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Amid sector concerns about new data platform Illuminate, Arts Council England says NPOs will not need to provide box office or audience survey data until next year.

The Illuminate online portal
Illuminate launched in June this year, two months behind schedule

Arts and culture organisations in England will not be required to provide box office or audience survey data due to ongoing issues with a new platform set up by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Arts Professional can reveal.

The Illuminate online data collection and analysis platform was scheduled to be up and running on 1 April to coincide with the start of the new National Portfolio for 2023-26, but delays meant it did not launch until June.

Since then a range of problems with the system have been raised with ACE.


It has now informed National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) and Independent Sector Support Organisations (IPSOs) that it is temporarily dropping some of the reporting requirements that are a condition of the combined £445m-a-year funding they receive.

As a result, box office data covering the 2023/24 period will not have to be submitted until July 2024, and the requirement to undertake audience surveys will be suspended until 1 April 2024.

Meanwhile, the requirement to submit events data for the first quarter of 2023/24 (April to June) to Illuminate by the end of September 2023 has been pushed back by three months to the end of December.

'Not fit for purpose'

One cultural leader, who wished to remain anonymous, told Arts Professional that Illuminate is "just not fit for purpose" adding that one particular issue - the absence of the ability to import data from existing systems - was "madness".

Kate Fitzgerald, who runs a consultancy firm helping cultural organisations to understand their data, says she has raised numerous issues with ACE that her clients have been faced with. Some of these have been addressed but many remain.

She cites errors and omissions on the survey template, questions not mapping against Census data, the administrative burden of collecting both ticketing and survey data, and increases to the required sample sizes for audience survey submissions as being among them.

"Organisations are bending over backwards in order to get them this data," she told Arts Professional. 

"It is a really big administrative burden for a lot of them because most organisations don't have a data manager. This just gets allocated to people with already stretched job descriptions.

"When they can't get the basics [of Illuminate] right it just doesn't inspire confidence.

"People are upset about it and they have grievances and complaints about it, but no one seems to be saying it publicly, and I think it's because everyone's scared of rocking the boat."

'Complex tool'

The contract for data insights work, which had previously been delivered by The Audience Agency, was put out for tender in April last year with ACE revealing in November that PwC had been selected for the three-year £1.6m contract.

At the time of the contract being awarded concerns were raised about the potential implications of the change for arts and culture organisations and whether the platform would be ready in time for launch on 1 April 2023.

A statement issued to Arts Professional from ACE said: "We’re developing a complex tool with huge potential for the sector, and we want it to be the best it can be. 

"We’ve listened to further feedback, and the updates we are making will improve user experience. 

"While we implement changes and NPOs and IPSOs adapt to data reporting requirements, we have extended the timeline for uploading some data to the platform. 

"Illuminate and all of its features will remain fully functional during this time, and we strongly encourage organisations to continue to make use of these."

Planned improvements

In an update on the situation sent out by ACE, obtained by Arts Professional, the funder said the fact that Illuminate does not offer an automated connection with a number of box office systems is "preventing some organisations from easily transferring data into the platform from their box office".

As a result, it is working with its supplier to develop an application that offers integration with a wide range of box office systems.

"We expect to have this [application] operating early in the new year," the update states.

"Before this is in place, we will not require you to input box office data to Illuminate."

ACE said sector organisations that use a box office system incompatible with the new application will be required to input their box office and ticketing data for the 2023/24 funding period into Illuminate by the end of July 2024.

ACE has also acknowledged that some organisations are "experiencing challenges surveying audiences and visitors". 

"To help with this, we will remove the requirement for NPOs and IPSOs to complete surveys for the 2023/24 funding year," the update states.

It adds that ACE plans to review the feedback received on the design of the survey and "where possible, address the issues that have been raised".

The requirement to undertake surveys will be reintroduced from 1 April 2024. ACE added that it is urging organisations already running surveys and loading the data to Illuminate, to keep doing so. 

"This data provides you with essential information on your own audiences and visitors and, as it is added to Illuminate, will become an increasingly valuable source of cross-sector insight," the update says.

Meanwhile, changes to the way events and activities are logged will be made. The requirement to submit events data for the first quarter of 2023/24 (April to June) to Illuminate by the end of September 2023 has been dropped.

ACE will now require first and second quarter activity data to be submitted to Illuminate by the end of December 2023. Beyond that, organisations will be required to have uploaded all 2023/24 activity data to Illuminate by the end of June 2024.

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