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How big are the UK's creative industries? - Part 2

This time last year we explained why the DCMS's creative industry classifications have to be updated and placed on a more rigorous footing. We start 2013 with a new research report that does just that.

The report inverts traditional thinking about the Creative Industries by focussing on their workforce, whose creative talent is - we show - their defining feature. This was always implicit in the DCMS definition, which classifies both creative occupations (defined by 'SOC' codes), and creative industries, (defined by 'SIC' codes). But the implications were never brought out and, indeed, creative occupations only figured until recently in DCMS's numbers as a kind of afterthought - the extra creative jobs 'left over' once the industries had been counted. The basis for a rigorous definition, with creative work at its heart, lay sleeping in a thicket of numbers.

Building on our past research[1] we calculated the 'creative intensity' of each industry in the UK economy: the proportion of its workforce that is engaged in creative occupations. In our new research we show that intensity is a defining characteristic of the creative industries; within those industries that DCMS itself defines as creative, it is 25 times higher than in the rest of the economy.

Creative talent, we conclude, is a specialist resource which the creative industries harness, and its intensity is thus far and away the best summary indicator of an industry's creativity.

But this critical fact highlights the inconsistencies in the DCMS classification, which, despite its clear strengths, excludes key high-intensity industries and includes a small group with low intensities, with no rationale for either choice. In a fully consistent definition, all industries should share common features, and no industry should be excluded, if it shares these common features.

The central problem facing DCMS is that no explicit method as yet underpins its classification system, even though this has set a global standard. We argue that the DCMS statistics capture an underlying reality - the modern creative economy - without, however, defining it rigorously. This expresses a deeper problem which the report addresses: 'creativity', though bandied around everywhere, has never been adequately defined.

The oft-cited DCMS description of "those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property" is a policy guideline, not an analytical definition.

It offers a generalised rationale, but no explicit criteria for making informed judgements on what should be counted as 'creative', and what should not.

As such, it is not transparent: decisions on which codes to include have not been structured to permit informed discussion by a community of practice including policymakers, practitioners and researchers, as in other industrial areas. We should not be surprised therefore that the DCMS has struggled to keep its classifications up to date in the face of structural changes such as digitisation, or the fact that industry after industry is embracing creativity as a way of gaining competitive advantage.

We therefore set out a rigorous method to decide which occupations are creative, scoring them against a 'grid' of five theoretically-grounded criteria. We then calculate the intensity with which these occupations are used by all industries in the economy.

This in turn identifies a distinct 'baseline' set of industries with exceptionally high intensities which we define as creative. Creative Economy employment is then the sum of three components within a Creative Trident. Specialists are the creatively-occupied workers in a creative industry, for example actors in the film industry.

Creative industries also employ support workers, for example the construction workers who put studio sets together, who do not hold creative occupations. And embedded workers do creative jobs outside the creative industries - for example, music teachers in schools.

The results validate many of the DCMS's initial choices of industry, but show that inappropriate inclusions and exclusions make a significant overall difference.

Our baseline estimates suggest that almost 2.5 million were employed in the UK's creative economy in 2010, of which 1.3 million worked in the creative industries.

Further, we estimate that in its 2011 Statistical Release the DCMS may have understated the size of creative economy employment by almost one million, of which roughly half falls within the creative industries. Some, though certainly not all, of this is explained by DCMS's decision in December 2011 to drop two software-related SOC and SIC codes from its classification.

Painstaking sensitivity analysis shows the baseline to meet three criteria that guided us in our choice of method. The estimates are robust - they do not change by large amounts in response to small changes in the underlying data or its classification. They are responsive: capable of step-by-step adjustment to deal with structural, longer term changes in the economy.

And they are transparent: other analysts and researchers, with access to the same data, can reproduce its results. Such rigour is required not for arcane reasons, but because a definition that matches economic reality will ensure that the wider unity of practice, amongst those who use and produce creative industry statistics, is regulated by a unity of understanding.

This systematic method addresses the need, highlighted in our post last year, for internationally comparable statistics. Our dynamic mapping methodology uses data from sources which nearly all economies collect.

Moreover, it also lays the basis for producing statistics which are consistent with the UK definition in countries like the US, Canada and Australia that do not share the harmonised European system for classifying occupations or industries on which the UK's statistical system is based.

This year we want to reach out to researchers and policymakers in North America, Australasia and beyond, as well as in Europe, who are interested in applying our method in their regions.  

Our report offers new findings that confirm the tight interconnection between content production and its digital interface, showing that any attempt to separate certain ICT-related activity from other creative work will not succeed.

We describe our approach as a 'dynamic' mapping because it is a systematic method for identifying the 'most creative' industries which produces a classification that does not over-react to small fluctuations in the underlying data, yet can respond to structural economic changes such as digitisation.

Unlike purely industrial approaches, which are subject to changes in the Standard Industrial Classification scheme making accurate comparisons over time difficult, it is possible to produce estimates of growth in economy-wide creative employment that are reasonably robust.

We thus derive a reliable and consistent indicator of growth in the UK's creative employment, showing that employment in the creative economy grew on average by 6.8% in the six years to 2010, more than five times the growth rate of the non-creative workforce when measured on a consistent basis. 

[1] Freeman, A. (2004), 'London's Creative Sector 2004 Update', London: Greater London Authority; Higgs, P., Cunningham, S., Hearn, G., Adkins, B., and Barnett, K. (2005), 'The Ecology of Queensland Design', Technical Report, CIRAC, Queensland University of Technology; Higgs, P., Cunningham, S., and Bakhshi, H. (2008), 'Beyond the Creative Industries: Mapping the Creative Economy in the UK', Nesta Technical Report.


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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Peter Higgs