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Measuring the Social Dimension of Culture

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MESOC (Measuring the Social Dimension of Culture)

Reporting period: 2020-02-01 to 2021-01-31

MESOC is a Research and Innovation Action designed to propose, test and validate an innovative and original approach to measuring the societal value and impacts of culture and cultural policies and practices, related to three crossover themes of the new European Agenda for Culture.
The global aim is to respond to the challenge posed by the H2020 Call (“To develop new perspectives and improved methodologies for capturing the wider societal value of culture, including but also beyond its economic impact”). To do so, MESOC adapts and further develops a method for “transition based” impact assessment derived from a previous UNESCO Chair publication, building a structural model of the Societal Dimension of Culture, as defined by one of the strategic objectives of the European Agenda for Culture.
The model will be used in the project:
• To define the perimeter of investigation of the societal value and impacts of cultural policies and practices, framing and guiding the collection of academic and institutional literature and the definition of a set of case studies relevant to the three crossover themes of the European Agenda - personal well-being and health, citizens involvement and participation, urban and territorial renovation;
• As a theoretical lens to propose and validate, using the Delphi consultation method, in collaboration with a large representation of key institutional, academic and professional actors, a long list of impact transmission variables and indicators reflecting the inner dynamics (“theory of change") of the surveyed case studies;
• As an evaluative tool to assess the societal value and impacts of cultural policies and practices related to the three crossover themes, both diachronically - i.e. by comparing the status of a same pilot community in different points of time, according to the preselected variables and indicators - and synchronically - i.e. by comparing the status of different communities in a same point of time according to the same variable and indicator;
• To propose a (tentative) set of statistical data sources (possibly including new ones that are practically and economically feasible) which could complement existing measures of the societal value and impacts of culture.
As a first layer of experimentation during the project, the model will be tested within 10 European city pilots. Testing will materialize through:
• Building an online repository of relevant cultural policies and practices to extract the most appropriate impact transmission variables and indicators in retrospect, and to analyse what have been the critical success factors in determining the final outcomes of the selected transition pathway(s) (Survey Evaluation Approach)
• Establishing a policy dialogue with public officials and top/middle managers in charge of culture at city level, to define a suitable group of ongoing/forthcoming projects and initiatives, with the aim of identifying the key transition variables in each case, and to propose indicators to measure the societal impacts of those activities according to the underlying “theory of change” (Build Up Evaluation Approach).
The ultimate, expected output of the project is a Free and Open Access, online service (named the MESOC Toolkit) to be used by both researchers and practitioners (the latter including both policy makers and cultural operators from all over the EU) to measure the societal value and impacts of cultural policies and practices. Intense awareness raising and dissemination activities will support the early deployment phase of the MESOC Toolkit and foster the take-up of the proposed method at the European, national and local levels in Europe. Such activities will be supported, not only by an open and interactive website, but also by another existing web and mobile platform, named AU Culture, which will be used to do specific surveys of cultural users, stakeholders and policy makers at wide European level, as described in the MESOC DoA.
During the first project year, the initial Structural Model was issued as planned. Besides that, a demonstrator of the main Toolkit functionalities named “MESOC Serapeum” was made available as a stand-alone system. A new and extended version is currently in the process of being uploaded to a dedicated server at the University of Valencia. The mesoc-serapeum.eu domain has been registered to that purpose.
An international workshop was successfully organised, the proceedings of which are available on the official project website. 7 Pilot cities were involved in its preparation plus 12 additional ones participating to the workshop. About 50 projects have been analysed so far.
An online document repository has been made available internally and the MESOC partners have so far uploaded 582 scientific papers – 498 of which used for analysis.
The English translations of the AU Culture platform user interfaces were made available and the system can now be retrieved online at https://aucultur.eu/
MESOC proposes an alternative approach to impact measurement, based on an ex-ante and/or ex-post reconstruction of the underlying theory of change supporting innovations in cultural policies and practices. This may help to some extent reduce the need for original and ad hoc data collections to build indicator series that anyway suffer from a number of theoretical limitations.
The project will conclude its work by suggesting a (tentative) set of statistical data sources (possibly including new ones that could be practically and economically feasible) which could complement existing measures of the societal value and impacts of culture by adding its effects on personal well-being and health, citizens involvement and participation, urban identity and social cohesion.
A key output of the project is the MESOC toolkit, an impact evaluation instrument for cultural policies and practices based on the structural model developed and tested within the 10 participant cities. The toolkit will be made freely available online, even after the project’s end, to both researchers and practitioners (the latter including both policy makers and cultural operators).
MESOC logo from website