Measuring the immeasurable: the impact of culture on development

Culture for Development Indicator Suite ©UNESCO

One of the challenges of a culturally-sensitive development agenda is the ability to measure its impact. The attempt to quantify the specific contribution of a ‘culturally-appropriate’ development policy, as opposed to one that does not take culture into consideration, is unavoidably complex. 

In response, UNESCO has been spearheading two important initiatives that provide an evidence-based picture of culture’s role in development. This includes the development of a Framework for Cultural Statistics and an operational project, the “UNESCO Culture for Development Indicator Suite. 

The ‘Suite’ consists of indicators ranging from the economic weight of the culture sector, to social cohesion, cultural participation, and individual freedoms, to education, governance, or access to means of communication among others. Together, these indicators provide a snapshot of the situation and valuable development policy analysis. The project involves as well providing capacity building for national statistical agencies to collect and analyse cultural statistics. 

The UNESCO Culture for Development Indicator Suite quantitatively demonstrates culture’s role in sustainable development at the national level, generating the first quantitative evidence of culture’s weight in national economies and its role in strengthening a range of other development policies. For example, in Ecuador, the contribution of formal and private cultural activities to GDP reached 4.76% in 2010, with households spending 4% of their budget on cultural products.

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