Chatbot As Assistant Grant Writer

When I first saw this piece on Arts Professional about data driven decision making, I thought maybe the author, Patrick Towell, was cribbing Drew McManus and Ceci Dadisman’s recent conference session on the same topic.

He even referenced the gut trusting HiPPOs (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion/in Office).

I might have only had myself to blame having brought attention to it with my inspiring post on the subject.

But Towell quickly moves away from that subject to address a pretty significant barrier to using data to drive decisions–people’s comfort levels accessing, interpreting and using the data.

Towell cites respondents to a survey of people working in cultural organizations in the UK:

Some of those respondents work in an organisational culture that doesn’t embrace the use of data: “Data gets bad PR. The greatest barrier to usage is lack of fluency and comfort with data as a medium to tell stories.” For others it was systems being difficult to access and join up: “We can’t effectively understand or engage with our audience without tools to collate, analyse and use our audience data.”

Despite this discomfort, many respondents were eager to use data to support their activities:

Interestingly, many did consider its use in artistic and cultural programming: “Data could be used to inform our programming schedule, driving more revenue.” Audience development was an area where people saw a clear benefit: “Our visitor and sales forecasting is based in fairyland – better datasets and data analysis could be more realistic.” People also thought they could better justify the use of public money through more defensible evidence.

What Towell says his company has done is started to prototype a chatbot that will “sit over your data” as a “kind of Alexa for cultural managers” and help a wider range of people in an organization feel comfortable accessing it. The example they use in the screenshot of the prototype queries the chatbot about how many new members visited shows in December.

If they can get this to work, it would be awesome. If you were able to feed budget numbers into it so just about anyone could ask about revenue and expenses for different combinations of projects, it would make completing grant reports so much easier. Especially if it potentially spread to onus of completing reports around the organization.

The biggest hurdle I see is that funding organizations have such diverse definitions and conditions associated with their reporting, programming a bot AI to keep it all straight might be cost prohibitive.

Still, it is a pretty intriguing idea. Some time in the last couple weeks I saw someone mention they were visiting the websites of arts and culture organizations to see how many used chatbots to facilitate the sale of tickets. (Things like, “when are Thursday performances of Hamlet in June and July?”). The value of chatbots for public facing interactions is rather obvious, but I suspect few people have considered their utility for internal information sharing.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts at Shawnee State University. Among the things I am proud to claim are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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