It must have been five to seven years ago. I was sat in a meeting for Derby city's Cultural executive. The pretext was that I was "representing individual artists". There was a discussion about events around Diwali, which the larger arts organisations had co-opted into a "Festival of Light" and effectively side-lining a smaller south-east Asian arts and community organisation. This smaller group had organised events for Diwali for many years, working with other arts, community, and religious organisations; it used to light up where I live. As the events became "bigger", they moved to the centre of town.
When questioned about this, one of the directors of the larger organisations said that it was down to capacity; the smaller organisation didn't have enough capacity to work with the others. I then interjected and asked everyone in the room to clarify the meaning of capacity; and there was no answer.
This should not be a surprise. Capacity in the arts is a very comfortable word to use as it gives the idea of scale; of being able to hold, contain, or achieve; but with no quantitative measure to tie someone down, as we have with physical capacity. But in information technology, capacity is well-defined: (number of machines or workers) × (number of shifts) × (utilization) × (efficiency)1. This formulation isn't adequate for the type of work that occurs in the arts, though; so I will make an effort to describe a workable qualitative and quantitative definition of capacity, related to working in the arts.
Capacity (C) is a qualitative estimate of people's ability to perform a task with respect to resources, assets, skill, and will.
Resources (r) are materials that can be added to but are depleted over time. This includes things like money, paper, and time.
Assets (a) are things that are used directly to perform a task, or things that are acquired through use of resources or skills. They tend to be inviolate over time, although they can become dated. This includes information, partnerships, equipment and buildings.
Skills (s) are the practical qualities of the people involved to build up and make good use of resources and assets. This could include computer literacy, research skills, or woodworking; as long as it is related to performing the task.
Will (w) is the commitment to start, guide, and finish a given task to a desired end. Without will, a task cannot be performed or accomplished.
We can use these variables in a formula to estimate the success of a project:
C = w × (r + a + s), where w → ±1
From this equation, it can be seen that capacity is dependent on will; and directly proportional to the other aspects. Zero or negative values of capacity indicate a lessened likelihood for a project to be started or finished.
Organisation A is a small community association which receives funding of £30,000 per year to fund an administrator and some project costs. Over the years, they have amassed many musical instruments, which members of the community can use. The administrator also knows a few local performers, and has reasonably good links with the community.
About four miles down the road is Organisation B. This organisation is slightly larger, and receives £100,000 per year in funding to cover staffing, council rates and project work; in addition to £11,000 per year in ticket sale income. It is based in a building. It has a prestigious core programme of activity, and is skilled in raising funds for extra work.
A wants to run a local festival between the four mile gap; and seeks a working partnership with B. A tries to arrange a meeting with B, sending an e-mail with the project idea. In the meeting, B makes it clear that it has not read the initial proposal; most of the meeting is spent with A explaining the idea. Eventually, B agrees to work with A, with the condition that A commits to raising funds for two national outdoor performers of B's choosing.
This could lead to a chart like this to work out the capacity. Here I have based resources solely on the money, which is roughly a 3:1 ratio.
On its own, we can see that although B has more resources, assets, and skills than A, the will reduces its capacity to do the specific project. To see if this difference is significant, we can then carry out a two-tailed Student's t-test. In summary, the p-value for the data above is 0.821, and the critical value of t is 0.519. Since t is larger that the p-value, there is a significant difference between the two organisations; and I would interpret this as a likelihood for the intended project to falter2.
I have attached a Open Document spreadsheet3 for people to play with the numbers in this example; it can be seen that it would not take much more effort from the larger organisation to balance out the capacity.
The use of the word capacity in the arts has previously allowed larger organisations to shift blame on smaller organisations for not being big enough. By attaching the concept of will to capacity, perhaps we can move forward and truly assess what a working partnership means.
It's worth pointing out that since this is a purely a statistical test, your mileage may vary on this. But as a rough indication it isn't bad; I've used this twice and it's saved a lot of wasted meeting time. ↩