Currently in the UK there is an invigorated move towards evidencing the benefit of culture, such as Audiences UK’s initiative to develop a benchmarking tool for arts organisations. If we look beyond the cultural sector’s focus on evidence and benchmarking, other sectors are also looking for data that supports cultural benefit. The development community has taken up the culture and development agenda with force, recognising the broad and significant role culture plays in improving the well-being of individuals and communities. However a major challenge has been the lack of evidence and the limitations of data collection methodologies applicable for culture This situation has meant that there hasn’t , until recently, been an explicit strategy for culture to be included in international development programmes and other national strategies.
However, conditions have since become more favourable, and the current project is taking advantage of several key developments:
- the high-level interest at national and international levels in the culture and development agenda (1)
- greater capacity for data collection related to culture
- the critical mass of field experiences from large-scale culture and development projects
- The current drive within the development sector in the UK (DFID) for the use of quantitative measures of impact
The UNESCO Culture for Development Indicator Suite is a pioneering research and advocacy initiative that aims to establish a set of indicators highlighting how culture contributes to development at the national level; fostering economic growth, and helping individuals and communities to expand their life choices and adapt to change. Financed by the Spanish Agency of International Cooperation for Development (AECID), the project runs from 2009 to 2012 and combines research, implementation test phases in up to 20 countries. This initiative intends to develop a set of indicators that describe and measure the contribution of culture to development at a national level.
The Indicator suite is based on seven interrelated dimensions of culture and development. All indicators have been selected from existing resources and were chosen on the criteria of the extent to which they shed light on the relationship between culture, development and each dimension, including: Economy, Education, Heritage, Communication, Governance, Social, Gender Equality. These concerns highlight issues that aren’t usually addressed in UK based arguments for culture – for example: the equal capacity of different genders to participate in culture or the freedom of expression and cultural diversity of media.
The ambition of this research project is to support advocacy for culture at a national level by providing an evidence based picture. It aims to help develop a more inclusive vision that takes culture’s potential fully into account so it can be integrated into national and international frameworks and strategies.
During the recent funding cuts, a major factor for the arts sector is its lack of relevant and robust data to prove the arguments it makes (economic benefit, health and wellbeing, community cohesion). It will be interesting to see how the UNESCO work develops and how we can use their methodology to strengthen advocacy arguments for the cultural sector in the UK; accruing robust data which is vital to inform organisational strategy and develop audiences for the future.
1. Resolution on Culture and Development adopted by the UN (December 2010)