Understanding Well-being Data

chapter 7 Evidencing Culture for Policy

Well-being data and cultural practice

So, we know that culture is a tricky word to define and can be measured in different ways; we know the same is true of well-being. We have looked at how we might need to think about how the concept of well-being is ‘operationalised’. This is, of course, also true of culture, and the previous chapter spent some time covering different meanings and uses of culture.

What is it about culture that is being measured? This is, therefore, another question to think about, when we are trying to understand the relationship between culture and well-being. It is just as true whether we are reading the research of others, or, indeed, trying to design our own. Is it the specific activities that make culture? Different cultures? The culture wars? If it is measuring the activities that make up ‘culture’ (however defined), is it people who do things themselves or watch others? That is, are you producing culture (i.e. making art) or consuming it (i.e. watching Netflix)? Are you an artist or another kind of cultural practitioner who makes culture as their profession? Or a painter or singer in your spare time? Does singing along to the radio count the same way that being a member of a church choir does? Is it about participating with people? Does watching other people sing (because you are an audience member with people) count as participating in culture, just through watching? If so, does it make a difference if you watch it digitally—and with family or alone? What about the evidence we have seen that being outside seems to increase the relationship between different activities and well-being1? Should that mean that all outside arts get more money because they will have extra well-being value?

All these ways of thinking about what you might want to measure about culture for society or people actually involve quite different experiences for people. In this language of well-being valuation and data, you might find someone saying that how you operationalise culture matters for well-being effects. If you measure going to pubs or restaurants, how can you be sure that this is not a proxy for disposable income, leisure time or spending time with friends? The following might be the questions you might want to ask for cultural and social policy:

• What are you doing?
• Who are you doing it with?
• Where are you doing it?
• How long are you doing it for?
• How often are you doing it?
• How long do we expect an effect to last?
• How big should that effect be to count as impacting on well-being?

We’re not going to go into arguments for what the most important aspect of cultural participation is. We have touched on these debates in Chap. 6 and acknowledged they are comprehensively covered elsewhere. Instead, as this book is about well-being data, we are going to look at how data can help answer certain questions, and what the limits to these are. We are going to compare how two different research projects answered a question about being an artist or having a creative occupation, and how that might be related to well-being.

  1. MacKerron and Mourato 2013 []