Culture and Wellbeing: Theory, Methodology and Other Challenges – an Itinerary

April 24, 2017, 8:58 am

From 2014 to 2017, Culture Action Europe embarked on a journey aimed at assessing the impact of culture on people’s wellbeing, starting from the direct experience of cultural practitioners and organisations and from their public. The purpose: cultural organisations should be able to become accountable for their contribution to the wellbeing of both their own operators and their audiences, as well as to find new ways to share their contribution to societal change.

Cultural practices and participation are key factors for social and personal wellbeing and contribute to citizens’ ability to deal with social and economic change. But these factors are seldom recognised in the existing, conventional systems of measurement. CAE has therefore addressed this issue over the years by designing, testing, re-designing and disseminating an ad hoc information system, based upon qualitative and quantitative (indicators and data) methods of collection.

Methodology in a glance:
CAE moved on by first skimming all the literature on the field; by choosing a qualitative way to measure impacts prior to a quantitative approach to scan evidences; by testing a “swiss-knife” hand made approach on a number of cultural practices; by better refining the approach by continuous exchange and discussion with cultural operators and researcher from all over Europe.

Methodology year by year:
Culture Action Europe worked at two levels:

  • collecting practical stories and evidences from the European context by providing organisations and operators with new tools and frameworks, as years and practices evolved, always improving them with the findings;
  • researching relevant literature and references connected to the vast international effort to develop theories on the relationship between culture and wellbeing.

This double effort gave Culture Action Europe the possibility to move on a pendulum between theory and practice to refine appropriate methodologies and assess wellbeing in quantitative and qualitative terms alike. This itinerary rhythm also included moments of collective discussions in which mid-term reflections were shared with communities of practitioners and researchers all over Europe, from Sweden to Greece, from UK to Poland.

The first year has been devoted to identifying the main themes, approaches and methods in the intersection between culture and wellbeing, in order to build a dynamic map of evaluation methods. During this research period, a first choice was collectively made during CAE Conference in Newcastle Gateshead (UK) in October 2014: rather than elaborating a set of mere quantitative indicators to which this community could refer to (borrowed from economic performance toolkits, solely based upon quantitative and indicator-oriented approaches), a common strategic framework should have been identified well in advance with the aim of using it since the beginning of each project. Impacts on wellbeing are indeed to be planned during the design phase of the project itself, in order to be evaluated along its development by using the most appropriate methodology.

During the second year, CAE and its first working group explored more in depth some of the above themes, and tested approaches and methods together with a number of cultural organisations, within and beyond CAE, with the double aim of bringing the debate closer to their daily activity and enlarging and strengthening the working group.
 16 existing practices were identified and carefully guided in the process of answering questions that could explain the impact of these cultural practices on people’s wellbeing by “telling a story”. These experiences were thus used as an online resource accessible to all those in need of learning a new method to plan, develop and share impacts.

The third year developments of the project were aimed at enlarging the circle of participants to those individual and collective artists and cultural actors who do not put social impact as their first concern for their activity, but who have discovered to have had some, however. This aim led at the creation of a much simpler framework for operators, made of three axis (the three Ps): changes planned and occurred on place, changes planned and occurred on people; powers (as “empowerment”) used and activated.
While a large number of cultural operators has been inspired and accompanied by such work, the refining of the framework and the testing exercise has been carried out with 3 different organisations, operating in 3 different areas of Europe:
Anibar Animation Festival, the only animation festival in Kosovo which has had 7 successful editions until now;
Farm Cultural Park, the first contemporary open air Cultural Centre in Sicily, Italy;
Fun Palaces, a UK ongoing campaign for culture at the heart of every community, as well as an annual weekend of active participation in run by and for local communities.

As a whole, literature investigation, research, collection of stories, analysis of their content, training sessions, meetings and discussions, have involved directly about 500 people from 10 countries and at least three times as much indirectly. Partnerships with universities, foundations and national institutes have been developed on this issue. More important, this initiative has brought about, for the cultural organisations involved, a co-learning experience, capacity-building, growing awareness and ability to express, communicate, share and inspire.

CAE Reflection Paper 2014

CAE Reflection Paper 2015

CAE Reflection Paper 2016

Culture & Wellbeing – Handbook

Culture & Wellbeing – Storybox

Read more about the stories here.