The future of local cultural decision making
An open policy development programme
Culture Commons are convening creative and cultural sector, local government and researchers to explore the future of increased local decision making across the UK.
This collaborative structured dialogue will shape a suite of new policy positions that we hope will support the future flourishing of the creative and cultural life of communities right across the UK.
This 12-month open policy development programme is designed to convene a 'coalition of the willing' from across local, regional and national governments, academia, arm’s length bodies and key sector organisations and networks to:
identify the challenges and opportunities that the emerging devolution/increased local decision making agenda presents to the creative and cultural life of different places across the UK
arrive at a new shared language to better articulate how the creative, cultural and heritage sectors interact with, and can support, the devolution agenda in England
co-design a suite of potential policy positions that could support a more equitable and sustainable flourishing of creative and cultural activity in all parts of the UK
Throughout the 12-month programme we'll explore a series of thematic policy areas (see Project Overview link below) and develop policy positions across those themes to share with key decision makers.
We are currently seeking ambitious organisations, whether local government, academia, industry or third sector, interested in developing national level policy influence, to co-partner with us on this journey.
A fuller programme outline, including the remit, policy focus and investment needed to sustain the programme, is set out below. Please do get in touch with us if you'd like to be involved.
You can download our project documents here:
There is a large body of evidence that demonstrates how many infrastructures and outcomes associated with the creative, cultural and heritage sectors are unevenly distributed across the regions and nations, are less available to certain groups in society and that communities do not have a meaningful say on how they are being developed.
The current UK Government, and all major political parties at the UK level, have recently set out several policy position that centre the creative and cultural sectors within their economic growth strategies. UK Government and leading Opposition parties have also agreed to devolve decision making powers to local governments to help address regional imbalances.
With increased local decision making now broadly accepted as a policy imperative across the UK, we propose that attention must now turn to how devolution might be harnessed to have the best possible outcomes for the creative and cultural sectors.
If devolution is not delivered strategically and equitably with appropriate oversight mechanisms, we risk several direct and indirect impacts on the creative and cultural sectors which could exacerbate geographical inequalities and result in a further fragmentation in growth between the regions and nations.
Whilst organisations like The Institute for Government and The Bennett Institute at University of Cambridge have long-investigated devolution as a phenomenon, the creative and cultural sectors have not yet come together to explore what devolution might mean from a creative and cultural ecosystem perspective. As things stand, there has been no clear articulation of the kind of devolution that works, or could work, well for the creative and cultural sectors or local authorities at different stages of the devolution journey.
Given the current political context and fiscal environment, we believe that now is the moment for experts and practitioners to come together to inform future policy thinking in this space.
We have concluded that a new programme of collaborative dialogue and deliberative policy thinking is needed to unpack the opportunities and risks that the creative and cultural sectors face and put forward possible ways in which gaps in central government and opposition party proposals might be narrowed. This programme represents the first structured dialogue of its kind in the UK.
Recognising the clear political direction of travel set out by each of the major UK political parties in recent months, as well as key research, projects and case studies from leading partners within the sectors, we have identified possible inter-related thematic areas that our programme partners could meaningfully help shape proposals in:
As our flagship policy concern, within this theme we propose to consider some of the practical mechanics of devolution from the creative, cultural and heritage perspective.
Within the wider context of devolution, and the sector’s increasing interest of the role of the sectors in placemaking approaches, we’ll explore the best models and programmes for building ‘creative clusters’ across the UK.
Funding with Purpose
Drawing on the approach of Arts Council England's ‘Priority Places’ and the UK Government’s Levelling Up funding initiatives designed to redress inequalities in regional investment, we’ll explore the future of funding approaches to culture in the context of devolution.
With all political parties committing to put local communities closer to decision making, and drawing on case studies of pioneering co-design, we'll explore practical mechanisms for locally empowered decision making.
How we'll do it
Culture Commons will lead the programme on behalf of partners but, as a collaborative partnership programme, all activity and all key decision-making moments will be decided upon collectively.
To ensure effective partnership working, Culture Commons is proposing the following governance model:
The programme will be guided by a high-level Steering Panel, consisting of senior representatives from each of the contributing partners, as well as ‘observers’ from key stakeholder groups across policy, the creative and cultural sectors and academia.
Steering Panel members will be influential and command the attention of policy makers and sector leaders across a variety of sub-sectors, and help put a public face to the programme within their own spheres of influence.
The Steering Panel will ultimately hold collective responsibility for any final policy positions that emanate from the programme and sign off on any publication that is intended to be placed in front of decision makers.
The Panel will be supported by a Working Group, consisting of policy experts, practitioners, researchers and members of the Culture Commons team, and will explore each of the policy themes identified in more detail together; convening semi-regularly across the 12-month period.
