Measuring the creative economy: a guide for policymakers

16 April 2020

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Professor Hasan Bakhshi MBE

Professor Hasan Bakhshi MBE


Hasan is Professor of Economics of the Creative In...

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Policy debates on the creative industries are mired in ambiguities and inconsistencies in terminology. Policymakers speak interchangeably of creative industries, cultural industries and creative economy. While the inconsistent use of terminology likely reflects a number of factors – including genuine differences in policy emphases and desired outcomes in different countries – it presents a significant impediment to an understanding of what, by any definition, is a segment of the economy that is becoming more important in many countries. 

The lack of consistency in definitions has led to measurement differences across countries. In general, Northern European countries (including the UK, Germany and Finland) focus on ‘creativity’ rather than culture, whereas Southern European countries (including Italy and Spain) have tended to place greater emphasis on ‘cultural’ expression. The Scandinavian countries have instead focused on the demand side using the ‘experience economy’ as the guiding concept. This matters for measurement because conceptual differences lead to differences in what activities are or are not included in that measurement. Particularly significant in this context is the treatment of information technology-related activities, given their large economic contribution.

The topic is of practical interest to policymakers as it is important to be able to critically assess the many studies showing the size and composition of the creative industries. These studies have been conducted in many countries and used to argue for the importance of the ‘sector’ to decision makers. The UK case is interesting in this regard, as researchers here have made particularly strong efforts to develop more systematic approaches. 

This discussion paper traces the history of attempts to identify and measure the creative economy in the UK, from the earliest efforts by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport , now the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), in 1998 to recent methods which make use of ‘big data’. The discussion paper also includes  a practical measurement exercise for policymakers, illustrating the use of the ‘Dynamic Mapping’ approach currently used by the DCMS. It also provides a suggested reading list for policymakers or those working in the sector who are interested in questions of definition.

Published 16th April 2020

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