How to find out more about your local Creative Industries

28 June 2022

A guide to designing research programmes for local authorities that want to learn more about their local Creative Industries


Eliza Easton

Eliza Easton

Founder, Erskine Analysis. Previously Deputy Director at the Creative PEC

How those bidding for levelling up funds can find out more about their local Creative Industries

Although there are useful national and regional statistics publicly available to those bidding for levelling up funds, including those available here, it is fair to say that the Creative Industries are not always best served by traditional data sets (e.g. collections of information on employment or trade). This is for a number of reasons, including the number of freelancers and small businesses in the creative industries, which tend to be less well represented in surveys, as well as the fact that the Creative sub-sectors and jobs can be at the cutting edge of new technologies and so are not included in older data sets.

That is why the PEC, UKRI, the CIC and others have taken different approaches to understanding the sector, which may be useful to those looking to understand their local creative industries. This page highlights some of the approaches others have taken to understand the sector, as well as providing a long list of resources for those interested in existing research on the Creative Sector.

In addition, we suggest that any local authorities looking to invest in their creative industries contact anchor institutions (e.g. large public art organisations, universities etc.) who may already have links into the sector. A good start would be to ask your national arts council to be put in contact with publicly funded local arts organisations (PEC research has pointed to the links between cultural organisations and the wider creative industries at a local level), or by speaking to the relevant departments in local universities.

If you have a piece of research that you believe might be helpful to those bidding for levelling up funds more information on how to use and share it is below

Ways to Approach Creative Industries Research

Web scraping

There are limitations to the data that the Government is able to publish about creative companies (a summary of key Government data sets is available here). For example, Government data largely reflects where companies are registered rather than where they actually trade, and companies’ Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes (used by the Government to record a business’s industry) do not always capture their activities accurately. In addition, in order to publish some datasets there has to be a large enough number of companies to ensure sensitive information isn’t revealed.

Collectively these issues mean it can be challenging to get very specific information in terms of type of business or exact location. This is despite the fact that many creative companies are happy to put such information out into the world for public use, often through websites which more clearly describe what they do and where they are based. This is why researchers sometimes use data scraped from creative companies’ websites to better understand certain aspects of the creative industries. Although not all creative companies will have a website, researchers in the PEC consortium have frequently found this is a good way to uncover data about smaller clusters of creative businesses.

For example, the PEC has published research about England’s rural creative industries which uses analysis drawn from data scraped from the websites of 184,791 creative industries organisations in England, from which we were able to extract postcode data of the organisations' locations. Companies were classified into sectors based on activities described on their websites, and then identified as being in the creative industries using the UK DCMS (2014) definition. We could then identify clusters of geographically close rural creative firms.

Job advert data

Creative occupations (like artists, games designers, directors and publishers) are both a defining characteristic of the Creative Industries, and an important asset to companies outside the creative sector. For example, the design sector employs a large number of designers, but companies outside of the Creative Industries (e.g. in the automotive industry) might also employ designers with similar skills. And, of course, designers may move between a design firm in the Creative Industries, and a design role outside.

Both inside and outside the Creative Industries, it can be challenging to get timely and granular data on the skills demands of employers for every occupation. National data sets are not always able to tell us exactly which skills are being demanded and it is not always possible to link this to other information like salary or region. That's why some researchers look to job adverts as a useful data source to help them to understand more about which skills are needed in the creative industries.

One example of a piece of research which uses job advert data is a paper by the PEC and Nesta about digital creative skills. The researchers used the data from 35 million job adverts collected by an agency called Burning Glass to help them to identify creative digital skills, and to demonstrate their growing importance in the labour market.

Like any data source, job adverts have limitations. One major drawback is that not all roles in the creative sector are recruited via online job adverts. For example, they may be via auditions, tenders or word-of-mouth. This means that you might not want to use traditional job adverts to measure the skill demands in occupations, particularly those that have high levels of self employment, unless you conceived a piece which looked at online marketplaces which are specifically offering opportunities for freelancers.

Qualitative research

All researchers will acknowledge the importance of quantitative data in understanding the Creative Industries. However, few rely wholly on it to understand the situation in a local Creative Sector. In depth interviews can help policy leaders to understand the specific issues faced by groups that might not be picked up in a survey, and would certainly be difficult to identify in national data sets. Qualitative research can provide nuance and meaning to the trends, attitudinal shifts and numerical values captured by questionnaire surveys. Identifying the experiences of those working in the sector provides greater context to the raw data about local capacity and needs.

In the PEC we have identified a large cohort of ‘industry champions’ who we bring together for informed panels to provide evidence of their working experiences across the sector. Bringing together informants through facilitated workshops and focus groups is a requirement for the co-production of qualitative evidence, and can lead to greater buy-in from participants, though this process must be properly funded in order to work. A further approach is to ensure mixed methods are used, as in research conducted by the University of Manchester for a project run by the Centre for Cultural Value in partnership with the PEC. This brought together qualitative interviews with policy and industry leaders from the GM region with analysis of quantitative data sets on workforce and funding.

We have found it particularly challenging to include freelancers in qualitative research, but their inclusion is often essential to produce accurate results, as they make up a third of the workforce of the sector. We recommend that you put some money aside to pay those freelancers who are giving up their working time to help you better understand the sector.

Survey data

Surveys of all kinds have proved an important methodology to help policymakers, academic researchers, businesses and arms-length bodies to better understand the Creative Industries. They are useful because they can help with a wide range of questions, can give results rapidly, and can target drastically different groups.

One method the PEC has used is to ‘piggyback’ on existing surveys used by others. That can mean paying for additional questions to national or regional surveys. In doing so, you access an archive of information (including sometimes historial) which puts your individual survey in context. The PEC and CIC used this approach in a piece of research which ‘piggybacked’ on the national Employers Skills Survey.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic many industry bodies sought to engage in rapid data collection to understand the impact of the pandemic on businesses. It should be noted that as with qualitative research, surveying requires participants to have some capacity to respond. As a result, one effect of the pandemic was increasing survey fatigue, as more organisations than usual were running surveys to measure the impact of the pandemic. This led to lower response rates and sometimes poor quality data.

There are several challenges when trying to do these surveys, and so the PEC put together a list of useful tips about how to approach survey design, based on years of experience of designing Creative Industries business surveys. One of our key recommendations is to use standardised questions (e.g. from the PEC’s Creative Radar work, or from other surveys) that allow some degree of benchmarking. It is also important to consider the type of survey you are commissioning and who is most likely to respond. Online surveys might be inexpensive but run the risk of only picking up responses from the ‘noisiest’ participants, while telephone surveys, whilst expensive and taking longer, could capture a more representative group of businesses that might not otherwise do online surveys.


Of course, not all useful types of research are detailed on this page, and not all useful pieces of research are referenced in this info pack. If you want to find out more we have compiled a long list of useful pieces of research and further reading on this topic


Image credit: Photo by Shirish Kulkarni from Clwstwr