This is the engine room of the programme, which will deep-dive into the themes we've identified in more detail.
The Working Group will meet regularly during the 12-month programme to exchange knowledge, gather insights and propose policy positions for consideration by the Steering Panel.
A partnership based approach
The creative and cultural sectors consist of a rich tapestry of subsectors and stakeholders, each acting in unique ways with specific powers and responsibilities operating at different levels. Therefore, we believe that no one organisation can meaningfully explore the themes we have identified by working alone. This is why Culture Commons have proposed to convene an open policy development programme with a collaborative partnership model.
Throughout Q2 2023, Culture Commons has been reaching out to potential partners across the UK from within our existing networks. In addition, we have activated wider networks of trusted partners and national umbrella bodies and made several public facing invitations for expressions of interest, to broaden the reach.
We have successfully confirmed several local government and sector representative body partners and secured grant funding and research partners too.
We are now in advanced talks with additional local and combined authorities, sector support organisations and arm's length bodies in different parts of the UK who we hope will join the programme soon.
Further, we are exploring strategic partnerships with sector bodies and networks who can help us to ensure voices from the creative and cultural sectors, who are often excluded from policy making processes, are at the table with us wherever possible.
By building a coalition of stakeholders across different institutions and organisations responsible for the growth and flourishing of the UK’s creative and cultural sector’s, we’ll be well-placed to draw together expertise from across the research community, the creative and the cultural sectors and local and national governments to address the policy and operational delivery questions that our sectors face.
Join the programme
If you'd like to join as full programme partners, please get in touch with us.
In joining the programme, you and your team will be able to work with Culture Commons’ small team of policy professionals and a diverse range of programme partners over a 12-month period.
You will be at the table for a first-of-its-kind conversation exploring increased local decision making through the lens of the UK’s creative and cultural ecosystem.
Culture Commons will ensure you are able to focus on specific and clear policy areas and/or research tasks that fit with your area of expertise and working knowledge.
The programme will culminate in the publication of a document outlining the policy positions that the partners want to collectively communicate to key decision makers.
As a partner, we would ask that you/your organisation work collaboratively with us and other partner organisations throughout the programme to:
share existing research, insights and views on the policy areas being explored;
respond to other partners research, insights and views with care and sensitivity;
share programme findings and any agreed policy positions with your sector and associated networks.
Culture Commons will work with you to spotlight your organisations previous relevant work within the programme and identify how any programme outputs might dovetail with policy, research and reputational objectives you may have in your own organisation, area or research discipline.
The programme will culminate in the publication of a document outlining the policy positions we want to collectively share with the policy community.
These positions will hopefully influence both the internal and external approaches that the partners and wider stakeholders we engage take when promoting culture and creativity.
Following a 12-month programme, it is anticipated that Culture Commons will take up a period of concerted advocacy, designed to ensure the outputs are received by key decision at the local, regional and national levels, as well as the creative and cultural sectors.
Our ambitions are to:
Amplify agreed policy positions and the principles behind them with key creative and cultural stakeholders beyond the partnership - promoting consensus, new ways of working, shared language and relational capacity between sector stakeholders;
Identify and secure opportunities to inform the design of future policy in UK Government departments after the 2024 General Election on behalf of the partnership;
Instigate new research programmes and partnerships to fill in any gaps in understanding identified throughout the programmes;
Garner recognition and publicity for the programme and policy positions from key sector-relevant networks, policy institutes and research organisations (including PEC, RSA, AHRC)
Our ask to you
Recognising that the benefits that would accrue from the policy that the partnership will design together, we propose that each partner contributes equally to the programme; this will ensure that the programme is appropriately sustained through to completion and that the entire process will be underpinned by a sense of equity and cooperation.
In summary, we ask that:
local government partners contribute £15k
grant giving partners and arm's length bodies contribute £30k
research community partners contribute a package of cash and in-kind research capacity equivalent to at least £15k
In addition to the above, all contributing partners will be asked to provide:
one senior member of staff to sit on the programme Steering Panel
staff/officers to attend a series of Working Group meetings
For local government officers considering this proposal, we believe that this is a moment for your organisation to come together with others around the UK to help shape future policy at the national level in a way that works for all, ensuring that policy commitments to local culture in your area fit for purpose now and into the future.
For sector representatives considering this proposal, we believe that now is the time to be around the table with the decision makers in local government who will hold more power and responsibilities for culture and creativity in future to co-design policies that work for your subsectors.
For researchers, universities and think tanks considering this proposal, we hope you feel the programme offers an exciting opportunity for you and your organisation to apply existing and ongoing research/work in a live policy context, as well as identify new lines of enquiry for future research activities.
We ask that interested parties get in touch with the Culture Commons team to discuss your involvement. Please email email@example.com in the first instance.