Cultural Policy Research in the Real World: Curating “Impact”, Facilitating “Enlightenment”

Eleanora Belfiore

The very identity of cultural policy rests on a long-standing and widely accepted tension between “proper research” and policy advocacy, which has often resulted in resistance to the idea that robust, critical research can – or even should – be “useful” and have impact on policy discourse. This paper tries to navigate a third route, which sees policy relevance and influence as a legitimate goal of critical research, without accepting the pressures and restrictions of arts advocacy and lobbying. This is accomplished by exploring the journey “into the real world” of preliminary findings emerging from the Understanding Everyday Participation project: a segmentation exercise based on Taking Part data which showed that the wealthiest, better educated and least ethnically diverse 8% of the English population are the most engaged in culture. This data fed into the consultation and evidence gathering process of the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value, and was eventually cited in its final report Enriching Britain. The paper charts the increasing prominence of “the 8%” statistic in English cultural policy debates and argues that, despite the researchers' limited control over the use/misuse of their data, policy influence is nonetheless a realistic objective if understood as “conceptual influence”.

Source: Abstract