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Utilizing Research and Evaluation to Advance the UNESCO Creative Cities Network
Mid Sweden University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Tourism Studies and Geography. (European Tourism Research Institute (ETOUR))ORCID iD: 0000-0003-3887-681X
2016 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The role of research and evaluation in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) is being driven by – and needs to be sensitive to – three key trends. First, as is obvious to everybody here at the Second UNESCO Creative Cities Beijing Summit, there is tremendous interest worldwide in the use of “culture” and “creativity” as resources for revitalizing economies in post-industrial contexts. While much attention has focused on urban settings, peripheral and rural environments are also adopting such strategies (e.g., Region Jämtland-Härjedalen/City of Östersund, Sweden).  Evidence of this trend includes the rapid expansion of the UCCN (just last year, the network went from 69 to 116 designated cities), along with the emergence of a host of related efforts and designations such as the European Capital of Culture, U.K. City of Culture, etc. In other words, “culture” and “creative” strategies have become an increasingly accepted part of the policy and development discourse, which can be seen through the impact of thought leaders such as Charles Landry, Richard Florida, and many others.

 

The second trend worth noting involves the growing discourse (and I might even say obsession) by institutions and organizations with issues of performance, effectiveness, and as a result, evaluation. The United Nations, and by extension UNESCO, are no exception. For example, the UN endorsed 2015 as the international year of evaluation in order to improve program design, delivery, and effectiveness across the organization. While such instincts to employ evaluation are often motivated by a sincere interest in learning and improvement (instead of being used solely as a cost-cutting tactic), there are now many different kinds of evaluation, and each approach is designed for very different purposes. Some examples include front-end evaluation, formative evaluation, summative evaluation, process evaluation, and others. Unfortunately, these differences are typically overlooked and/or misunderstood, which often results in a mismatch between the kind of evaluation (or information) that is desired or needed and the kind of evaluation (or information) that actually is delivered. Such mismatches are capable of causing great harm, especially in new and dynamic arenas that are complex. Michael Quinn Patton, one of the world’s true luminaries in the field of evaluation, addresses these issues directly through the introduction of what I believe to be one of most promising new approaches in evaluation; namely developmental evaluation. In describing this approach, Patton takes on the central issue that also characterizes the discussion around the role of research and evaluation in the UCCN. That is, how do we evaluate things like culture and creativity across something as complex as the UCCN? The context is so different between the member cities, and relationships between causes and effects are constantly evolving. This makes it nearly impossible to apply standard measures or rely solely on best practices because both of these concepts assume stable or consistent implementation environments – which, of course, is not what things look like across the diversity of UCCN members.

 

The third trend that affects this discussion about the role of research and evaluation in the UCCN is the ever-urgent need to become more fundamentally sustainable in our relationship to the planet. Indeed, we have already received strong messages during this summit about how the battle for the planet’s sustainability will be won or lost in cities, and that this underscores the importance of marshalling all of our creative resources to realize a shared and sustainable future.    

 

Implications

 

Taken together, and in terms of utilizing research and evaluation to advance the UCCN, I believe these trends imply the following:

 

  • It is counter-productive to think about (or build) a UCCN research agenda that is separate from the network’s evaluation needs. Research and evaluation should be mutually re-enforcing and integrated activities that are ultimately aimed at improving practice, implementation, design, etc. One way to approach this might be through “Research, Development, and Evaluation” (RDE) platforms or clusters. RDE clusters could be used as a mechanism to integrate research and evaluation while also directly linking member cities that are interested in collaborating on specific initiatives. This approach resembles the logic of communities of practice.

 

  • These RDE platforms (and research/evaluation activities more generally) should be directly driven by the learning and knowledge needs of the network and its member cities. This is a subtle but important point. In my observations of the UCCN thus far, I wonder how likely it is that member cities are interested in learning the same things from research and evaluation activities. Being here in Beijing drives this point home: Could Beijing and Östersund identify a shared set of learning needs? What about the other 114 member cities? Are the contexts and scales too different to allow for a meaningful set of shared learning needs across the cities in the network?

 

  • Who intends to utilize the information generated by research and evaluation activities, and how do they intend to use it? These issues have long been recognized in evaluation circles (Patton has led much of this – see Utilization-focus Evaluation, for example), and the network would be wise to learn from these experiences. Not all research and/or evaluation is created equal in terms of its usability, and we need to be thoughtful about how we approach this given the complexity of the UCCN.

 

  • Finally, as we have seen many times before, it is tempting to rely on, or default to, the use of indicators and best practices when envisioning a research and evaluation agenda for the UCCN. For the reasons described above, I am skeptical that indicators and best practices alone will get us to where we want to go. For example, how many of the decision-makers here today have used the recently released “culture for development” indicators in their decision-making? Similarly, how transferable are the best practices developed Cheng Du to a city like Parma? Returning again to Patton, perhaps we should consider indicators and best practices as “sensitizing concepts” to help orient our research and evaluation activities rather than as fixed constructs that lock us into specific modes of inquiry.

 

In conclusion, I am enthusiastic about the prospects of a research and evaluation strategy for the UCCN – and even more so if we can give thoughtful attention to the issues above.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2016.
National Category
Social Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:miun:diva-29224Local ID: ETOUROAI: oai:DiVA.org:miun-29224DiVA: diva2:1045109
Conference
2nd Annual Beijing Summit of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, Beijing, China,6-8 June, 2016
Available from: 2016-11-08 Created: 2016-11-08 Last updated: 2016-12-01Bibliographically approved

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