Lies, damned lies and Crafts statistics
A few weeks ago I attended an amazing event in Spain on the burgeoning of craft skills in fields as diverse as cooking, ceramics, fashion and musical instruments. The confidence and global success of those present confirmed that craft is clearly a vital part of a modern creative economy and hasn't been superceded by automation as many expected.
Indeed the UK Foresight working group on advanced manufacturing that I'm part of suggests that craft is likely to become more, not less, important in many sectors over the coming decades.
How then should you measure crafts? How should you distinguish it from mechanical reproduction?
DCMS recently issued a consultation on the classifications in its creative industries statistics which unfortunately has caused great confusion about the status of crafts - so much so that the DCMS has had to issue a clarification on what the proposed changes mean for crafts. One particular sentence had caused a lot of unnecessary anxiety in the crafts field since some read it as crafts being dropped from the creative industries, which as far as I'm aware was never anyone's intention.
The consultation, amongst other things, proposes to adopt the creative intensity methodology that Nesta developed in our report A Dynamic Mapping of the UK's Creative Industries. This methodology differentiates industries according to the proportion of creative talent in their workforce. The Dynamic Mapping defines a creative occupation as a "role within the creative process that brings cognitive skills to bring about differentiation to yield either novel, or significantly enhanced products whose final form is not fully specified in advance." It adds that "these creative skills involve a combination of original thought - all creative skills involving problem solving to a greater or less degree - with processes defined by collaborative relationships to deliver or realise the output." Evidently this is something that embraces crafts and other creative making activities. So, how has the confusion come about?
Part of the problem is the need to identify creative occupations, and the creative businesses they work in, amongst the internationally-agreed occupational and industrial classifications that statisticians use for all other sectors, and which use the same data sources that are employed in the UK's national accounts. In our recent Manifesto for the Creative Economy we argue that loose definitions and imprecise statistics have created a perception in the eyes of key decision-makers that the creative economy is not a coherent part of the UK's economy which is susceptible to a strategic policy approach.
In the Dynamic Mapping, we derive, from the above definition of a creative occupation, five criteria against which all the occupational codes in the economy can be scored. These are:
- Novel process - does the role most commonly solve a problem or achieve a goal, even one that has been established by others, in novel ways?
- Mechanisation-resistant - the very fact that the defining feature of the creative industries is their use of a specialised labour force shows that the creative labour force clearly contributes something for which there is no mechanical substitute.
- Non-repetitiveness of non-uniform function - does the transformation which the occupation effects likely vary each time it is created because of the interplay of factors, skills, creative impulse and learning?
- Creative contribution to the value chain - is the outcome of the occupation novel or creative irrespective of the context in which it is produced?
- Interpretation, not mere transformation - does the role do more than merely 'shift' the service or artefact's form or place or time?
Assessing occupational codes against these criteria is far from straightforward. It's also labour-intensive: your understanding of the title of an occupation in the official classification may not always be the same as what the statistical authorities mean. To reduce the likelihood of mistakes, occupation classifications are published by the Office for National Statistics with an official 'coding list' that maps commonly, and sometimes not so commonly, used job titles against the official classifications.
As an example, four occupations under the SOC2000 classification that were considered 'creative' under previous DCMS definitions have now, frustratingly, been rolled into 5449 Other Skilled Trades under the new SOC2010 classification: Hand Craft Occupations, Pattern Makers (Moulds), Music Instrument Makers and Tuners, and Goldsmiths. In fact, two of these are not what they seem: a check of the coding list shows that most jobs within Pattern Makers (Moulds) are related to industrial casting moulds, not fashion or sculpture, and, similarly, Hand Craft Occupations has 230 job titles encoded into it, very few of which would be considered creative.
The results confirm, of course, that there is no bias against Crafts in our methodology. In the Dynamic Mapping, we score two craft-related codes as creative occupations: 5491 Glass and Ceramics Makers, Decorators and Finishers and 5495 Goldsmiths, Silversmiths, Precious Stone Workers (the latter also having been rolled into the catch-all 5440 Other Skilled Trades in SOC2010). Codes like Hand Craft Occupations and Pattern Makers, for the reasons discussed above, don't make the cut. When we compute the creative intensities, this leaves a set of creative industries which contains three craft-related SIC industrial codes which include 2341 Manufacture of ceramic household and ornamental articles, 3213 Manufacture of jewellery and related articles and 9003 Artistic Creation (the last of which the DCMS consultation paper also includes).
But even if the DCMS included all three of the SIC codes above, this would (Crafts Council estimates suggest significantly) underestimate the size of the Crafts sector in the DCMS employment estimates (and by themselves would do nothing to address the limitations in the official data sources for the Gross Value Added estimates which underestimate the importance of freelancers). This is because, as is often found with other creative occupations, the official occupational and industrial classifications that we, and statisticians worldwide, have to use are simply inadequate for separating crafts occupations from others.
As is often the case, discussions about statistics soon become discussions about status - with arguments bandied around without much attention to the underlying facts. We're pretty confident that the approach Nesta proposed is both intellectually and practically superior to the alternatives. But we're very open to criticisms and alternatives. My only request would be that the debaters take the trouble to read what they're criticising first.