A Missed Opportunity

On 30 September Creative Scotland announced it was undertaking a survey on Understanding Diversity on the Arts in order ‘to build a clearer picture about who is working in the arts today across a range of roles, and what the perceived barriers are to entering, progressing and developing in the arts professionally.’

The survey itself is comprehensive, logical and clearly worded. However there is a fatal flaw in the methodology. It is being distributed via Creative Scotland’s own newsletter, on its website and through a range of organisations and contacts. It is therefore open to anyone to respond.

There are two problems with this. First it is open to manipulation. Anyone can complete with bogus details and completely distort the findings.

Second, there is no attempt to establish a sample which could be seen as representative of the arts in Scotland. We may find that, for example, the majority of responses come from one group or another (for example men or women or people with disabilities; theatre makers or visual artists).   The results will represent only the views of people who responded. It is difficult to see how any conclusions can be drawn and policies and strategies developed on the back of the findings.

Moreover, if repeated in, for example, two years, no conclusions will be able to be drawn on any changes which have taken place.

Why does this matter?

The main concern is that many people who are committed to gender balance, support for artists with disabilities or development of black and minority ethnic artists who see this as a really significant step will be hugely disappointed. This survey will tell us what we already know: there are many artists who believe they have encountered or have evidence of discrimination. But nothing more.

It also lets Creative Scotland off the hook. It has one significant power – to distribute money across the arts. This survey will not tell us if their funding is supporting or tackling barriers.

And finally it brings research in the arts into disrepute. There are too many examples of ill-thought through methodology in arts research leading to claims being made about how they are managed and the impact they have, that just don’t stand up.

When I heard about plans for this survey from Creative Scotland, I raised these concerns. Sadly they were not heeded.

PS for avoidance of doubt I have not completed the survey.