Making Data Work for Public Sector Policy: A scoping study to develop a mixed-methods framework for culture

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Performance & Cultural Industries


The rationale behind this project is that cultural datasets are currently in a poor state of development and not fit-for-purpose. As many scholars, cultural workers, funders and policymakers have observed, cultural data are incomplete, fragmented and inconsistent. There are no agreed protocols about how to collect data, or even about what kind of data to collect, and no standardised approach to data management. This means that all of the data coming from the cultural sector are not currently set up for cross-analysis, which makes it very difficult to evaluate and provide evidence about the performance and impact of the cultural sector as a whole. This leaves the sector poorly appreciated by the general public, some local councils and even governments, and therefore very vulnerable to public funding cuts in financial and economic crises such as the current COVID-19 crisis.

The central aim of this exploratory project is to co-develop a fit-for-purpose mixed-methods cultural evaluation framework that combines insights from large datasets with soft, qualitative data that capture the lived experiences of people who produce and consume culture, such as artists, curators and audiences. We hope to achieve this by developing a new strategic network to scope and test out possible solutions to the problems listed above though a series of consultations and discussions conducted face-to-face and/or through webinars. This network will include key data, policy and cultural sector stakeholders, including the UK Government's Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and a wide range of national cultural organisations who are committed to developing more robust data standards and protocols and to fostering a more joined-up approach to cultural impact and evaluation by sharing their data and opening them up to research.

A secondary goal of this project is to shape cultural policymaking and in so doing to inform the ways in which public policy in general is developed. We believe that public policymaking is currently too far removed from the people and places it aims to benefit and that is it overly reliant on numbers that fail to tell compelling stories of the cultural sector's impact on society. We hope to demonstrate, therefore, that a more joined-up and people-centred approach to evaluating the impacts of culture on individuals and communities would produce more reliable and credible data that capture impacts in ways that reflect the particular ways in which different people and places experience culture. We will test our emerging data and evaluation frameworks by designing a comprehensive case study of Bradford. We have chosen Bradford essentially because the city is mobilising to apply for UK City of Culture in 2025, and as part of this preparation, it is undertaking a detailed needs analysis that requires complex merging of cultural data with other sources of demographic and health data held by the city. So our engagement with Bradford will be mutually informative.

In order to achieve our objectives, the project has brought together an expert team of academic and cultural sector specialists. Collectively, our researchers have significant experience in research methods, cultural management and evaluation, policy engagement and development, and data management and analysis. Our sector partners include world-leading cultural organisations such as the British Library, Tate and the National History Museum; national cultural funders such as Arts Council England and Historic England; expert cultural data analysts including The Audience Agency and MyCake; and significant regional partners including Bradford 2025, Bradford Teaching Hospitals and its Born in Bradford project, and Bradford City Council. These exceptional partners will work with us on our research journey to bring about a step-change in how cultural data is gathered and used to influence positive social change.


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