Archaeology's Audiences. Magnus Copps & Dr Sara Perry on behalf of the Archaeology Audience Network

Who are archaeology’s audiences?

Dr Sara Perry and Magnus Copps

Resources and video recording (with subtitles) of Archaeology’s Audiences, the first public event of the Archaeology Audience Network (AAN), are now available online for viewing and download. Presented and facilitated by MOLA’s Dr Sara Perry, Director of Research & Engagement, and Magnus Copps, Head of Partnerships and Programming, the live Zoom event was attended by upwards of 160 people and played out in several parts, starting with an introduction to the Archaeology Audience Network’s aims & outputs, and definition of what we mean when using the term ‘audience data’, followed by a snapshot of the existing work that’s been done to date to understand and assess the impacts of archaeology on its various audiences. Sara then aimed to offer an early look into the efforts of the Network to compile, make comparable and scrutinise the typical categories of data that we are collecting about audiences in professional and community-based archaeological contexts. Spoiler alert – these are relatively narrow, focused primarily on basic demographic information, and usually oriented around evaluating the efficacy of events hosted for audiences as opposed to understanding the audiences themselves and the emotional, social, and environmental outcomes of their engagement with archaeology.

We moved from Sara’s formal presentation of this information (slides can be downloaded in PDF form or as PowerPoint slides) into a series of discussions hosted via the online notice board Padlet. Event attendees were linked to a series of questions to respond to in real time:

  • Why would/do you evaluate audiences?
  • What stops you from evaluating audiences?
  • What existing criteria, frameworks or benchmarks do you use to make your evaluation data comparable?
  • What specific outcomes (emotional, environmental, learning, social, economic) or permanent/temporary/situational audience needs data do you collect?
  • What skills do you feel you need to develop your capacity for audience evaluation?
  • What other questions do you wish we'd ask about audience data & evaluation?

The hundreds of responses returned in relation to these questions can be viewed on two separate Padlets – here and here.

Magnus then led us in a hands-on activity focused on designing activities for audiences with barriers to participation in mind. This was a four-part activity based on real-world professional sector constraints and client/funder requirements. It aimed to draw our attention to the consequences of developing archaeological engagement activities in the absence of a rigorous understanding of the benefits (and harms) of such activities on audiences, as well as to introduce tools and resources to help us identify audiences and support their needs from the earliest possible moment in the design of public events and programmes. This hands-on work was not recorded on Zoom in order to allow a more close and personal set of conversations to emerge amongst attendees/presenters. However, the resulting Padlets, which explore the audiences for a fictional case study - the ‘Tableford Community Archaeology Project’ – and delve into questions about where to look for data about people in the local area, possible barriers to participation for different audiences, and how to address those barriers in our designs, are available here and here. As Monique van dan Dries has said of the NEARCH survey of cross-European audiences of archaeology, there are “huge differences between gender groups, age groups and socio-professional groups. Things that work for one country or one target group (gender, age category, socio-professional category), may have no (or the opposite) effect on another. This implies that one needs tailor-made approaches.” The Tableford example that Magnus guided us through was meant to highlight both the need for such tailor-made approaches, and some of the means to facilitate them.

This event was the first of seven public sessions that the AAN will host over the course of the upcoming year, the next of which is scheduled for March 2022 and will be hosted by Wessex Archaeology. The themes and specific nature of these events have intentionally been left open to allow the Network to be responsive to our audiences’ needs, and to the findings that emerge as we drill down into the data and experiment with them via pilot projects.

To be kept abreast of future events, to contribute data to the Network, or to suggest themes and priorities for discussion, please join the AAN mailing list.

The AAN is funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and The National Lottery through The Heritage Fund’s Digital Skills for Heritage initiative.

The AAN is funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and The National Lottery through The Heritage Fund’s Digital Skills for Heritage initiative
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