What we learned from surveying playwrights

by Hannah Joyce-Hoven

in MetLife/TCG A-ha! Think It Do It

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(Photo: Working on the information architecture for the new website. Through funding from the MetLife/TCG A-ha! Program, the Playwrights’ Center is developing and implementing a re-imagined online and mobile resource hub for playwrights. The project includes enhancing functionality of the popular opportunities listings and making it easier for member playwrights to connect locally and globally.)

In October, we launched our new website with enhanced online tools for playwrights. But we did not build the site or re-imagine its tools in a vacuum. Instead, we started by asking playwrights how the site could best help them. We thought the most interesting aspect for readers of this blog would be what we learned from asking playwrights.

Feedback from our member playwrights was a main driver for us to undertake this project, so it made sense to formally survey our members to find out what they most need and want. The playwrights who participated in the survey and interviews were incredibly generous with their feedback and provided really thoughtful comments.

The survey results supported some things we were expecting, that the highest priority is making our opportunities listings easier to use. We pride ourselves on our comprehensive database of play submission opportunities, which is researched, curated, and maintained by humans (like me!). This project allows us to put this valuable content in a better container, one that will save playwrights so much time and allow for greater organization.

Another thing that was articulated very clearly in the survey and interviews was the desire to connect with other playwrights and artistic collaborators. This included connecting one-on-one or in small groups, coming together based on similar interests or location. It also included a desire for content that shares experiences, both the good and the not-so-good; playwrights want to learn from other playwrights, and want to contribute their own advice to the community.

The survey also enlightened us to some things we weren’t expecting to hear. There were a few requests for us to provide services or content that we already provide, showing us that we need to better communicate the resources we already have. Insights like these helped us greatly when wireframing and writing content for the new site.

It is always a challenge to balance idealism with realism. Our members have so many great ideas for the site and the resources we provide, and the survey was full of really amazing suggestions. Sadly, it’s not possible to implement every good idea. Sometimes there are legal limitations and sometimes resource limitations. It is also very important to us that we be thoughtful about the sustainability of the project, which leads us to have frequent discussions about what tools can realistically be maintained by our small staff once the project with the agency is complete.

Within the larger picture, the survey and interviews served as an excellent foundation to ground our project. As new ideas and questions come up, we can continually go back to the data and feedback from playwrights: “Which of these options better addresses the problems Playwright X was talking about?” or “Which feature ranked higher on the member survey?” Having such an engaged and passionate member base is a gift, and their feedback is the foundation for these online tools. We have had a very successful launch of our new site, and our website maintenance plan includes regular check-ins with members to make sure the site will continue to evolve along with them.

hannah-joyce-hoven-2014Hannah Joyce-Hoven is Membership Manager at the Playwrights’ Center. Previously, she worked as Director of Operations for the William Inge Center for the Arts. Originally from St. Louis, MO, she worked there with a number of theater companies including the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. She is a trained teaching artist in the Aesthetic Education Method from the Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education. She is also an actor and yoga instructor.