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Author Archive | Joe Patti

Improving Survey Results, But Not The Experience

Two days ago I wrote about how “experience” is increasingly valued by consumers over things like brand, product and opportunity.  Hopefully you noticed that I attributed my enjoyment largely to the service elements of the experience and not the available amenities.  That is an important distinction because that is often what really matters.

Back in 2015 The Atlantic wrote about how hospitals with high patient satisfaction scores had some of the worst mortality and reinfection rates in the country.  Tying reimbursement rates to patient satisfaction surveys has lead to a focus on patient comfort and demands to the detriment of their medical well-being.

Many hospitals seem to be highly focused on pixie-dusted sleight of hand because they believe they can trick patients into thinking they got better care. The emphasis on these trappings can ultimately cost hospitals money and patients their health, because the smoke and mirrors serve to distract from the real problem, which CMS does not address: Patient surveys won’t drastically and directly improve healthcare.

But research has shown that hiring more nurses, and treating them well, can accomplish just that. It turns out that nurses are the key to patient satisfaction after all—but not in the way that hospitals have interpreted.

 … And University of Pennsylvania professor Linda Aiken found that higher staffing of registered nurses has been linked to fewer patient deaths and improved quality of health…When hospitals improve nurse working conditions, rather than tricking patients into believing they’re getting better care, the quality of care really does get better.

Now obviously, people don’t usually die if they have a negative reaction to an arts experience. An arts and cultural organization rarely has a situation where there is as clear a distinction between what a customer wants and what they need as in a hospital.

One thing we can take from the article is that just as teaching to the test doesn’t necessarily result in higher quality graduates, adding glitz and glamour in order to improve survey results doesn’t guarantee people will really have a fulfilling experience.

The Atlantic article talked about how hospital administrators were concerned that patients gave the food low scores. They blamed the nurses for doing a bad job at making it sound appetizing rather than trying to improve the food. There are some pretty clear parallels between that and blaming the marketing department for failing to make a show sound appealing while neglecting to evaluate the programming choices.

To a degree, the need to focus on programming choices and training staff to offer a positive experience should be encouraging to non-profit arts organizations that don’t have the resources to offer a lot of fancy amenities. Notice that providing sufficient staffing was important. The resources to accomplish that can be a challenge for many.

I was fortunate to be at a table with the head of my state arts council yesterday to hear her say she wanted grant reports that were honest about what did and didn’t work rather than telling the arts council that everything was going great, just as they expected. There was a sense in her comments that the arts organizations in the state needed to be stretching themselves to try different things and figure out what did and didn’t work.

(She also allowed me to evangelize a little on Building Public Will For Arts and Culture!)

At the conversations I had at the event yesterday, I was happy to see that colleagues across the state had already begun to sense that the focus was shifting to providing creative experience without it necessarily being explicitly stated.

The one question from The Atlantic article I still haven’t quite resolved is whether audiences surveys really have a lot of value or not. You may not receive effusive responses if your efforts on focused on competence rather than spectacle. The results may be good, but not so enthusiastic that you can take pride in moving the average score significantly.

If people aren’t moved by a strong reaction, they may not complete a survey and you won’t be completely sure how you are doing. You also don’t want strong reactions driving your decisions so you are basically left with either begging people to complete surveys honestly or don’t conduct surveys and just blindly hope you are headed in the right direction.

My suspicion is that there are alternative methods to soliciting and collecting information that don’t involve surveys. My further suspicion is these methods require more effort and resources to employ effectively than do surveys.

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Now That I Hear You Say Aloud Like That…

There has been some trepidation among members of the Kentucky arts community following the governor’s recent dismissal and reconstitution of the state arts council. Gov. Bevin dismissed all but four of the council members, reduced the size of the council from 16 to 15 and accepted the resignation of the executive director according to a recent report.

The main cause of concern is the arts council’s newly stated focus,

In a news release, Secretary of the Cabinet of Tourism, Arts and Heritage Don Parkinson wrote: “The new arts council will focus on ensuring that Kentucky artisans have the skills and knowledge to develop and successfully sell their products.”


“The reorganized council strikes the appropriate balance of expertise in the arts and entrepreneurship,” he said. “The new arts council will focus on ensuring that Kentucky artisans have the skills and knowledge to develop and successfully sell their products.”

A more explicit entrepreneurial focus may seem innocuous …. But some worry the shift misconstrues an artist’s role in his or her community.


“Crafts, sculpture and paintings, for example — and Bevin simply plans to amplify that relatively narrow and crude approach to the arts,” Day says. “This assumes, with such deep misguidedness, that the primary value of the arts is the price they demand.”

This revisits a oft-discussed topic of this blog, what is the purpose and value of art?

Perhaps more immediately for me, I realized how the call for artists to be more entrepreneurial can very quickly be leveraged to the detriment of the arts and culture community.

