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When Information Becomes Power

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the intersection of research and planning.  How do research and planning work align?  When does too much research become “information overload?”  What makes research “actionable?”  Recent work speaking directly with community groups, funders and arts administrators here in the Bay Area has been an eye-opening experience for me in terms of illustrating the power of qualitative data-gathering and its impact on strategic thinking for organizations and individual artists.  As part of a larger study of donor motivations for The San Francisco Foundation and the East Bay Community Foundation that we are doing in partnership with Helicon Collaborative, Fund For Artists grantees conducted participatory interviews with donors to arts projects.  In addition to gathering data, the exercise helped artists and arts managers learn how to talk to donors about their underlying values and motivations.  Sure, the exercise served a research purpose.  But it also helped to develop a new skill set that will pay dividends long into the future.  Similarly, in our current work with World Arts West, the presenter of the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, a series of meetings with representatives of different ethnic dance communities generated a good deal of insight into their challenges and aspirations, but also opened a door to building stronger community ties.  These two examples have shown me how powerful information and, more importantly, the act of gathering that information, can be to creating new relationships and exposing strategic opportunities.


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