Circulate’s Festival Sense Making

It was clear from evidence gathered at Unlock Cambridge that the ‘Ducked off’ game worked well to engage people from Cambridge. The group discussed the evidence and decided that it engaged people from Cambridge (who were the target audience) because it tapped into a real issue that local people feel passionate about. As one Circulate member said:

“People like having the right to get angry in a safe space and you gave them that.”


Circulate members gathered at Nottingham Contemporary in February 2016, to conduct an analysis of evidence gathered, by Circulate members, at the recent Unlock Cambridge Festival and Nottingham Contemporary’s Affinity Festival.

Group ‘sense making’ is a complex process of analysis that acknowledges how different people will make a different sense of the same evidence and builds on this by enabling those different perceptions and interpretations to all inform a set of conclusions, rather than imagining there to be one correct interpretation.

Interesting annotations were made on paper notes and on screen based documents, for example:

IMG_1737 IMG_1736

In order to make sense of the evidence gathered, as a group, everyone read through notes and reflections and looked at images, so that all evidence was considered and analysed. Circulate members identified themes and considered what evidence there was in relation to the different aims of the festivals.

Bu identifying evidence that relates to specific aims and reflecting on this evidence, we can:

  • Assess how far different aims were or were not met
  • Identify which activities / objectives led to certain aims being met
  • Consider why certain activities / objectives were successful
  • Identify key barriers to aims being met
  • Use all of the above to identify learning points for future reference

One example was that at Cambridge, it was clear from all evidence that there was a general consensus that the ‘Ducked off’ game worked well to engage people from Cambridge but also people from outside Cambridge. The group discussed the evidence and what was implied about how this had worked and decided that it engaged people from Cambridge who were the target audience, because it tapped into a real issue that local people feel passionate about. It also engaged people from outside the area because it was interactive and it was easy to understand what you are expected to do. So the learning was that it is important for young people programming a festival to have a keen understanding of the issues that target audiences feel passionate about and to use these as means / point of engagement. Secondly, the learning was that it is useful to ensure that points of initial engagement are based on universally recognised activities, which very one can easily participate in.

The notes below outline how evidence was identified, relating to the different aims of each festival, and then reflected on and discussed as a group, to reach conclusions about the implications of the evidence.

Unlock Cambridge

Aim 1. To unlock hidden, disused and unknown spaces in Cambridge for young people living locally

Evidence and feedback shows that the alternative tour realised this aim as it was claimed by the audience to be ‘A very different look at Cambridge’, with one attendee referring to it as ‘Brilliantly non-Cambridge.’ Another person stated that is was ‘Very interesting to see the real side of Cambridge.’

There was some feedback from Circulate members that questioned the extent to which the spaces used, such as Jesus Green or the Market Square, were ‘dis-used’:

‘It didn’t feel like the spots chosen were hidden, discussed and unknown, because the activities took place at the city’s market, a university ground / park and a city centre church / venue.”

However, it was understood by those present that the tour and the evening event in the church were the main activities to address this aim and that in order to be visible to a majority of people some activities and the points of initial contact needed to be in the populated spaces of the town, such as the market square.

It was also pointed out and acknowledged that the use of the church for the evening event was the first time the space had ever been used as such a venue for and by young people, which had been noted by some people from Circulate in their feedback:

“The church isn’t usually used for gigs, right?”

However, for local young people, as per the aim, there would not have been any question about this, as the new use of the church would have been apparent to them.

Aim 2. To reconsider uses of existing public spaces.

Circulate members noted how the use of Jesus park and having a gazebo in this space was a new and reconsidered use of the space which successfully realised this aim:

“I believe they were successful in achieving this aim. It was good to see the marquee used on Jesus green as it provided a focal point, drew interest and provided shelter.”

Circulate members also noted the strategic value in using the market square:

“Basing themselves in Market Square was effective as it ensured passing footfall and created interest and participation.”

Part of the tour being on a boat was another detail identified by Circulate members as helping to achieve this aim:

“It was nice to see the use of the Canal boat for groups at the ends of the Alternative Tours.”

The details of activity and their relevance to this aim were also commented on:

“Learning to walk at Jesus Green… was very appropriate because it looked like everyone was walking in al directions on that tiny pathway.”

The model city that people were invited to contribute to in market square was seen as a city within a city and there is evidence amongst the feedback gathered by the Cambridge team that people really enjoyed the interactive nature of the activity.

The main issue that people commented on was the acoustics in the church:

“The acoustic on the night was not that good.”

The other issue was that more people would have liked to have experienced the sax performance on the roof of the church, but there were limited places to do this due to the logistics of getting people up to the roof.

