Cultural and creative spillovers in Europe: Report on a preliminary evidence review

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In early 2015, we commissioned Tom Fleming Creative Consultancy to undertake the methodological review. After months of work, we are proud
to present the report and would like to invite you to join the conversation on cultural and creative spillovers in Europe. The report sheds light on cultural and creative spillovers in Europe and will contribute to scientific, cultural and political debate around evidencing the value of culture and public investment into the arts, culture and creative industries. Contact us for a hard copy.

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What next?

The report concludes with recommendations primarily to the European Union, paying tribute to its policy focus on spillover effects as laid down in the EU communication (COM(2012) 537):

  • Dedicating a proportion of all Creative Europe- and Horizon 2020-funded projects in the cultural and creative sectors for holistic evaluation that balances qualitative and quantitative evidence capture.
  • Creating a new programme for the development and progression of qualitative methods and indicators in the cultural and creative industries, to be led by the Joint Research Centre of the European Union.
  • Calling for the co-ordination of national research agendas in the cultural and creative sectors by an Open Method of Coordination (OMC) group.

“Without a new holistic research agenda, cultural and creative policies will not be able to innovate, unleash and capture the wider value of the arts, culture and the creative industries to the wider economy and society. We recommend that governments and policymakers at all levels realise that they are key change-makers for the creation and evidencing of cultural and creative spillovers”.
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Summary of the report

Research aims

  • To better understand what evidence exists on a European-wide level on spillover effects of public investment in arts and culture
  • To develop an interdisciplinary and shared understanding of the methods of gathering evidence around spillovers
  • To recommend suitable methodologies for measuring spillover effects
  • To promote consistent and credible research methods to enable sector and public authorities to improve effective policy making and resource allocation
  • To understand spillover effects that arise as a consequence of investment by public or private stakeholders in the arts, culture and creative industries.

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Evidence strengths

There are three areas where evidence for spillovers is particularly strong and/or where there is an apparent need for further research (e.g. because of the strategic importance afforded certain types of return on investment).

These are discussed in more detail in the report, and are:
  • Innovation via knowledge spillovers.
  • Health and wellbeing via knowledge and industry spillovers.
  • Creative milieu and place branding/positioning via network, knowledge and industry spillovers.


Based on the evidence library, causality is not systematically evaluated in the cultural and creative sectors against scientific standards such as Bradford Hill Criteria. Out of the library of 98 documents only two approach the standards needed for causality. More methods derived from the social sciences, especially those that test hypotheses using qualitative research methods, could be beneficial.

These include:
  • Experimental studies which test cause-effect relationships in a controlled setting including counter-factuals and control groups.
  • Action research, where hypotheses are tested through the introduction of interventions into complex social phenomena or ethnographical techniques, including immersion over a period of time.
  • The proxy research approach – utilising techniques developed in other areas including research into Social Return on Investment (SROI).

Recommendations for future research

From the evidence library, we can draw out a range of areas where future research programmes would be particularly valuable. These include research into:
  • How to embed spillover research into mapping and evaluation tools which track and measure public investment, and how to identify spillover outcomes as part of the overall outcome proposition for public funding programmes.
  • Incentivised programmes into cross-sector working including collaborations between the arts and culture, creative industries and other sectors.
  • Hybrid and cross-sector spaces and places which allow for structured and unstructured knowledge transfer between the arts, culture and creative industries and wider business, social and technological sectors.
  • Incentivised spillover-generating actions such as knowledge- and technology-exchange programmes that connect the arts and cultural sector to universities and technology businesses.
  • Strategic commissioning for arts, health and wellbeing and how spillover effects can be encouraged and facilitated.

Methodological recommendations

In terms of developing methodologies which will allow for greater understanding of the value of public investment, analysis of the library suggests that the following interdisciplinary approaches should be investigated:
  • Longitudinal intervention studies based on best practice from social science, including the use of control groups.
  • Testing hypotheses around the process and means by which cultural and creative spillovers drive innovation in places and the wider economy through experimental methodological approaches utilising ‘big data’ and wellbeing (frameworks).
  • Consumer analysis utilising new technology to help us get a better understanding of culture’s role in driving the experience economy.
  • Developing a holistic set of methodological tools across the 17 spillover sub-categories that could work at different levels of government.

Challenges to our approach

There have been some challenges to the evidence review that give an insight into the existing evidence on spillover effects and on measuring social outcomes of cultural activity.
  1. The majority of studies in the library do not set out to directly capture spillovers. Partly this is a language issue – some of the studies date from a time when spillovers were not discussed in the context of culture and creativity – so these reports are happier referring to indirect impacts.
  2. At other times these is a reluctance to take a more holistic approach, with studies preferring instead to talk in the language of economic impact. The reviewers face the situation of trying to find spillover effects that authors did not necessarily consider to be important in their study.
  3. Analytically, there is very limited credible evidence of causal impact. What we have provides evidence that is small scale and limited.
  4. Little of the research library captures negative spillovers or dis-benefits. To act on a policy level we need to see the full range of outcomes of investment in arts and cultural activity, but at present, the only examples of negative spillovers from arts and culture-led regeneration is around gentrification.
  5. Little of the evidence outlines the funding context. The scale of the task meant that where this information was not offered, it wasn’t possible to research the funding context of each report. So, we recognise that our core research objective of understanding the value of publically funded arts and culture and creative industries is harder to interrogate than anticipated.
  6. Finally, there has been a challenge in developing a new narrative around existing reliable approaches.
  7. There is also a methodological consideration to bear in mind. While this was, for us, the best way of tackling this approach, we are aware that the evidence library represents a particular viewpoint, mostly that of policy makers, funders and researchers, who have built the evidence base. We are keen to make clear that this was not the only way of approaching the review but that it was the most pragmatic for us at the time.

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