Briefing paper

Cultural indicators: measuring impact on culture

An information paper prepared by members of the Creative Communities Network with funds from the Local Government Research & Development Scheme
Cultural policy Local government Program evaluation Research impact Community engagement Arts citizen participation Australia South Australia

Culture is about who we are, how we define ourselves and how we make meaning of the world around us. It informs everything we do.

Local government exists to support people to live healthy, engaged and meaningful lives. Once described as being occupied with "roads, rates and rubbish", the role of local government has evolved. It now includes complex and interrelated functions relating directly to culture and the wellbeing of residents, the environment and the economy - on a local, as well as on a State, national and global scale.

It also plays a significant role in funding and delivering cultural activities in Australia. In 2009-10, Local Government funding for cultural activities across Australia was $1,197.7m, which was 18% of total cultural funding provided by all levels of government. Building capacity and knowledge in the area of culture will ensure Local Government makes well informed and value-for-money decisions. 

This information paper will:

  • demonstrate the case for developing a Cultural Indicators Framework
  • provide an overview of local, national and international current practice
  • examine recent Community Indicator Frameworks applied within local government in Australia
  • present the national and international discourse and evidence relating to the use of cultural indicators
  • make recommendations for progress towards implementation.

In demonstrating the case for developing a Cultural Indicators Framework, this paper outlines the various applications such a framework will have that will enable South Australian local government to:

  • plan and make decisions based on evidence
  • evaluate strategic objectives which relate to vibrancy, diversity, arts and culture, community wellbeing, community capacity building, social capital and social health
  • increase the understanding throughout all sectors of local government regarding the value and purpose of arts and cultural development programs, as well as their impact on the community as a whole
  • measure the impact of arts and cultural development programs on their communities
  • measure the impact of social, environmental and economic influences on cultural vitality
  • link to a national and global movement towards the use of cultural indicators
  • allow local government to learn "what makes people tick‟ in order to fine-tune delivery of programs and services
  • provide the tools to evaluate the impact of arts and cultural development activities.

The evidence gathered during the preparation of this information paper suggests cultural impact is not comprehensively or consistently assessed across local government in South Australia. Evaluation most often takes place at the level of corporate reporting and often calculates numbers of events against attendance figures and dollar costs. While quantifying certain aspects of cultural engagement, these measures do not capture a holistic view of a community‟s cultural vitality.

The development of a South Australian Cultural Indicators Framework is timely. While there is a growing national and global movement to develop community wellbeing and sustainability indicators, there is acknowledgment that the process of developing an effective framework for measuring cultural impact is complex. A key challenge is to define more clearly what is meant by cultural impact so as to begin increasing cultural literacy, understanding and capacity, while acknowledging the likelihood that there will be certain aspects of culture worthy of resourcing but difficult to measure.

Those involved in a number of existing projects in Australia are aware of the proposed South Australian Cultural Indicators Framework and are eager to learn of the pilot project outcomes. Reciprocally, the findings from other projects will continue to inform this initiative.

Finally, this paper recommends that the development of a Cultural Indicators Framework for South Australian local government is progressed through the following eight stages:

1. Establish the project management structure

2. Appoint a project coordinator

3. Engage stakeholders

4. Consolidate the Framework

5. Develop content of Framework and toolkit

6. Scope the presentation platform

7. Conduct pilot

8. Evaluate, report and communicate project

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