Friday, November 14, 2014

Missing evidence – not spending a penny to save a pound

We live in a time when more than ever we need an evidence base for policy to ensure that resources are applied most effectively and government action reflects real long-term cultural, social and economic trends and dynamics.

Unfortunately, at the same time, we are all too often seeing the very services needed for this to occur being drastically trimmed or redirected. It’s too often a case of not ‘spending a penny to save a pound’.

Without suitable statistics, research and data, decision-making and planning can grind to a halt in a world of uncertainty and lack of history.

During the development of the short-lived National Cultural Policy, one of the most yawning gaps that became immediately apparent was the shortage of good collections of data on the arts and cultural sector – it’s size, its scope and it’s dynamics. In response some efforts were made to identify, collate and augment the information already collected by research institutions, the ABS and cultural organisations themselves.

This significant and growing sector plays critical roles not only economically but in terms of fostering a sense of Australia in all its complexity within Australia itself and in projecting an Australian presence internationally.

It is extremely disturbing that any diminution of the role of the ABS in collecting statistics about the arts and cultural sector should be proposed. It is particularly worrying because the value of these statistics in the ability to compare them over a long period and identify crucial trends.

Government has enough weaknesses and shortcomings without trying to add to them. It would be like flying the passenger jet of public policy with eyes closed, radar turned off and maps out of date.

Unfortunately, what usually happens is that government departments or agencies bring in these changes in response to budget cuts, not because there is a specific Government view on them. They only reverse them if the Government feels pressured enough to intervene at this level of detail.

It’s good to see that organisations are expressing concerns about this. Perhaps it will slip by as not sufficiently important when the Government already has enough outraged stakeholders to deal with. It’s still worth the effort to make the views of the sector known. The last few months have shown that government will reverse proposed changes if they don’t think the pain is worth the value.

This is a consolidated version of an earlier post to my Facebook page 'indefinite article'.

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