Arts, Culture and Soft Power: Developing an Evidence Base

Gayle McPherson, David McGillivray, Sophie Mamattah, Tamsin Cox (Contributor), Karl Erik Norrman (Contributor)

    Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


    University of the West of Scotland, in partnership with DHA Communications and the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy (ICD), was commissioned by the British Council to produce a thought piece focused on the use of arts and culture in the achievement of soft power objectives. The research team sought to build on the evidence generated through the recent AHRC Cultural Value Project, other international examples and the British Council’s own bank of arts based evaluation and research to address the following guiding research questions:

    • Whether and how do the arts contribute to the aims, aspirations and delivery of soft power and what is the arts value and contribution to this agenda?
    • What are the conditions for change the arts can create within a soft power agenda?
    • How do we develop a creditable evidence base/evidence framework/set of ingredients/ Theory of Change to measure the impact of the arts in the delivery of soft power outcomes?

    In the academic and grey literatures there is often a blurring of the lines between public diplomacy, cultural relations and cultural diplomacy and the role of Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPB), charities, cultural organisations and governments in advocating for soft power outcomes deriving from arts and cultural activity. This thought piece explores the differences between – and similarities across – public diplomacy, cultural diplomacy and cultural relations (Bound, 2007; Rivera, 2015) and examines the evidence for how each contributes to soft power processes and outcomes.

    The interest in soft power is not restricted to the UK. The extent of a nation’s soft power is increasingly subject to measurement with the Portland Soft Power 30 and Global Power City Index reports providing evidence of this tendency. These initiatives have generated a series of global indicators that draw upon culture, education, science politics, and economy to annually assess the extent to which nations have risen through or fallen down these indexes, but they primarily make use of proxy measures to reach their conclusions. The Monocle Report in 2016 showed that Britain had dropped down that particular soft power table, creating consternation amongst those occupying diplomatic roles. For organisations like the British Council, the ‘hard’, quantitative proxy measures used to produce these global indexes of soft power sit uncomfortably with their commitment to the development of long-term relationships and mutual understanding that cannot easily be reduced to quantifiable indicators. The output arising from arts and culture can be translated into quantitative measures if required but the AHRC Cultural Value project and related research evidence suggests that there may be greater value in trying to explore a more qualitative appraisal of the role of art and culture in soft power – of the intangible elements – which may include understanding soft power as a process rather than simply an outcome. In this endeavour, there is a need to look to other definitions or indicators of value in order to evaluate the long term and more intangible impacts and meanings of soft power.
    Original languageEnglish
    PublisherUniversity of the West of Scotland
    Commissioning bodyBritish Council
    Number of pages57
    Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2017


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