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Qualia project - R & D Fund for the Arts

Project Leads: Dr Eric Jensen (University of Warwick) and Professor Mike Phillips (i-DAT, University of Plymouth)

Research Partner: University of Warwick (Principal Investigator: Dr Eric Jensen,

Technology Provider: iDat at Plymouth, with support from Facebook
Arts institution: Cheltenham Festivals (provided sites for early testing and development with live audiences)
Funding Body: NESTA, Arts Council and Arts & Humanities Research Council, under the auspices of the Digital R & D Fund for the Arts (which has provided approximately £125,000 funding for the project)

Project Description (also see:

Qualia is an ambitious project developing a digital technology evaluation, feedback and market research product for the arts and culture sector to enhance public engagement. The project involves developing and critically evaluating the utility and validity of a new automated impact evaluation system using electronic (e.g. social media and survey response) data to help cultural institutions to assess their impacts / audience responses in real time, as well as to track audience responses/impacts over time. This system enables live evaluation and the measurement of impact at cultural events. The real-time system captures and displays through dynamic interactive visualisations a responsive model of how audiences feel. It uses a specially developed sentiment analysis tool to automatically analyse social media data. Qualia extends contemporary audience evaluation and tracking software by incorporating techniques to harvest, analyse and visualise more emotive/qualitative data. Qualia incorporates sentiment analysis, social network feeds and SMS interactions, as well as onsite interactive installations. It also engages with a growing call for greater use of mobile technologies in cultural institutions.

The project has created a product that employs a more valid, robust and impact-centred version of sentiment analysis than is currently available through commercial providers. The system was developed over the course of 2013 and pilot tested using the different Cheltenham Festivals (Jazz, Science and Literature). Throughout the project, the Qualia-generated results have been refined and tested using conventional social scientific evaluation methods at the festivals. The sentiment analysis in particular is being subjected to rigorous scrutiny and development through testing against human coders. The research outcomes provide a comparison of the relative contribution of the automated / technology-enhanced versus conventional methods to developing useful and valid evaluation and market research evidence.

The Qualia Evaluation System, including Mobile Phone App and Web Engine

The Qualia System consists of three linked elements: Qualia App, Qualia Probe and the Qualia Web-Engine.

  1. The Android/iOS mobile phone apps provide visitors with an intimate window on the Qualia System through a unique user account. This enables feedback, event information and GPS tracking of visitors to monitor hotspots flow and enable responsive targeting to clusters of users, integration with social media accounts and other plug-ins. The apps are built using open source software, so they can be easily customised for other arts and culture organisations to have a high quality app with integrated evaluation and market research that looks as if it was developed specifically for a given organisation.
  2. The Qualia Probes are sensing ‘pods’ placed strategically around the event site, providing a focus for public interaction, feedback and information through dynamic visualisations. They also capture real-time information adding another layer of mood sensing through automated smile detection. The Probes are fitted with a large screen and can act as Wi-Fi hotspots, charge points and ticket scanners.
  3. The Qualia Web-Engine manages and synchronises the interactions between all of the above processes. The server side system provides an administrative backend to the website, apps and probes and an analytics tool which looks for patterns and behaviours in the data collected. It handles: user accounts; data scraping from APIs, including Facebook, Twitter and Google Maps (for tracking image posting and messaging); Social networking and web analytics using enhanced sentiment analysis, smile detection feeds, etc, looking for patterns and behaviours; system administration.