Understanding Well-being Data

chapter 6 Relating well-being, values, culture and society

The relationship between culture and well-being

For many the arts are a real source of happiness, joy, fun, relaxation and learning.

(The Director of Research at Arts Council England [Bunting 2007a, 4])

A wider definition [of wealth], associated with Ruskin, sees a nation’s wealth as including personal happiness and fulfilment. It’s an obviously broader view, into which culture fits more readily.

(Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport [Jowell 2004, 8])

to maximise and exploit the contribution of the arts to core policies including education, health, crime, regeneration and the well-being of the population at large.

(Funding agreement between Arts Council England and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport,((The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) became the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in July 2017.)) April 2003–March 2006 [DCMS 2003a, 15])

In 2007 the Director of Research at Arts Council England (ACE) reported on phase one of its first ever ‘public value((We will talk more about public value and cultural value later in this chapter, but if you want a refresher on social value, moral values and valuation, there is a section on it in Chap. 2.)) enquiry’1. The Arts Debate gathered data from nearly 1700 contributions to workshops, in-depth interviews, discussion groups, ‘deliberation’ and ‘open space’ meetings and web discussions2. The first of the above quotes is from one of the reports: Stage one findings and next steps. It argues that the data collected in the Arts Debate prove that the arts are a source of different aspects of well-being, many of which we have already encountered in this book. If this is the case, then these data are useful for understanding how people feel about the arts, as well as how they feel about well-being.

The argument in the above quote from the Arts Debate report recalls the words of utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham that we have encountered before: that the most happiness of the most people should be the aim of policy. By extension, it could be argued that if the arts are a source of happiness for many, then they are important to policy about well-being. The Research Director’s statement seems to be a clear assertion of the utility of the arts to people. This ‘public value enquiry’ was a data gathering exercise to understand the value of the arts to people in the UK, to enable arguments for value in these terms. In cultural policy, ‘culture’ tends to refer to ‘the arts’ by default, and this is reinforced through institutions like ACE and activities like this. The report conjures up a relationship between culture and well-being that, even if unconsciously, is reinforced by drawing on a philosophical grounding. This relationship and the ideas behind it have become naturalised and popularised over time and are used to describe how the arts can improve life, theoretically and practically.

Three years prior to the Arts Debate, Tessa Jowell, the then Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, published a personal essay called Government and the Value of Culture (2004). In this essay, also quoted above, utilitarianism is referenced directly before nineteenth-century thinker, John Ruskin (who is renowned for his thoughts against utility). Jowell paraphrases John Ruskin, stating that a nation’s wealth should include personal happiness. Here, the culture secretary is very consciously explaining that this idea of the good society shows us how culture can demonstrate its value. Crucially, Jowell articulates the value of Ruskin’s view: ‘because culture fits’, and ‘readily’, therefore cementing culture’s public role. The relationship between culture and well-being, or, more specifically, the appetite to prove this relationship, is particularly hungry for well-being data, whilst also producing much well-being data itself. It is, therefore, a good case study for this book, which we will examine further in Chaps. 7 and 8.

This chapter looks at the relationship between culture and well-being to uncover the background to its reliance on data. It sets out the context and arguments behind the subsequent individual data case studies in Chaps. 7 and 8. Establishing ‘the culture–well-being relationship’ in this chapter enables three things. First, it illustrates the role of well-being data in policy evaluation by focussing on one policy sector. Second, it helps us expand on the political economy of data and data practices that we have encountered in Chap. 5. Third, it explores the specific dynamics of the economy of well-being data in a policy sector where few who work inside it consider themselves adept at data (as discussed in the Preface and Chap. 1), despite their reliance on them.

The quotes that open this chapter present evidence of how the ‘culture– well-being’ relationship is invoked and has become naturalised, particularly in the UK. By this I mean, there is a generally accepted view that culture (broadly defined) is good for well-being (broadly defined). We look at the lineage of this idea as something that began with philosophers and is now common sense; naturalised over time and then popularised. More specifically, these two examples from cultural policy-makers demonstrate how the relationship is operationalised((Notably, operationalise means something slightly different in research, particularly quantitative research. Box 7.1 in Chap. 7 explains this further)) (put to use) to argue the value of culture.

