Art Works Blog

Taking Note: Relating Jobs to Industries to Account for Creative Economies

Crayola Lincoln Logs by flickr user laffy4k

It’s not given to every government to define creativity, much less to avail of creative methods, backed by rigorous standards and statistics, for tweaking that definition when necessary. Britain can show the way in both respects.

As explained earlier this week on the blog, our colleagues at the UK’s Nesta (an independent charity funded by Britain’s National Lottery to serve as the country’s “innovation foundation”) have fashioned a smart critique of the UK’s classification system for creative industries.

Stop right there: how many U.S. researchers in the arts are aware that the UK has such a system in the first place? And yet the nation’s Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) arrived at the following definition back in 1998:

Industries which have their origins in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property. 

According to Hasan Bakhshi, Alan Freeman, and Peter Higgs, co-authors of the Nesta critique (A Dynamic Mapping of the UK’s Creative Industries), this definition---for all its apparent flexibility---has not proved entirely effective in admitting new industries to the mix, or in justifying the exclusion of certain other industries, as changing economic realities might dictate. The DCMS definition is, after all, “a policy guideline, not an analytic definition,” the authors state.

It offers a generalized rationale, but no explicit criteria for making informed judgments on what should be counted as “creative,” and what should not. As such, it is not transparent; decisions on which [industry and occupation codes] to include are not structured to permit informed discussion by a community of practice including policymakers, practitioners and researchers.

Nesta’s solution is simple and elegant, like a mathematical theorem. After consulting several sources, including not only the canonical works of Richards Caves and Florida, but also reports by UNESCO and the World Intellectual Property Organization, Nesta developed its own definition.

To review this language and five resulting criteria, see Hasan Bakhshi’s February 27th post to this site. The newly proposed definition and criteria place far more emphasis than did prior language on the “creative process,” focusing on the unique skills and proclivities of workers who populate an industry.

Not least of these factors is the element of surprise, known variously as “the creative impulse” or the act of “differentiation to yield either novel, or significantly enhanced products whose final form is not fully specified in advance.” As Nesta puts it, “the very fact that the defining feature of the creative industries is their use of specialized labor force shows that the creative labor force clearly contributes something for which there is no mechanical substitute.”

Here’s where the fun begins. By applying a scoring grid to rate the levels of creativity exhibited by each job listed in the current Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system, Nesta is able to produce a new baseline of creative occupations, jobs that sometimes depart from the DCMS’ own definition. Nesta then takes these jobs and determines their levels of concentration within every industry listed in the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system.

Based on this distribution of “creative intensity” across industries, Nesta identifies a baseline set of creative industries and compares and reconciles it with the list of industries derived from DCMS’ definition. After conducting sensitivity analyses and other validity checks, Nesta not only can locate those industries which employ creative workers at disproportionately high rates, it can also show how most creative workers are employed in non-creative industries.

Perhaps most significantly, the analysis reveals that two whole industries---computer programming and computer consulting---have dramatically high proportions of creative workers, thus warranting entry to Nesta’s baseline set of creative industries.

For those of us at the NEA’s Office of Research & Analysis, the Nesta report couldn’t have come at a better time. Throughout the spring and summer, we’ll be working with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis to develop the country’s first-ever satellite account of arts and cultural production. The first step in this process will be to catalogue a series of “items” (goods and services) and industries to be included in the account.

Those decisions will be based partly on a systematic review of other nations’ models, definitions, and criteria for cultural economies. The Nesta report, with its focus on occupational “creative intensity” within a given industry, is bound to inform our methodology. It has, at any rate, already inspired our attention to the occupational make-up of industries---an important aspect of understanding cultural or creative economies, one which U.S. researchers such as Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa Nicodemus have noted elsewhere.

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