The Arts Council’s Stakeholder focus research helps us to understand our reputation and performance. We use the research to understand where the arts and cultural sector feel we are doing well, and where we need to improve. The research also explores public opinion about public funding of arts and culture and of the importance of arts and culture in people’s lives.

The research has been running annually since 2009. The 2014 publication, is based on research conducted in September and October 2013 and the full 2014 report is now available, alongside a response from our Chief Executive, Alan Davey.

The official statistics release for the 2014 report can be downloaded here, and the pre-release list of Arts Council staff with 24-hour pre-release access to the statistics can be accessed here

About the research

The fieldwork for the 2013 research took place between 12 September and 18 October 2013 and was run by an independent research agency, DHA Communications in conjunction with ICM Research, building on the 2012 and 2011 waves of the research which they also undertook for us. These three waves of research build on a first phase undertaken in 2009 by Ipsos MORI.

Three key groups take part in the research:

  • The arts and cultural sector and key partners. These individuals and organisations either receive funding or are key partners and collaborators in delivering our mission. They include: organisations that receive regular funding, Grants for the arts recipients, individual artists, senior central government and local authority staff who are involved in the arts and culture, and a range of national and regional agencies such as unions, trade associations, and development agencies.
  • Key opinion formers who play an important role in shaping policy or government funding decisions about the arts. This group includes: political audiences such as MPs, peers, think tanks and lobby groups, and leading and high-profile artists and arts professionals who receive either public funding or are commercial.
  • The public. Includes people that either currently attend arts events or participate, or people who may not be actively engaged with the arts but have an interest as tax payers and potential beneficiaries.

Organisations of all sizes and from all geographical regions are represented in the research. Members of the public who are surveyed are a representative sample of the English adult population.

Headline findings from the 2014 report, and since 2009

Key findings from the 2013 research and since 2009 are summarised below:

  • Increased public support for public and lottery investment in arts and culture. The general public are asked to what extent they support or oppose public funding drawn from taxation being used for public funding of arts and culture. In 2013, 56% claimed to support public funding, a significant increase from 49% in 2012 and 44% in 2011. Support for public funding was 52% in 2009, so the overall trend has been a dip in support in 2011 during the height of debates about austerity and public spending, but an increase since then, most sharply in 2013.
  • Widening participation in arts and culture seen as most important by both public and stakeholders. The public were asked what they believe public funding of arts and culture should achieve. The three most popularly selected aims across surveys in 2012 and 2013 were: ‘giving every child the opportunity to access arts and culture and artistic and cultural experiences’, ‘enabling access to arts and culture for people who would not normally have the opportunity’ and ‘encouraging more ordinary people to engage with arts and culture’.
  • Recognition and prioritisation of our advocacy role. Among arts and cultural stakeholders who felt that the Arts Council had got better at achieving its aims in the previous 12 months, 68% said they felt this way because the Arts Council has made a good case for continued public investment in the arts and culture (a significant increase from 50% in 2012). When asked what the most important things are for the Arts Council to continue doing over the next 12 months, the most popular option among arts and culture stakeholders is ‘making the case for investment in the arts and culture’.
  • Consistency in overall regard for the Arts Council and consistency in perceptions of our effectiveness. Arts and cultural stakeholders are asked about their overall impressions and levels of regard for the Arts Council, and whether they feel the Arts Council has got more or less effective in the previous 12 months in achieving its mission. In 2013, 76% of arts and cultural stakeholders have a favourable regard for the Arts Council, consistent with 73% in 2012 (the change between 2012 and 2013 is not statistically significant). The largest proportion of stakeholders in 2013 (43%) feel that the Arts Council’s effectiveness at achieving its mission has stayed the same over the previous year.
  • Concern about continuity and consistency of relationships with Arts Council England staff and our future capacity to deliver. During the depth interviews, representatives from funded organisations expressed concerns about a loss of continuity and consistency in contact with Relationship Managers and other Arts Council staff, feeling these to be vital. These concerns are backed-up by findings from the stakeholder survey: fewer stakeholders in 2013 compared to 2012 feel that the new organisation structure has improved communication with the Arts Council. Also, among those who felt that their relationship with the Arts Council had got worse over the previous 12 months, 48% said it had done so because of a lack of continuity of contact at the Arts Council (an increase from 30% in 2012). When asked what the Arts Council needs to change over the next 12 months to improve its service to their organisation, the most popular suggestion was better and clearer personal contact with Arts Council staff. The importance of such contact is reflected in stakeholders’ response to which channels of communication they find to be useful for meeting their organisation’s needs: 76% rate their contact with their relationship manager as useful (rated above any other means of communication), rising to 91% among NPOs. Opinion-formers in the depth interviews expressed concerns about the future capacity of the Arts Council with diminishing numbers of employees to achieve all of its objectives, particularly its capacity to broker effective strategic partnerships and to work with partners in local government. 
  • Local authority stakeholders are also the most likely to perceive that the Arts Council has got worse in its effectiveness to achieve its mission over the previous 12 months (40% believe the Arts Council has got worse at achieving its mission, compared to a stakeholder average of 24%). 

Using the research

Stakeholder focus research is an important tool for helping the Arts Council improve its relationships with stakeholders. Since the first wave of research was carried out in 2009, staff across the organisation have been examining the findings in detail and responding to key feedback, which are summarised in Alan Davey's annual response to the research. The Arts Council is committed to using the research as a basis for creating a better dialogue with stakeholders to measure any changes in opinions and to track the Arts Council's progress.

Plans for future Stakeholder focus research

Stakeholder focus research will continue to be undertaken in 2014-15. After a review of the strength and weaknesses of the research methodology, future research will consist of:

  • A survey of the arts and cultural sector and key partners every 2 years, the next one to be carried out in April 2015.
  • Qualitative research in non-survey years with key opinion formers and to follow-on from findings found through the survey. We will be conducting a round of qualitative research in Spring 2014 to follow-on from the 2013 research, and will focus on topics such as our relationships with local government.
  • Further public polling work, so we can continue to understand the public perception of arts and culture.

We will again be working with independent researchers from DHA Communications and ICM Research, and also with ComRes.


If you have any questions about our Stakeholder focus research contact Jonathon Blackburn, Senior Officer, Policy and Research, Arts Council England, via email or on 0161 934 4364.