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The Cultural Access & Participation Research Process

In an effort to enable a better monitoring of the role of cultural participation in the overall process of democratic governance, the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) suggested, in January 2012, the development of suitable indicators. In April 2013, a Council of Europe Ministerial Conference held in Moscow focused on (cultural) participation issues, including in its final statement. A new impetus, albeit with a broader approach (but including, above all, access and participation), came from a newly established CoE Working Group on Social and Economic Values of Heritage, which held its first session in October 2013.

Since a few years, the challenges posed by this topic have been taken up by the Compendium Community of Practice, including via improved categories in the country profiles and a number of new comparative tables; they are also a main topic of the newly formed Compendium Expert Group on "Cultural Access & Participation" and several of its members (Vladimir Bina, Mikko Lagerspetz, Victoria Ateca-Amestoy/Anna Villarroya Planas, Andrew Ormston and Kalliopi Chainoglou) presented first assessments at the Helsinki Compendium Assembly held on June 29, 2012. Starting in 2013, the results of the work of the Group are to be reflected in this part of the Themes! section. For the start of these exchanges, the ERICarts Secretariat developed a non-exhaustive overview of Cultural Participation Surveys in Selected European Countries that are currently being highlighted in the "Compendium" country profiles.

The CultureWatchEurope (CWE) event on June 30, 2012 in Helsinki - Cultural Access and Participation - from Indicators to Policies for Democracy - took the form of a think-tank where policymakers and researchers discussed the issue of access to and (non-)participation in culture. A summary report of the CWE event has been written by Tommi Laitio.

In this context, the problem of preparing suitable indicators was of key interest and has been highlighted in a proposal prepared by  Vladimir Bina: "Indicators on Cultural Participation and Access to Culture". Methodological issues as well as defining the potential contributions of the Compendium, other platforms or research bodies and individual experts towards this goal were addressed also by other speakers including, but not limited to, Elena di Federico, Péter Inkei, Susanne Keuchel, Colin Mercer and Compendium editor Andreas Wiesand.

In Helsinki and at later occasions, Wiesand's proposal "Let's start a 'Helsinki Participation Research Process' now!" was accepted as sort of a roadmap for the next research activities, particularly as concerns comparative surveys, and future efforts to achieve an eventual composite index on cultural participation in Europe, whose evaluation and interpretation would need to be complemented with information on national or regional traditions and achievements,demography trends, processes based on digital technologies and other background intelligence.   In order to reach first truly comparative indices, Wiesand suggested a 10-step "Helsinki Participation Research Process" (duration ca. 3-4 years):

  1. Identify existing (national) cultural participation surveys/statistics and those responsible for them (whether organised by the state, by arts councils or by independent institutes);
  2. Assess the content (questionnaires and results) of these surveys in order to find differences and commonalities - based mainly on Vladimir's essentials - leading, if feasible, to an improved draft model of a future participation index (with figures from existing compatible surveys in 3 - 5 countries);
  3. Identify potential partners (ministries, arts councils, others) in countries without national surveys as well as institutions providing complementary statistics (EAO, Eurostat, etc.);
  4. Invite those identified in 1. and 3. above to a first conference where the results of 2. are presented and a roadmap for future cooperation is approved (led by a group of experts);
  5. Develop a flexible surveying tool with "minimum requirements" (a set of similar basic questions to be asked in as many countries as possible - be it in the context of larger, existing participation surveys, most of which are already reported on in the "Compendium", or in the cheaper form of "bus" questions added to other, more general population surveys in those countries, where this type of research is still missing)
  6. Launch a test phase with surveys using these questions in a number of countries (8-10);
  7. Evaluate the findings of the test phase and propagate the results in an attractive, easy to digest way (in order to garner support and participation in additional countries) while not excluding needed improvements of the tool, especially as regards more elaborate information on "active" cultural participation or on practices of people with a migration background;
  8. Invite to a 2nd conference where the tool is being improved and additional providers of complementary data take part, leading to a "European Cultural Participation Consortium" (ECPC);
  9. Carry out and evaluate a second run of surveys with the improved tool (covering more countries), leading to (a) first composite ECPC Index(es);
  10. Run regular ECPC-compatible surveys and publish (the) Index(es) bi-annually.

Since the Council of Europe or CWE will not be in a position to provide the means for covering (all of) the cost-incurring actions during this process, a partnership with the EU and with other interested parties has been suggested.