We discussed how far limited opportunities where there are only a few places available, as with the sax performance and the Alternative tour, make something more desirable and how it might be the case that seeing people queuing for something makes people want to do it. This may go against the inclusive nature of the programme but could be useful as a learning point, as it could be a strategy to use, even when there are endless places available.

It was suggested that another strategy is to offer a ticket to such a limited opportunity as a consequence of taking part in a workshop or something else, so that an event or a limited opportunity can be used as an incentive for more in depth participation.

Aim 3. Providing access for young people to creatively consider their city.

The group agreed that the evidence considered showed that the workshops were good and were effective in achieving this aim. The walking workshop was fun, but there wasn’t that much feedback about it. Outsiders didn’t necessarily ‘get’ the relevance, although they might realise the relevance from observations of how hard it is to move around the town during the day. The main target group was however, local people, for whom the relevance was very apparent and changed their perspective:

“I will never see Cambridge in the same way again.”

Circulate members who interviewed wider audience members had positive feedback with regard to this aim being met, but also highlighted how many other creative opportunities already exist:

“My interviews show that the festival added to a long list of creative activities that are already on offer in the city.”

Circulate members also commented that the aim was met to some extent:

“…through the activity inviting people to comment on the housing prices in Cambridge and also in St Mary’s Church people were invited to write their thoughts and responses on the event, although both these examples could be seen as restricting creative output.”

However, the Alternative tour was also seen as a very effective strategy that had achieved this aim.

Aim 4. To create a Social Media presence:

  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Facebook

To get more interest

 Many people found out about the festival on line, so this aim was achieved in the lead up to the festival. (It will be interesting to know the number of people from surveys.) People saw posters and ads on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Followers increased significantly after the festival, which is also a clear indication of this aim being met.

We agreed that the aim was met because the hashtag was prominent in all marketing materials and was easy to remember, it was simple and it linked to all the different social media platforms. There was a huge presence on social media as is evidenced on those platforms. There was an awareness amongst Circulate members of the on line presence, even if they did not witness it themselves:

“It was cool that a blogger came especially to write about Cambridge Unlock.”

Aim 5. To let people express their views on living and working in Cambridge / the surrounding area.

It was clear from feedback that local people felt as if they had opportunity to express their views through the ‘Ducked Off’ game:

“This (Aim 5) was widely discussed with the people that took part in my interviews at Jesus Green. A lot of people are not happy with the rent rate in Cambridge and the game Ducked Off provided a platform for local people to talk about their concern.”

It is clear from the concerns voiced on the day, both through the Ducked off placards made and the complaints fed into the Complaints Choir, that people really are very angry about house process, rent prices and lack of housing in Cambridge. This is evidence that the people programming and devising the festival strategically and successfully used their own informed understanding of the issues that local people feel passionate about as a means of engagement. The festival tapped into local people’s real concerns and so successfully engaged local people.

The ‘Ducked off’ game also worked to engage tourists and people from outside Cambridge as it was based on a universally recognisable format of trying to knock something down by throwing a certain number of missiles, in this instance using rubber ducks to knock down buildings.

Through reflecting on the evidence the Circulate members present concluded that:

“People like having the right to get angry in a safe space and you gave them that.”


Other Themes from Evidence and Feedback

The group discussed other themes emerging from the evidence and feedback. It was apparent that there was a lot to do in the day and evidence suggests that people would have liked another day to explore everything the festival had to offer. But this can be seen as an indicator of the success of the activities in engaging people.

The group agreed that evidence also indicates that people invested in the festival because they were doing something and when you are able to contribute your opinions, you feel part of something and have a sense of ownership and involvement, which leads you to want to continue with the experience.

There was consensus amongst the group that using different spaces was a really good idea. Lou pointed out that this had come about due to the lack of a venue at the time of the festival, but that it ended up being a positive thing as it led them to produce something far more public and accessible.

There had been some feedback about the need for clearer direction from one area of the festival to others.

The group agreed that this was one of the important learning points, that using outdoor space means you are taking the festival to the people and not expecting people to come into a gallery, which some people find daunting. Such a festival experience can then be used to encourage people to come into a gallery, as it can help them over come their ‘threshold anxieties.’

The group said that another set of learning from the festival programmer’s use of space was about how well the space was used and that this is relevant whether hosting a festival inside or outside of a gallery; that what is important is using a space well and exploiting what it is that makes that space unique or interesting.

The potential of games was also seen as a useful learning point, and how the game that Circuit members in Cambridge devised related to local people’s problems, engaging local people, but that everyone could understand it and do it, it was very interactive it wasn’t dependent on any knowledge, it wasn’t even language dependent as you could understand the ‘rules’ by watching.

Finally, the group also agreed that there was key learning about the physical nature of the experience at the festival, it was not just about ‘looking’ but also about ‘doing’. There was not much content that presented a language barrier and it was easy for people to feel involved.

