Providing evidence that museums create social value is essential for making the case to governments for continued public investment. Now, recent research for the Heritage Lottery Fund finds that social investors are also calling for the cultural heritage sector to ‘get to grips with measuring social impact’ according to Dan Corry, who presented at the recent Heritage Exchange Forum (14-15 July 2014, London).
With public investment in decline, engaging non-public, social investors is becoming imperative. But whether the funding comes from the public or non-public spheres, investors want to know what difference their contribution has made and whether it has achieved what it set out to do. Enter- the concept of ‘impact’ and how to measure it- subjects of long and vigorous discussions in the cultural heritage sector.
As Korn argues in Museums and Public Value: creating sustainable futures (Scott 2013, 31-43), institutions can more easily measure impact when they plan for the difference they want to make, identify the results they are seeking to achieve and link measures to defined interventions. Individually, museums are starting to think about planning for social change with this intentional aspect in mind.
But what about other social impacts that are not the results of specific institutional planning? Do museums in general create value that accrues to the public realm? If so, where is the evidence and how do we capture it?
Getting to grips with social impact can start with existing data sets and the methods they use to capture evidence. The Taking Part survey, for example, has been collecting data on cultural and sport participation in England since 2005. Managed by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in partnership with English Heritage, Arts Council England and Sport England, it surveys nationally representative samples of adults and children at regular intervals each year. The data is longitudinal, allowing changes to be tracked over time and comparisons to be made between users and non-users.
For nearly a decade, it has collected baseline data on cultural participation using Subjective Wellbeing (SWB) methods that allow individuals to assign a numeric value to cultural experiences and to self- perceptions of well-being, trust, belonging and influence. Correlations can then be made between cultural participation and its impact on both individual well-being and the presence of other indicators of social capital needed to build healthy communities.
In 2010, Jones (2010, 13) used Taking Part data to test the assumption that the ‘... more individuals participate, the greater the benefit of overall participation to society’. Of particular interest was whether cultural participation has an impact on social capital in communities, specifically on the presence of ‘trust’. The study found that people who engage in cultural activities are 15% more likely to ‘trust’ others than those who do not (Jones 2010, 52). Evidence that participating in cultural activities can have positive impacts which accrue to the public realm is the sort of evidence that public funders and social investors are looking for when we make the case for the importance of cultural heritage.
Taking Part and the Culture and Sport Evidence programme (CASE) are existing resources that merit our close attention. Our sector can ‘get to grips’ with social impact by mining this data more extensively to find out what other evidence it yields.
CASE programme: https://www.gov.uk/case-programme