We will see how this operationalisation means that these ideas can easily be co-opted to argue that culture should be included in delivering social aims. Good social policy is arguably entirely reliant on appreciating the cultural specificities of communities and broader society. However, this meaning of culture, as ‘ordinary, in every society and every mind’3, is different from that meaning of culture which defaults to that of ‘the arts’ sought by the Arts Debate. We have acknowledged the slippage between definitions and ideas of well-being (happiness, quality of life, the good society, etc.) in previous chapters and will pay similar attention in terms of culture here. This slippage in meaning can be useful in arguments that defend the utility of culture as good for society. As we discover in Chaps. 7 and 8, this is important when looking at uses of well-being data.

This process is often called instrumentalisation((The academic literature looking at the process and effects of instrumentalisation are mixed. Gibson (2008) defends it, whilst many others who write on it talk of its damaging effects (i.e. Belfore 2012; Hadley and Gray 2017).))4 and involves ‘culture’ being used as a means or ‘instrument’ for attaining goals in other areas of society, or what are sometimes called policy areas or domains. Examples can be found in policy documents (as we have seen at the beginning of this chapter), research agendas, strategies and practitioner movements, such as the ‘arts in health’ movement5 or the area of culture in regeneration6. What we have seen through this ongoing period of instrumentalisation is the idea that the arts can be used to directly address societal problems, leading to the argument that culture is, in fact, instrumental to these social policy areas. Indeed, policy documents have argued that arts are so helpful in delivering positive health outcomes that they recommend that health and social care professionals should be trained in arts-based approaches7.

This principle—that the arts are instrumental in delivering broader social projects and improving social infrastructure—has in turn been operationalised to advocate for funds for the arts, as part of making the case for the instrumental value of culture. This has shifted the idea of the value of culture from something belonging to everyone8, to something that is valued for its social impact or for its economic contribution9. In arguing this case, the sector is increasingly required to evaluate how much of this additional value it has generated in response to funding; for example, in the 2003 funding agreement between ACE and the government10 there is a commitment to a contribution across various social policy areas as well as the ‘well-being of the population at large’11.

This is why the cultural sector requires evidence. It has become increasingly reliant on data for these arguments, often requiring metrics as proof. As we go on to discover, the sector is dependent on commissioning research to articulate its value, owing to gaps in data skills and resource as touched on in Chap. 1, and which this book aims to help address.

Box 6.1 The Culture–Well-being Relationship

Theorised naturalised popularised operationalised instrumentalised operationalised metricised capitalised

The values of ‘a good society’, and the idea that culture is intrinsic to them, have become amalgamated into the process of valuation, which has evolved into a form of proof along the way. As Box 6.1 represents, the processes of theorising and naturalising the relationship, to operationalise this idea, have led to a need to prove this relationship exists. In turn the symbolic value of this proof to the cultural sector means that well-being data now have a financial value, and those who can work with well-being data are able to capitalise on this12. This slippage of the meanings of value, values and valuation is part of the cultural value debate5 that we introduce in this chapter.

The ‘slippery’ nature of culture is revealed by how the term is defined and then used. Culture can be described as something more ordinary13, all around us and in everything we do, but the same term can be used to justify the funding of artforms which are anything but ordinary, with often small numbers of people interested in participating on rare, special occasions. Culture is such a ‘complicated word’14 that it makes it difficult to write about the culture–well-being relationship. However, we can see this ambiguity operationalised, as some arguments for the value of culture will refer to broader ideas of culture, when they are arguing for the arts, as we shall see in later chapters.

As described in Chap. 1, change is seen in data, but felt in culture. In the culture–well-being relationship, data are used to ascribe value and culture is where values manifest. Recognition of the increasing value of data tends to focus on the scale of Big Data and the human rights issues of personal data. Whilst important, the effects of the fetishisation of data we have encountered throughout this book are also felt in smaller data projects highlighting the need for skills and literacy in social and cultural policy. This chapter establishes two things: first, the relationship between culture and well-being and its association with data and, second, the explanation as to why there is a market for well-being data and analysis in cultural policy as a form of social policy.

  1. Bunting 2007a []
  2. Bunting 2007b, 4–5 []
  3. Williams [1958] 1989a, 4 []
  4. Gibson 2008; Hadley and Gray 2017; Belfiore 2012 []
  5. ACE 2007; AHRC 2021; AHSW n.d. []
  6. DCMS 2004; LGA 2020; UNESCO 2018 []
  7. All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing 2014 []
  8. Williams [1958] 1989a; Keynes 1945 []
  9. Campbell 2019; DCMS 2011; National Endowment for the Arts 2018 []
  10. cited above []
  11. DCMS 2003a, 15 []
  12. Oman and Taylor 2018 []
  13. Williams [1958] 1989a []
  14. Williams [1976] 1989a, 87 []