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The Unusual Suspects

The Unusual Suspects has been one of a series of research and development projects around audience development.  This focussed on exploring ways of pooling and profiling data across NGCV organisations to better understand our audiences and to use these insights to then identify and re-engage people who may be lapsed or infrequent attenders. 

This research project has now finished and a final report is available to download highlighting our findings:  NGCV Unusual Suspects Final Report for NESTA (November 2015)

The findings have fed into the development of our current audience development collaboration, The Insider.


In April 2014, NewcastleGateshead Cultural Venues, research partner Morris Hargreaves McIntyre and technology partner Tariff Street, were awarded £184,325 funding from The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts for a 16 month research project focussed on developing audiences for arts and culture in the North East.

The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts is a £7 million fund which supports collaboration between arts projects, technology providers and researchers to explore the potential of increasing audience engagement or find new business models.  The Unusual Suspects was one of 12 projects in 2014-15 across the UK to be selected for funding and one of four that will examine the potential of big data (high volume, high velocity information).  The project was developed in response to an open call for big data proposals intended to explore how data might help the arts and culture sector to develop new business models.

The idea behind The Unusual Suspects was for more people to be given the opportunity to participate and attend arts and cultural venues. The consortium created a 'Data Commonwealth’ to test the most effective ways to re-engage with those who visit infrequently, encourage audiences to cross-over between venues and enable individuals to have a deeper level of  engagement. 

Audience data was cleaned and de-duplicated and audience members were invited to join a new, shared list (the Data Commonwealth - The Insider) to find out about the opportunities being offered by the cultural partners.  A series of campaigns were run using Morris Hargreave McIntyre's Culture Segments to find out whether audiences would respond to different types of approaches and offers to engage.  This approach sought to both re-engage audience members who may not have been particularly active, but also to encourage audience members who may enjoy one or more cultural forms, to try new things or different types of culture. 

This was a different approach to orthodox arts marketing, which tends to target more active attenders.  It was also unusual as it is a collaboration between a number of different arts and cultural organisations, which represent a wide range of cultural forms.  The project aimed to significantly increase the value derived from the venues' publicly-funded activities.

The project involved 9 NGCV organisations: BALTIC, Centre for Life, Dance City, Live Theatre, Northern Stage, Sage Gateshead, Seven Stories, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums and Tyneside Cinema.   Morris Hargreaves McIntyre led on the research and project management elements and Tarrif Street, our technological partner, developed the online platform for the Data Commonwealth.

Each project’s findings, research and progress were charted on Native, the Fund’s learning website, enabling other arts and cultural organisations to learn from the work the Fund is supporting.  An emphasis is placed on projects offering valuable learning and institutional knowledge transfer within the arts sector.

Our final report to the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts is available to download here

The work has been taken forward by NGCV as The Insider project, which builds on the findings from the Unusual Suspects and continues to develop.

Further Information

Our approach builds on research undertaken with the NGCV partnership since 2009 with Morris Hargreaves McIntyre (MHM), the Levels of Engagement Model and MHM's Culture Segments.

Ready to Engage (MHM 2010)

Culture Segments (MHM)

The Unusual Suspects research project ran from April 2014 until April 2015.

Final Report: The Unusual Suspects Project (November 2015)

About the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts

The Digital R&D fund for the Arts is a £7 million fund to support collaboration between organisations with arts projects, technology providers, and researchers. It is a partnership between Arts Council England, Arts and Humanities Research Council and Nesta.