Developing a computational ontology to understand the relational aspects of audience formation

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In this article, we discuss an innovative audience research methodology developed for the AHRC-funded Beyond the Multiplex: Audiences for Specialised Film in English Regions project (BtM). The project combines a computational ontology with a mixed-methods approach drawn from both the social sciences and the humanities, enabling research to be conducted both at scale and in depth, producing complex relational analyses of audiences. BtM aims to understand how we might enable a wide range of audiences to participate in a more diverse film culture, and embrace the wealth of films beyond the mainstream in order to optimise the cultural value of engaging with less familiar films. BtM collects data through a three-wave survey of film audience members practices, semi-structured interviews and film-elicitation groups with audience members alongside interviews with policy and industry experts, and analyses of key policy and industry documents. Bringing each of these datasets together within our ontology enables us to map relationships between them across a variety of different concerns. For instance, how cultural engagement in general relates to engagement with specialised films; how different audiences access and/or share films across different platforms and venues; how their engagement with those films enables them to make meaning and generate value; and how all of this is shaped by national and regional policy, film industry practices, and the decisions of cultural intermediaries across the fields of film production, distribution and exhibition. Alongside our analyses, the ontology enables us to produce data visualisations and a suite of analytical tools for audience development studies that stakeholders can use, ensuring the research has impact beyond the academy. This paper sets out our methodology for developing the BtM ontology, so that others may adapt it and develop their own ontologies from mixed-methods empirical data in their studies of other knowledge domains.
Audience Studies, Mixed-Methods Research, Computational Ontology, Digital Humanities
Bibliographic citation
Hanchard M, Merrington P, Wessels B et al. Developing a computational ontology to understand the relational aspects of audience formation. Emerald Open Research 2020, 2:5