We love research – a lot. We love the way it creates clarity from chaos, the risks it removes from decision-making, and the creative pathways it unlocks. It’s the starting point for our brand development process, and something our entire team takes seriously.

So imagine our excitement when we were approached earlier this year by Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA) to lead a community dialogue around the future of arts and culture on the island.

The time was ripe for this work. MICA had just assembled a new leadership team whose priority was to listen intently to what the community wanted and needed from the arts. It was important to include as many voices as possible in a way that encouraged candid and productive dialogue.

This is where we got creative in our approach – and it made all the difference. Instead of formal focus groups with two-way glass, we held laidback “input sessions” at the community center, where conversation flowed more organically. Instead of a traditional town hall, we organized two “community visioning sessions,” where 150+ residents of all backgrounds and perspectives gathered in small groups to share their diverse views. Finally, we tested everything we heard in these forums with an online survey sent to an even wider swath of residents. In total, we heard from 200 people in person and over 1,000 survey takers.

We went in without any expectations about outcomes … and were quickly blown away by the honesty, passion and enthusiasm from participants. We heard it all – support, opposition and ambivalence. We heard from all kinds of people – young and old, lifelong residents and newcomers, serious artists and casual appreciators. There were poignant stories about the personal significance of arts and culture, and a revelation of deeper needs – like the desire for a vibrant town center and improving quality of life for future generations. Our work helped identify and prioritize a myriad of opportunities, and the MICA team is more energized than ever about making this center a reality –all with overwhelming support from the community.

 

In reflecting on this project, I’m reminded of how I sometimes hear people questioning the value of research – that it’s too expensive or time-consuming. But if your intent is to truly listen with an open heart and mind, and to let your audience unfold your story on their terms, then the value of research becomes immeasurable. We may uncover hidden truths that enhance what you’re already doing. Or we may stumble on something serendipitous that changes the trajectory of your business forever. Wouldn’t it be worth taking the journey to find out? If our experience with MICA is any indication, I’m convinced more than ever that it is.

Watch our brand strategists Ann Janikowski and Kevin Patnik talk with MICA about our approach.

To learn more about our research and strategy practice, please contact Ann Janikowski, ann@pbdh.com