Alis Elena Oancea: Developing Innovative Methods for Configurative Capture of the Cultural Value of Arts and Humanities Research

The value of arts and humanities research has long been the object of political debate, administrative regulation, and scholarly argument. Arguments for the contribution of the arts and humanities to wealth creation, institutional health, positive community dynamics and wellbeing have coexisted (and often clashed) with those for the intrinsic value of cultural experiences.

As international organisations, public bodies and governmental agencies in numerous countries have found, indicator frameworks, guidelines and assessment toolkits, and surveys have not been able to identify and capture the components of cultural value. Methodologies for cultural measurement have been proposed, including cultural-economic measures, measures of cultural freedom, community cohesion and cultural vitality indices, measures of well-being and personal development through cultural experiences, digital impacts, and societal, environmental, health and educational impacts. Yet, despite these many efforts to measure the cultural value of research, assessment and funding requirements have typically foregrounded problem-solution and impact indicator-driven approaches. As a result, relatively static and linear accounts of the links between research and cultural benefits have become the norm. There is space further to develop balanced conceptualisations and in-depth, textured methodologies for exploring and articulating cultural value from research.

This study uses conceptual, methodological and empirical work to try to move beyond dualist arguments about intrinsic vs. instrumental value, articulating vs. measuring value, or social accountability vs. economic accounting. It recognises both the synergic interactions between epistemic, technical and “phronetic” aims of research (Oancea and Furlong, 2007), and the diversity of interpretations and practices of the impact of research in the full range of disciplines (arts and humanities; social sciences; natural and mathematical sciences; and health and medical sciences – Oancea, 2011, 2013). The study explores comparatively the limits of linear notions of value and impact in the arts and the humanities, as well as cross-disciplinary cultural value-related practices arising from shared contexts for academic work.

Having explored the extensive literature that underpins this area, and carried out purposeful sampling to determine institutions and individuals to contact, the research team has conducted over 70 in-depth, extended interviews with participants from ten different arts and humanities disciplines and from extra-academic settings. The interviews investigated not only academics’ perspectives on cultural value, but also explored the opinions of partner organisations – cultural, third sector, commercial and community, among others. A small-scale survey of research administrators is also being carried out. Two events on research impact have been convened through the philosophy forum of the Oxford University Department of Education (speakers: Dr Claire Donovan; Prof Patrick Dunleavy; Dr Eleonora Belfiore).

One of the intentions of the study is to produce, jointly with the participants, visualisations of research value and networks in different disciplines, thus revealing the complex balance of field-distinctive interpretations and common practices. Seventeen network visualisations have been drafted to date.

The underpinning concerns for texture, diversity, nuance and ecology make the methodology developed through this study particularly relevant to work in the arts and humanities. Through this methodology, for example, seamless connections were revealed between research generation and cultural benefits in the arts, which can be obscured by the requirement (e.g. in the REF) to separate sharply, for assessment purposes, scholarly research from creative practice and cultural experience.

Methods for Configurative Capture of the Cultural Value of Arts and Humanities Research, AHRC Cultural Value Project, 2013-14. Oxford University Department of Education. PI: Dr Alis Oancea; researchers: Dr Jeanette Atkinson and Dr Maria Teresa Florez; interns: Samantha Seiter, Sijung Cho and Kyeongwa Lee. Contact: alis.oancea@education.ox.ac.uk.

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