Everyone also agreed that the fold out guide worked well and made it easy to understand the festival and that there was a good strong identity and brand for the festival.



An overarching point was raised, which that feedback is only from people involved in Circuit. However, some people from Circulate interviewed wider audience members and so there feedback is informed through a wider set of perceptions.

Other overarching points noted were:

  • Not everyone is interested in liking everything
  • Clarity
  • Activity relating to specific aims?
  • Programme IN the gallery spaces

Aim 1. A festival for everyone, not just students (All about finding if there is a change in the audience and understanding what audience the performers might attract.)

 The group questioned ‘Which part is most important – ‘for everyone’ or ‘not students’?’

In the notes a light bulb is used to indicate key learning / thinking – these points are indicated below with an asterix.

There is evidence that the aim was met through there being varied activities and because of how people were able to circulate around the gallery and the following points:

  • Cater for young families *
  • Common ground
  • Obviously catered for age bracket but was open to everyone
  • Catering for older end of bracket? *
  • Getting schools involved on the day *
  • Continuous flow of entertainment *
  • Free entry and free food

These points are backed up by quotes from the remote feedback, for example:

“The free food time slots and free tea making facility were very useful and considerate because it meant that young people did not need to spend money to keep the energy up in order to take part in the festival.”

“I really appreciated the luxury of being able to watch films on a big screen, in a comfortable environment, for free.” 

Aim 2. Get attendees involved in positive creative activities

 The following points were noted in relation to what the evidence suggested regarding how this aim was met and might be further met in future:

  • Good workshops
  • Being able to take away skills sheet
  • Getting something creative to take away *
  • Musicians getting audience involved
  • Sticker wall for measuring activity
  • Doodling / drawing
  • More learning opportunities
  • More workshops in the evening *
  • Need more workshops? Or extra activities in each workshop – more materials – timing or moving people on *

These points are backed up by quotes from the remote feedback, for example:

“I really enjoyed the festival because it was nice being able to learn new creative techniques and spend time relaxing by making things and binge on watching films!”

Aim 3. Break down stereotypes between different groups of young people by finding similarities in everything, to explore something new; always room for common ground

The following points were noted in relation to what the evidence suggested regarding how this aim was met and might be further met in future:

  • Tree trunks
  • Reading other people’s notes
  • Aspects of play / breaking down barriers
  • Musicians braking stereotypes or:
    • Representing parts of community
    • Mix of genres within bands and collaborations *
  • Providing something for anyone
  • Re-appropriating traditions / stereotypes

These points are backed up by quotes from the remote feedback, for example:

“The booming music and huge crowd on Friday night was very exciting for me to be a part of. It made me feel very inspired to bring people together through music and different sub-cultures.” 

Aim 4. Creating a network (where attendees talk or work with someone new)

The following points were noted in relation to what the evidence suggested regarding how this aim was met, barriers to meeting it and how it might be further met in future:

  • Good collaborators!
  • Partnership work *
  • Lack of Wifi / network *
  • Social media for after festival
  • Would have been good for galleries to meet up at the start – but strengthened bond between groups
  • Volunteers working with new people
  • Relaxed atmosphere aided networking

These points are backed up by quotes from the remote feedback, for example:

“While at the festival I met a number of new artists and had the opportunity to make new contacts. The relaxed atmosphere aided this greatly.”

Aim 5. Make attendees feel like they belong at Nottingham Contemporary

The following points were noted in relation to what the evidence suggested regarding how this aim was met and might be further met in future:

  • More interaction from collabor-8, although…
  • People felt welcomes and warm
  • Décor and room dressing were great *
  • Making the link between the gallery content and the festival more obvious *
  • “Felt belonging”
  • Nottingham based artists
  • Friendly hosts
  • Consider festival through evaluation

These points are backed up by quotes from the remote feedback, for example:

“Often at these kind of things there is a polite awareness that is an event ‘by kidz, for kidz’ but towards the evening at Nottingham the atmosphere was one of genuine excitement, energy and belonging.”

“The Nottingham members were friendly and their involvement in tasks made the atmosphere feel welcoming and warm.”

“The film room was a key example, plushed out in purple and gold, all pillows and popcorn, it made the space approachable and comfortable.”

Aim 6. Exposure for what young people have achieved to the wider city

The following points were noted in relation to what the evidence suggested regarding how this aim was met and might be further met in future:

  • From partnership /collaboration groups
  • Passing on learning from festival
  • External spaces were closed
  • Not clear outside of the gallery that “something important going on”



This rich sense making process enabled all involved to reflect in meaningful ways on the wealth of evidence collected. It has also enabled the identification of an easy to use set of learning points, summarised in the post: Circulate’s Learning Points for Future Events and Festival Planning.