Experimenting with the Digital Lab

Flat lay of white headphones, computer keyboard, mouse and note pad on a pink background

The Digital Lab is an initiative from the Arts Marketing Association and takes the form of an 8-month programme. People and organisations across England are invited to take part and we were incredibly excited to find out that our application was successful! It was quite nerve-wracking to start working on our digital experiments, but the AMA provided each fellow with a series of online training sessions as well as allocating us all with a mentor. Our mentor, Seb Chan, offered us lots of support during the Digital Lab (and even finished our final session by sending us photos of his two kittens!)

On April 2nd 2019, all of the participants of this year’s Digital Lab took part in an online graduation. It was a great chance to reflect on and celebrate the work completed over the previous 8 months, and also to share any learning. We wanted to write this blog to continue reflecting on our two experiments; the Instazine and the Ideas Test podcast.

A flowchart explaining the process behind the Digital Lab
The Digital Lab (in a nutshell)

To start with it felt quite strange taking a scientific approach to creativity. We’re used to analysing data and learning from the way our projects progress, but writing hypotheses and developing methodologies felt eerily similar to GCSE Science lessons! It actually turned out to be really helpful to have this scientific structure to work from, as it allowed us to track how much our experiments changed from our initial ideas. Spoiler alert – both ideas changed quite a bit!

The Ideas Test Podcast

Kyra says: My original Digital Lab experiment was a series of videos interviewing artists we work with. Ideas Test covers Swale and Medway which are both large areas, so I thought this would be a great way to interact with what we do but from the comfort of their internet. However after the AMA session on podcasts I realised that it would mean I only needed to have good quality sound. I already have experience of sound recording and editing so it would be using skills I already have. Our mentor, Seb Chan, suggested to try anchor.fm, a free podcast platform that is also a recording app. Also the podcast session with Hannah Hethmon (who is the creator of Museums In Strange Places podcast) was so in depth and informative that it answered pretty much most of the questions I had.

The first podcast would be a test on how to record, edit, and upload. I wanted to get the logistics in place before I regularly scheduled episodes. My first thought was to do an intro to the Ideas Test team, but schedules and illness prevented this. Luckily our Swale’s Big Music Takeover workshop, Audiocamps, had a radio show session during the February half term. Over three days I recorded a tour of BBC Radio Kent, BBC South East, the creation of jingles and adverts, and the recording of the show itself. It seemed daunting to edit this all down but I actually found it quite easy as I already planned how the show was going to flow beforehand. From the three days I created a podcast with a running time of just under 30 minutes.

As this first podcast was a way of capturing what went on during the Audiocamps workshop, but also a way of testing the methods of creating and uploading the audio, I am keen for there to be more before the team make a decision on whether to continue the podcast. I am keen to do an interview as the next episode, and I know some of our team already have their own ideas. Overall I really got so much out of the whole Digital Lab programme. My confidence in doing small experiments to change how Ideas Test gets our message out has grown. Also I am more able to look at things that didn’t go so well not as failures but as things to learn from, and that being perfect is sometimes a block to being authentic.

You can listen the Ideas Test Podcast on Spotify and Google Podcasts.

The Instazine

Jade says: This experiment started with the idea of creating content specifically for Instagram. It’s a creative platform and allows for a lot of interaction. My hypothesis was to test whether increased engagement on Instagram would translate to increased attendance at Ideas Test’s projects and events. To start with, I imagined that the content would be made for Instagram stories but it quickly became apparent that this would not be the most useful idea. Shifting to create a mini monthly Instagram magazine was a pivotal step in the experiment. Researching other instazines gave me a good idea of the type of style and format that worked well, and by December 2018 I was ready to test a pilot version of the Ideas Test Instazine. It can be quite difficult to know how to measure the success of a digital experiment, something I definitely struggled with. We often run multiple projects and events simultaneously which meant it was important to me that the Instazine was actually beneficial to our audience, if I was spending time working on it each month. Our mentor agreed that output is important; it needs to work well if it is to be continued, but he also explained that with digital experiments, it can sometimes be just as important to learn from the process. The entire Digital Lab has been a learning curve and reinforced just how creative we can be with digital avenues. If you are interested in a more detailed analysis of this experiment, you can read the Experiment Evaluation by clicking here.

To see any of the Ideas Test Instazines, visit our Instagram @ideas.test or search #IdeasTestInstazine

There were a number of reasons that we wanted to take part in the Digital Lab. Ideas Test works across Swale and Medway, so we wanted to improve our digital marketing to help us reach audiences who might be a little more isolated geographically. Digital content can also help us to share all the wonderful stories we hear from people taking part in our projects and hopefully encourage new people in the local community to discover what we do. There’s also an incredibly vibrant creative scene in Swale and Medway, so we wanted to be able to highlight the great work on offer from artists and organisations in the area.

What we hoped to achieve: reach more audiences, extend our networks and help showcase the creative scene

Overall, it’s been wonderful to be part of the 2018/19 Digital Lab cohort – thanks to AMA for the opportunity! To find out more about the Digital Lab or the Arts Marketing Association, you can visit their website at www.a-m-a.co.uk.