When I have invoked “entrepreneurial” in the past it was with the intention that those in the arts community acquire the skills to manage their careers, not be cheated by others and make opportunities for themselves rather than wait for it to be provided by others.

In the context of this story, the same terminology almost sounds like, “helping artists make a constructive contribution to society.”

Certainly the execution doesn’t have to be that cynical. Arts Business incubators could be a boon for many communities provided they were sited in rural and other underserved areas employing a model similar to Kentucky’s Appalshop, rather just in places real estate developers wanted to gentrify.

It was instructive for me to have ideas and language I and others have used in relations to arts practice essentially repeated back to me. There is often a line that pops up in television and film comedies that goes something like “well now that I hear it said aloud like that, yes, I guess it is a little ridiculous.”

I am not saying the idea that people should acquire a set of entrepreneurial skills is silly. Rather, hearing the same terminology used in this case makes it clear that when efforts and initiatives for the arts are discussed, care must be taken to provide clear context and definition of the primary value that will result. Economic, intellectual, social, spiritual, etc. benefits may accrue, but the core creative expression has value independent, and regardless of, whether any of these benefits emerge.

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Who Cares About Losing & Freezing, I’m Having Fun

Last week Drew McManus posted about the difficulties sports teams are having filling their seats. The reasons for this problem are very similar to those faced by the arts –an approach that assumes a community owes us their attention and a focus on product, positioning and image over the customer’s experience.

Drew’s post actually helped me coalesce some thoughts I had when I was attending a football game at Notre Dame last month. At the time the team’s record was 4-7. The weather had gone from mid-60s the day before to 20s with snow the day of the game.

Despite this, the campus and the stadium were PACKED with people.

My first thought as I wandered around was that Notre Dame football had cachet that is independent of win-loss records and weather. I don’t know if this level of investment become entrenched early by movies like  Knute Rockne and Rudy or thanks to generations of Catholic priests making sly mention about the team needing their congregants’ prayers.

While these factors might be significant in generating loyalty and involvement, the school invested a lot of attention in the game attendance experience. Entering and leaving the parking lots was well organized and took a reasonable amount of time.  The line in the bookstore had AT LEAST 25 switchbacks before you got to the register but the line moved so quickly that you were rarely standing still and staff members were cheerleading and high-fiving people in line.  Entry into the stadium also went quickly.

If you got too cold you could take refuge in the athletic center next door and watch the game on large screen monitors.

The only sour note was the food service inside the stadium was abysmally organized and their money handling discipline raised grave concerns.

Well actually, the fact Notre Dame screwed up their three touchdown lead to lose the game was pretty disappointing as well.

I am going to remember the food service experience as the worst part because everything else, including the loss, was interesting and enjoyable. (As far as I am concerned, braving the frigid cold is as integral a part of the experience as tailgating.)

While my outlook is not necessarily shared by everyone, perhaps it is illustrative of the point Drew and those he cites are trying to make. You don’t have to necessarily have the highest quality, most glamorous product if you are providing an enjoyable experience in general.

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How Wound Into Your Identity Is Creativity?

My post on Monday about employing a new definition to distinguish between amateurs and professionals garnered a couple comments and multiple loooonnnng emails (you know who you are!) in response.

At the core of these responses, including the original piece I was blogging on, were questions of how one views themselves, upon what criteria are these determinations being made and whether there is any validity for these criteria and terms in the first place.

The influence of psychological, developmental, sociological, scientific and philosophical forces were mentioned in these conversations. They are all so tightly entwined with each other I don’t know that any satisfying conclusion can be reached…or at least this week.

But this idea of how people in general perceive art as part of their identity is compelling to me. It is one of the reasons I am so interested in the effort to build public will for art and culture. The effort is all about asking people to examine to what degree creative expression comprises their identity.

I also frequently cite Jamie Bennett’s TEDx Talk observation that people are more easily able to see themselves on a continuum with sports figures than to identify themselves as an artist.

This is even a bigger issue than whether people are labeled amateurs or professionals. If people who are spending time after work and on weekends engaged in some creative activity don’t consider themselves artists for some reason, that has to be addressed before even getting to the questions about whether they are a professional or amateur.

If you played baseball or went flyfishing in high school but haven’t in 10 years, are you still a baseball player or fisher today?  If you were part of the drama club, art club, choir or band in high school but haven’t done any of those things in 10 years, are you still an artist today?

Outside of picking up your instrument, I would argue it is more likely that you effortlessly employed dramatic, singing and visual arts ability during a conversation, marketing presentation or staff meeting in that 10 year interval and have in fact exercised those skills and done so more easily than you could baseball and flyfishing.

If creative expression is this deeply ingrained into your existence, wouldn’t it be more accurate to say you are an artist before an athlete?

Of course, this gets us right back to questions of value. How how much attention and worth society places upon these skills. How much we value them in ourselves.

These questions of identity and creativity almost certainly don’t apply to readers of this blog who are likely to already have some sense of the answer. The answer to the title of this blog post is we need to tease out of others.

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