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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Posted in Bonus material.