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Top tips on commissioning digital projects

Arts organisations have the potential to create impactful and delightful digital projects, but getting agencies to deliver them can be a new – and even confusing - process. In the last of our Building digital capacity for the arts workshops, commissioning experts Justin Spooner and David Rogerson provided step-by-step guides to getting the results you want (available to download at the bottom of this post).

Here are some of their top tips from the day:

Keep in the loop
Keeping an eye on what’s going on in the technology world will give you a head-start when embarking on a digital project. Read digital blogs, attend free networking events and find out which agencies worked on the projects you like.

Get help from outside
We can all get bogged down with worrying about what our organisation wants out of a project, but running your ideas by people on the outside can help you understand how to make it more useful and relevant.

Think about the user
Don’t make assumptions about what your users want and how they will use it: undertake or consult user research. The ideal digital project will be both useful and delightful for your user.

Be open about your budget
Good agencies don’t want to rip you off. It is important to give agencies you are commissioning some idea of your available budget so they can draw up relevant proposals.

Make sure you understand what’s being proposed
Do you have the right expertise to evaluate an agency’s proposal? If you don’t, and you don’t have the budget to bring an expert in, make this clear to the agency pitching and get them to focus on proposing outcomes that you can understand.

Let them know what you’re looking for
Being open about how you will evaluate a pitch will help your agency frame their proposal to produce a better response.

Content is king
Content is often overlooked in the commissioning process but will be the main focus of a completed digital project. Work your content into your strategy from the very beginning of your project.

Be nosey
Going into an agency’s office for a pitch can give you a better understanding of how they work. And you get to have a good poke around!


Download step-by-step guides from the digital commissioning workshop


This pack identifies the critical stages in a digital commissioning process. It offers a series of questions and challenges for each step of the process, and finishes with a one-page overview.

This pack offers six processes to help develop and test the substance of your idea so it is ready to be put into a brief.

This pack lists the key components of a digital brief, with some questions and prompts to get you started. It also includes a template to help think through your project, identify information for your brief and provide a framework to develop your idea.

Imperial War Museum increases interaction between visitors and exhibits with Digital R&D funding

Imperial War Museums received Digital R&D pilot project funding todevelop a system to encourage the interpretation, discussion and sharing of exhibition objects with (and between) visitors. The data-driven project is the result of a collaboration between the museum and Gooi, Exeter University, Salford University and MTM London. It involves various in-gallery, online and mobile applications that allow people to further engage with museum collections through digital interaction.

Interactive screens next to exhibits give visitors the opportunity to post comments, while QR codes offer access to more information through mobile phones.

You can find out more about the project and its outcomes in the video below:

Claire Ross of University College London explained: ‘it’s not just about the museum broadcasting out, it’s about having a discussion, and that’s what we were trying to do with the mobile aspect.’

The £7 million Digital R&D fund for the arts is a partnership between Arts Council England, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Nesta. Find out how to


Making short videos for the web

BBC Academy’s Mark Batey and Colin Savage led a workshop that looked at the considerations and processes involved in creating short videos. 

Short video making resources

A presentation by Mark Batey on making short videos highlights the key points to consider and suggests video production equipment, while Colin Savage deconstructs a film in this video, offering further insight into video production.

Planning and producing a short video

Key points to consider when producing a short video include considering what the main question is you’re looking to answer and ensuring the most intriguing elements of a video are featured early to capture the audience. This will help you construct what shots you need to film and how to structure them in the edit.

The value and importance of planning is another vital aspect of producing a video. Each shot should lead viewers along with the story and ‘continually ask the viewer questions’ to keep them watching.

A combination of presenter led sections, voiceovers and interviews adds depth and contrast to films to make them as engaging as possible. All these aspects need to be scripted and set-out in detail before going out on location to film.

Filming a ‘headshot’ interview and sequences

Key considerations for filming interviews are: lighting, sound, position of the interviewee on screen (eye-line and ‘looking room’), background and focus. More details and guidance on filming interviews can be found on the BBC Academy's College of Production website.

Close-up shots, mid-shots and wide shots are used to form video sequences that combine to give depth, variety and interest. The BBC Academy's College of Journalism website has further information.

Other helpful tips include using on-screen graphics and photographic stills as alternative media to incorporate into videos, whilst always bearing in mind the length of the video and the intended audience.


Watch our video on Digital R&D pilot project ‘Happenstance’ to see how technologists can change how artists and arts organisations work

Interested in how a creative technology specialist can work with and enhance your arts project? Then watch our latest video on Digital R&D pilot project, ‘Happenstance’, which set up three technologist ‘residencies’ at venues Site Gallery, Lighthouse and Spike Island. The technologists worked closely with the venues, developing projects and solutions, and sharing skills.

Watch the video below to find out more:

Leila Johnston, a participating technologist, says of her experience: ‘…there are really productive ways for technologists and artists to work together and there are huge overlaps in the way that we work and the things we’re interested in.’

The £7 million Digital R&D Fund for the Arts is a partnership between Arts Council England, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Nesta. Find out how to apply:


Watch our latest Digital R&D video on pilot project ‘Culture Cloud’ and audience-led exhibition curation

New Art Exchange and Artfinder, in collaboration with Birmingham University, were funded through our 2011 Digital R&D pilot programme to experiment with new business and exhibition models using digital tools.

They created ‘Culture Cloud’, an online hub which allowed artists to upload their artwork and share it with galleries and members of the public. The public were then allowed to vote for their favourite artworks to appear in a physical exhibition at New Art Exchange.

You can find out more about the project and its outcomes in the video below:


Skinder Hundal, Chief Executive, New Art Exchange, says of the resulting exhibition: ‘I’ve never seen the space the way it is, it’s a crazy mix of narratives, different perspectives, different cultures, different dimensions and mediums of art…’

The £7 million Digital R&D Fund for the Arts is a partnership between Arts Council England, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Nesta. Find out how to apply: