The ‘Prosper’ programme – researching business support for cultural and creative organisations

The ‘Prosper’ programme – researching business support for cultural and creative organisations

Funder

Arts Council England, Access – The Foundation for Social Investment, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Creative Scotland, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Project Summary

The 18 month Prosper programme launched in December 2016 with the aim of strengthening the resilience and investment readiness of arts organisations, museums and libraries in England. The Centre for Business in Society at Coventry University led on the research and evaluation component of Prosper, with the business support programme delivered by Creative United and the Arts Marketing Association.

Previous research had identified that existing business support programmes were perceived as a poor fit by cultural and creative organisations. Prosper provided one-to-one business advice, workshops, masterclasses, webinars and a free-to-access online business support resource to 70 arts organisations, museums and libraries. The model was based on a credit system whereby businesses could spend their allotted twelve credits (equivalent to 12 hours of support) on their chosen support activities, having been matched with a specialist Business Advisor. The CBiS team of Dr Kevin Broughton, Dr Victoria Barker and Dr David Jarvis was led by Professor Nick Henry and aimed to assess the performance of, learning from, the ‘Prosper’ programme.

Method

The research and evaluation involved a range of data collection, evaluation and knowledge exchange activities, including:

  • Review of Prosper project documentation (bid material, contract and developing a project logic model)
  • Literature Review of business support and the cultural and creative industries (England/Scotland)
  • Compendium of business support for creative and cultural industries in England and Scotland
  • Monitoring information on Prosper activities, deliverables and outputs.
  • Interviews with Prosper delivery team and stakeholders
  • Outcomes assessment based upon pre- and post- participant Diagnostic Tool data, outcomes reporting, exit surveys, and Case Studies with clients; and
  • Policy Review and Learning Workshops (London/Edinburgh).

Outcomes

Prosper was a successful national investment in business support to improve the resilience of the arts, museums and libraries. Prosper was over-subscribed, highly utilised, delivered high client satisfaction, achieved a range of business development outcomes and clients demonstrated organisational steps towards resilience.

Prosper demonstrated aspects of ‘what works’ and good practice in business support to the arts, museum and libraries sector, based upon the ‘managed brokerage’ of 1:1 business advice. Key to Prosper’s achievement of client satisfaction and outcomes was the active matching and relationship management of a network of sector specialist advisors with clients, as part of a flexible support offer of a suite of activities (1:1, group, online).

Prosper confirmed Arts Council England’s evidence of national demand for tailored business support for cultural creative organisations. Applications for Prosper from across the sector exceeded places available several times over, with even greater registered interest expressed. Two thirds of applicants had not used business support in the previous two years.

Evidence from Prosper suggests gaps in, and under-utilisation of, business support provision to the cultural creative sector. Prosper outcomes included substantially increased knowledge about sources of business support by clients, but under-utilisation of online resources. On exiting Prosper, clients expressed the value of appropriate business support and a willingness to invest in future support. In contrast, the limited evidence available on unsuccessful applicants to Prosper suggested that, in the main, they had not gone on to access other provision.

The cultural creative sector continues to demonstrate an aversion to the ‘language of business support’, but not to its activities. Prosper demonstrated strong commitment to business development, enterprise and innovation that is driven and shaped by the histories, missions, value systems and ‘hybrid’ business models of the cultural creative sector. These drivers are only partially reflected by much of the language of ‘business support’, and even possibly discouraged by some language (such as ‘investment readiness’).

Recommendations for policymakers and funders

Invest in tailored business support to the cultural creative sector to access latent and expressed demand and for development of a culture of enterprise, innovation and sector resilience.

Future business support programmes should recognise the continued evidence base for the effectiveness of tailored business advice through sector-based advisors.

Continue to reflect the culture, values, organisational diversity and languages of the cultural creative sector to ensure the delivery of efficient and effective business support.

Download the Summary Report