How can we begin to measure the socio-economic impact of cultural industries or the diversity of cultural expressions? In this interview, Lydia Deloumeaux, a UIS specialist on culture, highlights the challenges of implementing the 2009 UNESCO Framework for Cultural Statistics.
In what way is the 2009 UNESCO Framework for Cultural Statistics an improvement over the 1986 framework?
The 2009 framework is better adapted to 21st-century reality. In particular, it takes into account the use of the Internet in cultural practices.
Keep in mind that the 1986 framework was developed mainly by European countries. It focused more on what we call the “cultural industries” (number of books published, participation index for theatre and opera, etc.).
We wanted our definition of culture to reflect the economic aspect but also represent the diversity of socio-cultural practices around the world. As such, the 2009 framework includes intangible cultural heritage, which emphasises community cultural practices and traditional knowledge. Living traditions are now considered on the same level as tangible heritage (such as monuments and works of art from the past). The art of Armenian stone crosses, Majorca’s Chant of the Sybil and the Huaconada, and the ritual dance of Mito, Peru are examples of the wealth of intangible heritage.
I think that today culture is perceived in a more evolutionary way. Socio-cultural practices are not fixed; they evolve over time and through their means of dissemination and interactions with other cultural practices.
The framework also relies on recent international classifications. This is essential to produce cultural statistics that can be compared internationally.
How do you measure practices that are constantly changing?
It’s a challenge not only for producing statistics on culture. It’s a long-term project. We take a pragmatic approach by working on a limited number of fields at a time. In particular, we’ve started a methodological study on measuring cultural participation. The goal is to adapt the method to the national level so that we can eventually account for the cultural practices of all countries.
In comparison, cultural industries seem easier to measure because the data already exist.
In theory, yes, because each industry generates its own data. However, the response rate varies according to region and needs. It is always important to focus on the quality of data, definitions and indicators. We also had to adapt to new processes for producing and consuming cultural products. Unfortunately, the data are not always accessible and some require payment.
How do you define a cultural industry?
Cultural industries include film, audiovisual, book publishing, newspapers and crafts. The idea of “creativity” often leads us to associate certain non-cultural activities with culture, such as the design stage in the automotive industry.
What are the most requested statistics on culture and what are they used for?
UNESCO has been collecting data on films since the mid-1950s. Other surveys have dealt with museums, book publishing, the press, radio and television. We receive requests from all over the world. The statistics are used by countries to support cultural policies and by international organizations, research institutes, academics and students.
Do the surveys take into account the digital revolution?
Yes, as far as possible. The questionnaires incorporate new practices for consuming cultural products. For example, we introduced video on demand and streaming to the way we collect data on film consumption in order to adapt to new practices.
How can the new framework be used to measure more precisely the activities associated with cultural industries? Do new technologies make it more difficult to quantify “cultural experiences”?
We modified the idea of the culture cycle in the framework. The culture cycle helps us understand the production stages of cultural goods and services and identify the people and professional skills involved in the process. It also helps us to understand the patterns by which cultural goods are consumed.
The cycle includes five stages: creation, production, dissemination, exhibition/transmission and consumption/participation. In the 1986 framework, there was a hierarchy to these five stages, whereby one stage led directly to another. In the new framework, we think in terms of an evolutionary cycle, whereby some stages can be eliminated. For example, there are musicians who produce their own music and distribute it online without going through distribution companies.
How are you going to implement the framework?
Our first objective is to introduce the new framework through regional training workshops, which explain the ways in which it can be applied in different countries. The workshops are aimed at statisticians from Member States and cultural policy experts. We’re also trying to set up partnerships with regional organizations and countries looking to establish their own national frameworks in order to improve their cultural statistics. The framework is only one step in defining new methodological tools. We intend to develop other methodological tools to improve the capacities of countries to produce cultural statistics.