1.3. For Archives, challenging a status quo

Many culture makers have embraced the theme of Audience Development (AD); we all want audiences, preferably large and enthusiastic ones. How do we measure our efforts? Here, the key terms are: cultural impact; immaterial indicators; shared knowledge; shared practice; people to people; citizen/visitor. Actually, what are the needs for the archives and the possible impact of their policies? What can public authorities, patrons, friends, sponsors and policymakers gain from a mapping of the Audience Engagement territory? Here, the key terms are: creating conditions; making demands; challenging tradition.

Every possible approach to Audience Development is to be clear about who we are, what makes us special and for who we want to make a difference. Then you need to balance priorities. What do you want to do to improve your audience? Then you have to identify the segments of audience you are willing to reach. This can be a very hard challenge. You should ask to yourself if you are able to do it by yourself. If your staff has all the necessary skills and knowledge and if there is any competence that you can grab from outside the organisation. At the end you should ask yourself: what impact will this have on my organisation on the short/medium/long term? Can I afford it?

To an audience-centric approach you should create a kind of awareness about the AD concept among the different cultural sectors and stakeholders. AD interpretation varies significantly from a sectoral, geographical and institutional point of view and it is often polarised. It is important that your team understand that AD is a long-term process that involves the whole organisation and is about positioning the different kinds of audiences in a strategic perspective. This awareness should be focus on the importance of adopting an evidence-based approach to measure advancements in the area of AD, you would be real and concrete during the process of analysis and realization.

 The main participation performance indicators are both, quantitative and qualitative. An AD for archives should be full of awareness about the hard task to implement new and creative ways to bring public into a world made by shelves, tomes and, usually, dust. In your AD for archives project you should reinforce the links with the education area. Also you should promote an integration between the cultural sector and schooling system. The art and education sector could be considered as a positive environment where to experiment innovative strategies. Cultural organisations need to empower themselves through the revision of competences and skills that are required to design and implement new AD tools.

It’s important to focus the activities about these points:

-  Promote the importance of stimulating new models of active participation.

-  Enable conditions to secure and uphold long-lasting projects.

-  Make AD processes fully effective, this requires perspective, devotion, continuity, medium long term sedimentation of internal skills and financial coverage.

-  Create the conditions to guarantee continuity and secure these processes.

It’s important to establish clear and realistic guidelines that helps archivists and archival directors at cultural institutions to adapt their programmes and objectives to a more audience-centric perspective.

It’s necessary to give priority to the cultural venues and initiatives that mix audiences, bringing different ethnic, age and social groups together for common experiences. A storytelling approach to the document could be one of the easier solutions for this goal. The enterprise of new types of cultural experiences is a strong motivation for Audience Development, especially in a not-common place like an archive. The cultural institutions and their venues needs to be designed for “new” audiences, indeed they should reflect the actual environment and complexity of their societies.

There isn't a common and unique guideline to AD, indeed each organisation must first be fully aware of what role audiences have in the organisation. Of course archival organisation should to deal with a different way of pointing out its own values. Nobody can tell to the organisations how and what to do, it’s fundamental finding an appropriate balance between audience and cultural/research objectives.

During the last decade were developed a lots of functional toolkits for Audience Development. These toolkits are meant to inspire sustainable ways to become audience-centred. A good example of these could be find at, some others are focused on skills, implementation and results.

The Audience Development is an organisational challenge, not an individual one. The challenges are interlinked and might be faced at different moments, but all are fundamental. In real life the AD isn’t a linear process. These are not gradual steps to engage audiences.