The use and non-use of evidence in cultural policy


Here is some added bonus material relating to a book review that’s just come out in Cultural Trends. (If you are faced with a paywall then contact me for a copy of the review.) The book I reviewed is called The Politics of Evidence Based Policy Making by Paul Cairney who is Professor of Politics and Public Policy in the Department of History and Politics at the University of Stirling.

Here is what hit the cutting room floor as the review was trimmed to meet word length:

Writing in praise of Andrew Pinnock’s sharp analysis of this topic I have said that “if arts policy in the UK is driven by expediency, by networked elites and a broad acceptance of a 200-year old status quo, then let us forget about accountability and evidence.” But the rhetoric from DCMS and the Arts Council and others is about impact, evaluation and return on investment of public funds. Rightly so in my opinion.

However, the world of rhetoric and the world of reality are miles part. While writing the review of Paul Cairney’s book review I jotted down a few of the factors that I think drive the production of public policy, which I think pertain not just to culture but all aspects of the political realm. Think of criminal justice, immigration, transport, education etc. When looked at from a distance, I sense that they are frequently driven by:

  • the best of intentions
  • corruption (both benign and egregious)
  • incompetence
  • fear of death
  • fear of life
  • fear of the ‘other’
  • normative world-views
  • moral panic
  • self-advancement of policymakers
  • political expediency
  • being ‘seen to do something’
  • cognitive dissonance
  • tabloid media
  • lack of imagination
  • appeasement of guilt
  • straight-up incompetence
  • overstretch
  • lack of historical understanding
  • lack of respect for the task in hand

I wish I wasn’t so cynical. I say a prayer every day that there will be a sign to show me otherwise, that I needn’t think this way and that I am wrong. But I’m still waiting.


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Creative Works London Museum Audiences


There is a new article on Arts Professional today that is the culmination of some work I did with Creative Works London (one of the AHRC knowledge exchange hubs). One of the CWL strands was dedicated to audiences. It has produced a few decent reports, which perhaps haven’t reached the widest of audiences in the sector, so I want to highlight them here:

Overview of Business-Facing Arts Audience Research [PDF]

As part of the opera/music focus:

Opera Audiences and Cultural Value: A Study of Audience Experience [PDF]

English Touring Opera – ‘Opera in Cinemas’ Report [PDF]

Using digital content to build audiences for live opera [PDF]

Going to a classical concert: the relationship between audience perceptions of artistic identity and motivation for future attendance [PDF]

As part of the museums focus:

Value and Audience Relationships: Tate’s Ticketed Exhibitions 2014–15 [LINK]

Building upon the Arts Pro article:

I also wanted to take this opportunity to set out a little more detail of the ‘Research Agenda’ session we held back in April, the one that generated the six key research questions mentioned in the article. We covered a lot of ground in that session, and I did my best to formulate six relevant and answerable research questions that museums in London can approach in some form of collective endeavour. However, our long list of research questions generated on the day, divided up by themes, is as follows. It may be of interest:

Theme: The research process

  • How can research have an impact on strategy?
  • Can we share and map visitor data across the sector?
  • How can we be agile in responding to visitor/audience research?

Theme: Socio-demographic factors

  • What are the barriers to attendance?
  • What are the class demographics of visitors?
  • Can you be community-focused in central London?
  • How can we attract local audiences?
  • What age are visitors?

Theme: The decision to visit (people-based)

  • Who decides to visit museums?
  • What (if anything) is the ‘hook’ for visitors?
  • Who do museum-visitors come with?
  • Who is our ‘family’ visitor?
  • In a family, who makes the decision to visit a museum?

Theme: The decision to visit (product-based)

  • What are the most effective digital and social media communication channels?
  • Temporary and permanent exhibitions: are people motivated by the show or the venue?
  • To what extent does the museum drive the visit? – ie are visitors intentionally seeking out the museum?
  • Do people have different motivations to visit different museums?
  • How important is content? and how important is interactiveness?
  • Does education and outreach motivate visits?

Theme: Visitor behaviour

  • How much are people willing (and able) to pay?
  • How often do people visit museums?
  • How loyal are visitors?
  • Why do people stop visiting museums?
  • Where do people come from?
  • How far will they travel to visit a museum?
  • What is the difference between inner and outer London?
  • What is the difference between London and the regions?
  • What is the difference between local museum visitors and international visitors?

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