Dr Javier Stanziola, Lecturer in Management and Cultural Industries at the University of Leeds, looks at the value of the CASE programme as evidence in policy making.
I was part of the board which commissioned the first round of CASE research outputs back in 2008. So it will come as no surprise that I am a big fan of CASE.
In many ways, this work represents the culmination of more than a decade of policy research trying to reduce the lack of readily available data on cultural production and consumption.
Is the job complete? Of course not. But what is on offer has the potential to be of great value to cultural practitioners and policy makers. In my role as lecturer in higher education, I have also discovered the many uses CASE can have to enhance my teaching.
Passion for theatre and performance
My undergraduate students have the chance to combine their passion for theatre and performance with socially engaged practice in prisons, schools and other community settings. As part of their own development, they review studies exploring what works, where and for whom in cultural animation.
My work is significantly easier now that I can simply point to them to the CASE impact database with more than 8,500 relevant studies. They are also asked to read the overarching summary of the systematic review report to get a feel for how to evaluate claims of impact for policy purposes.
This initial search is only the beginning of their learning. The wide variety of methodologies, disciplines and insights they discover opens a new world to them. These sources allow them to grasp, perhaps for the first time, the complexity of the issues they are trying to address and the strengths and limitations of arts-based approaches.
What’s more rewarding, they are now empowered to propose sensible and informed arts-based projects and alternative research methodologies to evaluate their impact.
My MA students are encouraged to look at the Local Profiles and Insights as a way of exploring one of the biggest misconceptions in cultural policy research: if the dataset can’t provide you with information about all cultural activities and users, then it shouldn’t be trusted. Students look at these local datasets using a different lens. They are asked to consider what the information value of some of these figures is and for whom.
In cases where the information value is close to zero, they are encouraged to consider what other methodologies or samples could be used. This encourages them to think about the uses of evidence in policy making. They are asked to think about what resource is likely to lead to better decisions making: data accounting for 90 per cent of local cultural assets or compelling anecdotes from good friends and contacts.
Surely, for decisions that will impact thousands of people and cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, data from representative samples – which CASE has plenty of – should be the preferred option.
Image of performers at Glastonbury Festival by Steve Weaver on Flickr. Some rights reserved.