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Methodological problems in assessing cultural impacts

  • Duration of the project: 2003 — 2006

In 2003-2006 CUPORE financed a project, which was to develop a solid and culturally meaningful methodological basis for this evaluation. The project produced two publications:

Häyrynen Simo, Evaluation of cultural impacts as a function of cultural policy: Some starting points, Cupore publications 1/2004 (only in Finnish);
Häyrynen Simo (ed.), Evaluating culture and passages of impacts, Cupore publications, 12/2005 (only in Finnish).

The first publication presents the main methodological problems of assessing cultural impacts. A core problem is the ambiguity of definitions, what is “culture” and the diffuse function attached to the evaluation of cultural impacts. Ambiguity in defining culture has hindered developing unambiguous indicators and given dominant position to the analyses of non-cultural impacts – and also “wished for impact – in the definition of basic concepts of analyses. On the other hand, cultural administration tends to limit the evaluation to monitoring and assessing the effectiveness of its own policies, and the assessment of other sectors’ cultural impacts are conceived only as a factor among others and often also a marginal one as to the priorities of the sector which is being evaluated.

These problems have led to situations where ambiguous and abstract “culture” is pressed into a mould which corresponds to predetermined strategic goals. This is often due to the fact that the purpose is to influence other groups than e.g. artists or professionals of cultural sector for whom the intrinsic value of the arts and culture is self-evident. The cultural policy function of artists and cultural professionals were to bring into evaluation such aspects of culture as diversity, effectiveness and special cultural value. In the evolution of cultural impacts it is also important to assess how impacts from other sources may be mitigated or strengthened by the factors “culture”.

According to the author preconditions for assessing cultural impacts are:

  • that evaluators are able to design operative indicators which specifically denote cultural
  • that evaluators overcome the restraints due to the system-boundedness of the concept of
  • that the evaluations are started in as local a context as possible
  • that evaluators are able to conceive interesting enough design for their evaluation;
  • that resources are sufficient both for the analyses of impact and also their evaluation

The author also proposes that the evaluation of cultural impacts could be modelled in the same fashion as it is done in the Finnish 1994 Act on the Evaluation of Environmental Impacts. Culture-related direct and indirect impacts identifiable on the basis of the Act are e.g. those affecting people’s living conditions, their satisfaction, community structure, built environment, landscape and cultural heritage.

In the second publication researchers from different policy fields – e.g. environment, education, youth work, and community planning – examine the role cultural factors and their potential impacts in their own fields. This dialogue has resulted in fruitful comparisons of approaches to evaluation and assessment of potential synergies between evaluation strategies.

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