Programme overview

An important ambition of Impacts 08 was to offer an innovative approach to measuring the impacts of culture-led regeneration.

This has gone beyond the usual quantitative indicators, focused on measuring job creation and tourism growth, to take into account the lived experiences of the people of Liverpool. The programme has also taken a longitudinal approach exploring change in outcomes, experiences, perceptions and understanding over time – from the pre-bid period (2000), through the bidding and nomination (2002-3), preparations towards the event year (2004-7), 2008 and beyond.

As Impacts 08 has sought to make a major contribution to the debate on measuring the impacts of culture-led regeneration, it has been essential to overcome some of the major issues and dichotomies that have constrained previous research projects and programmes. A selection of these key issues are listed below.

Recognising the breadth of areas of impact

Many evaluation frameworks are too narrowly framed, focusing on measures which are easily quantifiable. This approach seriously underestimates the strengths of culture-led regeneration, as qualitative studies have shown that some of the main ‘successes’ are linked to change in perception and a sense of self-confidence, both of which defy ‘easy’ measures. This limitation is linked to the debate around the primary purpose of culture-led regeneration and the avenues through which it provides benefits. Accepting that culture-led regeneration processes have economic as well as social, cultural and environmental impacts ensures that, while valuing them as essential components, we have not focussed too single-mindedly on narrow and out-of-context economic measures alone.

Focusing on processes as well as outcomes

In developing a model for impact assessment we have acknowledged that culture-led regeneration programmes are not only seen as discrete events but as elements in an ongoing process. For this reason it has been as important to look at processes and intermediate effects, including why and how any given programme is carried out and how participation is sought and achieved, as it is to look at final outcomes at specific points in time. In many cases the full effects of a major cultural event are not felt for several decades, and this is likely to be the case with the European Capital of Culture (ECoC) in 2008. For this reason Impacts 08, while not neglecting outcomes and outputs, has also looked into event processes and intermediate effects throughout the research period (2005 onwards) and in retrospect (before and during the bidding period).

Disaggregating the impacts of other programmes

In current city planning, it is unusual for a major cultural event to be the only intervention that is underway at any one time. This is particularly the case in Liverpool, which has been and remains the beneficiary of almost every major UK government urban regeneration programme since 1945, as well as having received massive investment through European Union Objective One programmes. The effects of these, as well as changes in the UK and world economy and cultural changes in societies worldwide, have had an impact on Liverpool over the period under investigation.

Allowing specificity and portability

Impacts 08 has had the dual role of measuring the impacts of the ECoC for Liverpool and its stakeholders, and also developing a model for measuring impacts of other major cultural events and culture-led regeneration programmes. This has required a flexibility in approach, recognising the areas in which Liverpool has specific issues and needs that must be mapped and followed, while also building a framework which can be applied to other settings. In order to address this, the model that has been produced gives a more sophisticated view than a simple measurement calculation, providing a grid of factors and measures, plus a methodology for exploring the underlying affective issues of cultural experience and practice. This model was developed over the course of the programme and tested in the ECoC 2008 setting. In order that this model can be applicable to other cultural events, key issues in cultural impact research - such as the need for evaluation to be forward looking and concerned with sustainability and long-term development - have been included.

The need for policy-oriented research

Impacts 08 is a joint initiative between the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University, with close links with researchers across the cultural, regeneration and urban studies fields in the UK, Europe and beyond. However, while drawing on the strengths of academic research, Impacts 08 has sought to avoid being abstract or disassociated from the policy context and always aimed to provide data and reflection that is directly useful in policy development, implementation and review. This has been done through using the objectivity and sense of legitimacy allowed by a distance from the political process, combining it with accessible reporting on a regular basis using both formal reports and informal feedback. Without in any way compromising its integrity, Impacts 08 has acted as a ‘critical friend’ to the ECoC process, feeding back negative findings as well as positive ones rather than doing research that retrospectively justifies actions. This has allowed Liverpool City Council and the Liverpool Culture Company (the organisation in charge of the ECoC 2008) the opportunity to reflect on the findings and if necessary implement changes to ensure that the event is as successful as possible.

A holistic research model

In attempting to assess the four dimensions of regeneration, Impacts 08 has moved away from the trend towards evaluating individual indicators and instead formulated the research programme in terms of several key themes through which impacts can be contextualised and measured. For most of these themes a cluster of quantitative indicators have been developed and given further explanation and texture by the associated qualitative findings of the various elements of the study. Various research elements have generated data and analysis across the themes, with some focussed on one theme in particular but most informing several thematic areas.