11 Notions on the Opportunities Offered by Research Resources for Cultural Policy

Sociologist Tatiana Vodolazhskaya talked about how the team of the Centre for European Transformation was able to give a complete assessment of the сultural sphere of Belarus and define a number of activities in the cultural policy.
  1. Management in the cultural field is one of the most complex areas of activity and policy. Firstly, it so broad that it practically covers everything that we find in present-day society: from the collective conscience to technological innovations. Secondly, it includes a large number of participants with their own values, opinions and interests, which are often difficult to align if not in opposition to each other. Thirdly, creativity as a significant and extremely valuable part of the cultural process is difficult to couple with the logic of management or organisation. “Culture shouldn’t be managed – this kills it,” is often heard as soon as the development of culture is brought up.
  2. In spite of the noted complexities, culture is increasingly becoming the object of managerial and political attention and is becoming the engine of social and political change and a mechanism for resolving social problems. Dictated by the nature of the field, management practices rely on the “soft power” of the implementation of conventions and charters, which organise activities by establishing frameworks, principles and reference points of values for change in culture. Such an approach in management calls for new forms of thinking and self-organisation, which are contrary to the directive form of management.

  3. The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions 2005 is potentially one of the most significant instruments today for change in cultural policy in Belarus. Within the framework of the Convention, culture is assigned a broad spectrum of functions and duties, which are relevant in today’s society, and is no longer regarded as a separate (often subsidised) sector, but as the foundation and a measure of the development of society (including economic, social and humanitarian development). It sets the main coordinates of cultural policy with the aim of attaining such goals as: rights and freedoms, individual self-expression, social engagement, solidarity, mutual understanding and dialogue between communities, peoples and nations, resolution of new challenges associated with the development of technologies, etc. For Belarus, the signing of the Convention is an important step in the harmonisation of policies and integration of Belarus into the European cultural space.

  4. The signing of the Convention is in itself a necessary but insufficient condition for effecting change in cultural policy. The regular reports on implementation, which are stipulated in the Convention as a tracking tool, are also insufficient. The main omission of this form of oversight is: 1) the reports include actions performed within the framework of the Convention but do not include the effects of these actions, i.e. the actual changes in the cultural sphere; 2) they limit the “control” power held only by public institutions in the absence of forms and mechanisms for the coordination of actions of all the stakeholders in cultural policy (business, civil society structures).

  5. Overcoming these two issues comes within the remit of organising regular monitoring of the cultural sphere on the basis of the values and principles enshrined in the Convention. Such monitoring would allow: 1) tracking the state of the various parameters of the development of culture and, on that basis, to draw conclusions about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the actions undertaken; 2) giving a general diagnosis of the sector, which could be a common basis for planning individual and collective actions, agreeing strategies and projects for various stakeholders of cultural policy; 3) organising public dialogue about culture issues and thus making it possible to raise the values and principles of the Convention to the level of public consciousness.

  6. Today, there is no established methodology for such monitoring. The most suitable methodology for the goals defined in the Convention is the UNESCO Culture for Development (CDIS), as it was developed in accordance with the Convention. It is less focused on economic indicators (the economy figures as one of seven dimensions) and includes qualitative indicators such as: analysis of the legislative environment, possibilities for the participation of various stakeholders in all cultural processes, issues of social participation. However, this system has its drawbacks too. In particular, this has to do with the lack of a significant amount of data, in addition to failures to take into account the features of such countries as Belarus (including other post-Soviet countries).

  7. After the analysis of Belarusian legislation and statistical and research development, the Centre for European Transformation set the goal of creating a toolkit for assessing the implementation of the Convention, which would be capable of addressing the drawbacks and becoming a tool of cultural policy. In 2015, a system of indices and indicators was created that characterise the five dimensions of cultural policy: 1) The conditions for the development/manifestation of diversity (legal, economic, social and activity-related opportunities and conditions that are provided by the state and society for the implementation of all the components of the cultural cycle); 2) The influence of the cultural sector on the economy and development indicators (the contribution of the cultural sector to the economy, employment, personal development, tolerance, gender equality, inter-personal trust); 3) The internal resources and development capacity of the cultural sphere (engagement size, expansion of skills sets and training of participants, incentive and development tools, etc.); 4) The development of cross-cultural interaction and communication (size of joint cultural production, exchange, export and import of products, and development of communication and interaction between various cultures inside the country); 5) The interaction between the various stakeholders of cultural policy (the existence of mechanisms and practices of participating in strategic and policy decisions adopted by the government, business, and civil society).

