the latest films to remote and rural areas of Scotland (one of only a handful operating in Europe). Screen Machine undertook a carbon audit of its touring programme across the Scottish Highlands and Islands, collecting carbon data via e-survey software from audiences at 50 screenings at 30 different locations as a baseline for carbon emissions. This is the starting point for a lower carbon future. The organisation is now implementing systems to incorporate renewable energy, reduce energy use and co-ordinate cinema-goers to use lower carbon ways of getting to the cinema via social media.

Organisational development: Abbot House Heritage Centre takes visitors on a journey through Dunfermline’s important medieval history, encompassing abbey and town life up to 1700. The funding will allow the centre to install stable wifi systems into its twelfth-century building, enriching the visitor experience and creating operational efficiencies. Staff training is central to its success, which will develop a more dynamic web presence controlled by staff (and not external designers) that is adaptable and financially efficient. The integration of digital technology is central to the organisation’s ongoing development and future.

The Make:IT:Happen fund has helped catalyse a significant amount of digital developments and connections. It has also successfully introduced the participatory peer decision-making process. The fund is currently closed, but we are continuing the programme of events and the publication of new learning materials.

Ashley Smith-Hammond is Project Manager for AmbITion Scotland.

AmbITion Scotland has been supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland since 2009. It is delivered in a partnership between Culture Republic and Rudman Consulting.

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