Data - It’s a buzz word. These days people talk about it constantly, within FMTW as much as anywhere else. But what does it mean?

It’s a buzz word. These days people talk about it constantly, within FMTW as much as anywhere else. But what does it mean?

One crucial point to grasp is that it’s not just numbers. Qualitative data – the vast collection of reports and stories we receive from freelancers across the industry on all sorts of topics – is just as important as the quantitative data – the breakdown of the numbers – that tends to grab the headlines.

In fact, for us that qualitative data, those narratives of the challenges and triumphs experienced by theatre freelancers every day, is probably more important; we are an industry of storytellers after all, and some things can’t be quantified, and never should.

What the numbers can do is back up those narratives, to show how they often reflect a shared experience across the workforce. “It’s such a relief to know that it’s not just me” is something we hear a lot from freelancers when we’re able to provide insights into the issues they struggle with.

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That old guiding rule of storytelling – “show don’t tell” – can also be a vital factor in using qualitative data to demonstrate how situations have an impact in practice. For example, specific detailed reports from freelancers working in Europe recently have helped us illustrate directly to government departments exactly where the problems currently lie.

When solutions are proposed, the quantitative data we gather can also help examine the potential solutions. For example, a Universal Basic Income for artists, or a 50% tax relief such as cultural organisations get, are among many ideas which frequently crop up in discussions. But how much would they cost in practice? Without a firm idea of how many freelancers there currently are in the UK, how they make their living, what roles they fulfil, we can’t even get a ballpark figure.

This is an industry that aspires to increased diversity – although how widely those aspirations are currently realised in practice is very much open to debate.

But if and as that diversity increases, the diversity of voices and viewpoints across the workforce increases too. Data can help us keep track of and embrace that diversity. For example, freelancers often raise concerns about levels of pay excluding people from working in the industry, but at the same time many also worry about high ticket prices excluding a lot of people from attending performances. How can those two concerns be reconciled? Data can help us find some possible first steps on the the path towards finding solutions.

FMTW has several ways of gathering data. The most prominent is the annual Big Freelancer Survey, now gearing up for its fourth run in 2024. But we also gather numerical data on visitors to our website, which already has nearly half a million visits, and via our social media accounts – FMTW has connected with over 22 million people via digital channels over the last three years.

And most importantly, the information sent to us by individual freelancers, via our surveys, the website, and social media.

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We often share the analysis of our data with unions, funding bodies, government departments, and the media. But crucially, the raw data gathered by FMTW will always remain with FMTW. These are the freelancers’ stories, and they belong to the freelancers – anonymous, anonymised, and always in strictest confidence.

We’re also always open to individual freelancers asking for more detailed analysis of our data. Recent requests have included taking a closer look at the issues facing carers in the industry, and an investigation of freelancers working mainly in opera. 

Ultimately, this is your data, provided by you, and reflecting your experiences of working in the industry. Whenever you’ve got a story to tell, we’ll be here to listen to those stories, support wherever we can, and advocate for the needs of the freelance workforce. 

If you’ve got a story to share, why not drop us a line? We’re here via email at and you can find links to our social media channels and much more on this website.

Keep that data coming: it really does make a difference.