    On the basis of this system of indicators, a pilot monitoring report was conducted, which included, on the one hand, the collection of objective information (a set of statistical and other information on each of the selected dimensions) and, on the other, expert assessments. Expert assessments combined quantitative assessment (relating to each dimension ranging from 1 to 30 points) and a substantive reasoning of the given points. The results of the monitoring enabled a comprehensive assessment of the cultural sphere in Belarus and the formulation of a series of areas of activity in cultural policy.

  8. The assessment of the cultural sphere based on the five dimensions of cultural policy revealed an overall low level of compliance with the Convention. Two dimensions received the lowest marks: 1) the influence of the cultural sector on the development of society and 2) the interaction between various stakeholders of cultural policy. These measurements indicate the residual principle in relation to culture and the absence of serious cultural and political development strategies. Moreover, these assessments indicate that programming and strategy planning for the development of culture is for now carried out within the framework of out-dated notions of culture. Despite some changes in these notions, culture is still not regarded as a factor of not only economic but also social and humanitarian development. Neither is culture regarded within the framework of notions of freedom of speech, human rights, etc. Culture and cultural policy remain an area of state concern and responsibility, rather than an area of partnership on the basis of equality.

  9. The most significant factor hindering the development of cultural diversity is the division of the whole cultural sphere into “loyal” and “independent” sides, i.e. there is actual subordination of the development of the cultural sphere to ideological and political factors. This crack is not referred to in any formal way, therefore the decisions and actions taken in accordance with the given factor exist in a grey area, so cannot be discussed in a mode of dialogue, communication and change of formal legal and activity-related conditions. The impact of this factor is applied as a frame on other circumstances of diversity development: national, sub-cultural, field-related, etc. The overall tendency of the Belarusian state on the subordination of all areas of life in society makes the given factor the leading obstacle to development. This issue is directly related to the opacity of effective rules, the arbitrariness and instability of the grounds for decisions and actions on the part of state bodies, which are subject to the present (and changing) ideological or political course. Compounding the ideological and political subordination of the cultural sphere is the infringement of Belarusian culture proper as the culture of the titular people, a fact that turns it into a marginal part (at best, a sub-culture) of the cultural sphere present in the country. At the same time, Russian Soviet culture is broadly disseminated as are the newly-created models of post-Soviet, albeit non-Belarusian, norms and values. 

  10. One of the major causes for the stagnation of the cultural sphere is the actual lack of cultural policy as a modern shared vision of the direction of development of culture in the context of notions of the significance of this sphere in society’s development. The absence of a strategy is compounded by, or linked to, the absence of a mechanism for coordinating the interests of various stakeholders and the practice of formulating such strategies. The opportunities for development, and prospects for promoting, the Belarusian cultural sphere are linked to the development and strengthening of the work of non-government stakeholders in the cultural space. They have a sufficiently high potential in relation to new methods, approaches and ideas and are capable of opening up additional opportunities for attracting resources to the cultural sphere. To employ this potential, it is necessary to introduce freer frameworks for the work of creative stakeholders, civil organisations as well as private business.

  11. The results of the pilot study have made it possible to draw a number of conclusions and recommendations for both state bodies and civil society. These recommendations relate to the development of dialogue and perfecting the tools of joint assessment and coordination of the interests of various stakeholders. An important part of these recommendations is developing a system of assessment and monitoring, which is an integral part of the process of implementation of the Convention in Belarus, as well as all countries seeking to implement the values and goals stipulated in it. 

A detailed description and analysis of the obtained data are presented in the report published in Russian and English on the official website of the Centre for European Transformation.

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