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Clarifying cultural policy and creative industries policy: the role of statistics

In the creative industries, classification and measurement over almost two decades has contributed to healthy – albeit fraught – debates and better outcomes on a range of topics central to public policy.

For example, the ability to measure the relationship between creativity and information and communications technologies (ICT) has given rise to distinctively UK initiatives like Next Gen and ICT curriculum reform in English schools.

The difficulties in capturing crafts in official classifications has led to rigorous data and measurement underpinning the role of the crafts in creativity which has given it a renewed voice in current debates about creativity and the future of work. And developing the statistical evidence for the distinction between the creative industries and wider creative economy has shown that the economic stakes for the UK are much higher than the fate of individual industries.

In our new provocation, Cultural Policy in the Time of the Creative Industries, Stuart Cunningham and I argue that the time has come for the UK government to classify and publish statistics on the cultural sector (those industries primarily involved in the mass production, circulation and consumption of symbolic texts according to one influential definition) alongside its existing highly regarded Creative Industries Economic Estimates.

What is needed are official statistics which allow both cultural and creative activity to be taken full account of, acknowledging both the substantial overlap between the two areas of activity, as well as dealing as best as possible with the well-known challenges that underestimate the extent of cultural activity (for example, the extent of voluntary activity).

Our prediction is that if government begins to classify and publish statistics on the cultural sector and creative industries this way, it will lead to better and more transparent cultural and creative industries policy. It would bring to greater prominence such matters as the scope of the cultural sector as recognised by government; who cultural policy is being made for, and who is making it; what counts as cultural participation, and the importance of cultural economy vs cultural industries.

It would also help to clarify that the cultural sector is supported by government mainly on cultural grounds, and that the creative industries are supported primarily because of their economic contribution. Both the cultural and economic wellbeing of the nation are of paramount importance to government.


Hasan Bakhshi

Hasan Bakhshi

Hasan Bakhshi

Director, Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre

Hasan oversaw Nesta's creative economy policy, research and practical work.

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