As creative and communication designers, our purpose is to help organisations connect to audiences with impact, in the simplest yet most compelling way. Our process to do this starts with conversation, which inspire ideas and leads to outcomes. Outcomes should never come first. People before product.

On Thursday we attended two events in the cultural sector that focussed on this. The North East Culture Partnership (NECP), and VONNE (Voluntary Organisations’ Network North East) held events focussed on audience and community engagement and the importance of that for organisations.

The NECP is a unique organisation of its kind in England that brings together different groups to encourage integration and joined up thinking. For their event ‘Shifting the Power’ they brought together practitioners and organisations to present case studies of community engagement and impact, and also to provide a space for discussion on what is still to be done.

We heard from East Durham Creates, Unfolding Theatre, Streetwise Opera, Cultural Spring, Equal Arts, Museums Northumberland BAIT, Seven Stories and My Cloud Coach. They spoke passionately about their work and the positive impact within communities.

Presentation by Streetwise Opera

The common themes in each talk were:

  • Co-creation. This breaks barriers and give ownership. Share fear and courage. Be open, conversational, and willing to take calculated risks.
  • Focus on the long term. Solid foundations with an aim to leave legacy, thinking about how you can create a spring board for wider activity.
  • Embrace conversation. This positively impacts identity, perceptions, expression, and wellbeing.
  • People before product. Always.
  • Remove personal bias. Embrace diverse ideas, and listen to different views and opinions.
  • Expect the unexpected. Share the journey as a group.
  • Conversation first. Outputs and outcomes should be driven by process.

Presentation with the slide reading 'Surged with emotion all the way through. Totally uplifted. I even got my guitar out after.' Audience member

At Sail our focus is audiences, and the joint journey that brings. We go where the project takes us, recognising the value of the unexpected. Sometimes we push back and positively challenge the brief for the benefit of your organisation and for better solutions. This means our ideas are rooted in integrity, meaning and relevance.

If you want mediocre over impact, then focus on outcomes and tangible elements; if you want extraordinary results and audience connection-have an open mind and trust the process (and the creatives doing the work-you are striving for the same thing).

First image - Creative workshop with young carers. Everyone sat around a large table sharing ideas on paper and laptops. Second image - Older lady looking at photographs with Danni.

It’s important to ask the right questions to start meaningful conversations with audiences. Co-Creation is the future of ‘brand’ in the cultural sector. People want to be a part of something. As practitioners and community members, we must also vow to be representative, and have equality at events, people from within practice AND the community; and always ask how we keep pushing to create that bridge.


Questions we need to continually ask ourselves, in order to be better:

• What is culture and who is it for?

• How do we become a constant in communities?

• How do we encourage others to expect the unexpected?


Last thoughts – human connection brings impact. This requires time. And trust. And brands, more than ever, have to be human. There is too much noise out there.