During the course of the project, which ran from February 2014 to January 2015, the research team, led by Dr Ben Walmsley, made some interesting discoveries regarding the benefits and challenges of digital audience engagement. For example, there was consensus from the artists and participants that Respond encouraged a more “considered”, “deep”, “honest”, “structured”, “succinct” and “mindful” critical response than a verbal, face-to-face exchange.

One participant felt she had “done a lot of the thinking” during the artistic development weeks, so she imagined that seeing the performance would give her “a really rich experience” as opposed to “seeing it cold”. She felt she would enjoy a “more embodied experience” and that it would be “less hard work”. This confirmed emerging findings elsewhere that digital engagement with audiences in advance of live performances can make cultural sense-making cognitively easier and enable deeper, more emotional interpretations.

Other findings included the potential of responsive digital platforms to break down barriers to attendance for non-attenders and to increase loyalty and empathy between audience and artists. The key challenges determined by the research included how to maximise participants’ dwell time on a digital platform and how to maintain interactivity and momentum over a sustained period of artistic development.

Respond was supported by the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts. This fund was designed to support collaboration between organisations with arts projects, technology providers, and researchers who want to use digital technology to enhance audience reach and/or develop new business models for the arts sector.