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How to write a Digital Plan for Arts & Cultural organisations

If you work in the cultural sector you will be aware that Arts Council England is now strongly encouraging all organisations to make a digital plan (it’s an application requirement for band two and three organisations). This is a smart move, since although there’s a credible school of thought which argues that digital shouldn’t be hived off and treated as some special case, the reality is that as a sector, the arts is some way off digital being so integrated that it negates the need for a stand-alone plan.

As an audience development specialist working in the digital sector, I have developed numerous digital plans for arts and cultural organisations both large and small. It’s never easy but it’s always worthwhile because digital offers so many low cost and low risk opportunities for experimenting and playing with audience development and creative outputs.

As with your audience development plan, your digital plan needs to sit comfortably with your overall organisational aims, other aspects of the strategy, your structures and resources. It usually makes sense to integrate both plans into your overall strategic plan.

If you have anxiety about writing a digital plan, because of a lack of internal knowledge and resources, it can be a worthwhile investment to bring in an expert consultant who will be able to maximise the impact of the process while minimising the time and stress for the organisation. A good consultant will leave a legacy of internal development. I always include creative idea generation workshops and staff training as part of a strategy development project because I want the team to be able to implement the plan once I disappear into the sunset!

The Arts Council’s Digital Policy Guidelines has some good advice about how to approach a digital plan, and make a good starting point for organisations going it alone. I would also suggest setting time aside to consider the following pointers:

  • Pinpoint the challenges facing your current organisation and consider how digital might help mitigate some of those challenges.
  • Identify the areas where you feel your organisation is currently weakest: that might be digital marketing, or a good CRM, or using Google Analytics effectively. Prioritise this list. Yes it would be great to do everything but you have to be realistic, so your plan needs to tackle things step by step.
  • Identify what is stopping you tackling those weaknesses tomorrow: is it due to lack of skills? Lack of resource? No idea of what tools might be able to help you achieve a particular aim? In each case, you need to figure out how to remove the challenge. Need to up-skill? Make training a priority. Limited resource? Consider how others within the organisation (or external resource) may be able to help you. And so on. Apply ruthless common sense to this process.

If it all feels too much however, don’t be afraid to seek help: there are lots of useful free resources online (for example, CultureHive) and I am always happy to offer a free initial consultation and quotation for taking on the task. Indigo’s relationship with National Glass Centre began with the development of a Digital Strategy. Strategic digital planning has also been central to wider projects with Northumberland National Park, Middlesbrough Council, Mslexia, and Live Theatre among others.

In short, take heart! In terms of the opportunities digital technologies afford, we’ve never lived in more interesting times. Digital transformation won’t happen overnight but small, significant steps will set you on the right path.

You can find the Arts Council England digital plan guidelines here (opens a pdf).

Caroline Greener

Marketing and Social Media Specialist

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