How culture contributes to development: an UNESCO indicator suite

The UNESCO Culture for Development Indicator Suite (CDIS) is a pioneering research and advocacy initiative that aims to establish a set of indicators highlighting how culture contributes to development at national level fostering economic growth, and helping individuals and communities to expand their life choices and adapt to change.

Culture is a dynamic and innovative economic force at the national level as well as globally, helping to generate employment, revenues and incomes, and thus directly boosting economic growth and producing social externalities.

In 2007, these sectors accounted for an estimated 3.4% of global GDP and were worth nearly US$1.6 trillion, almost double international tourism receipts for the same year. Between 2000 and 2005 trade goods and services from the creative industries grew on average by 8.7% annually.

Moreover, the cultural and creative sectors are risk takers, investing in new talents and
new aesthetics, fostering creativity and innovation as well as ensuring cultural diversity
and choice for consumers, and produce multiple synergies and positive spill‐over effects in
areas such as stimulation of research, product and service innovation.

Translating a culture for development agenda into a programme for action will require prioritization and operationalization at the national level and its integration in donor strategies at the international level.

At the national level, this entails encouraging governments, ministries and public agencies to include culture in national development plans and related strategies while at the international level, convincing development actors to ensure that culture’s potential for development (both
transversally and as an economic sector of activity) is addressed in country papers, and policies.

In 2000, when world leaders committed to achieving the eight Millennium Development
Goals by 2015, culture was not included – despite the considerable build up of interest
and advocacy efforts during the 1990s.

Ten years later, important opportunities to revisit development approaches and to strengthen the case for culture’s value in development processes are emerging. 2010 has witnessed a number of
high‐level international conferences dedicated to culture and development (e.g. the
European Union International Seminar on Culture and Development in Girona (May 2010)
held under the Spanish Presidency).

Although the Human Development Index (HDI) (one of the most influential and widely used indices to measure human development across countries) has highlighted the efficacy of aggregate
indices and inter‐country comparisons for advocacy and putting pressure on governments
to address gaps in education, health and other social areas, this approach has proven to
be more problematic when applied to culture, which by dint of its diversity and complexity
is impossible to compare.

Financed by the Spanish Agency of International Cooperation for Development, the CDIS project runs from 2009 to 2012 and combines research, implementation test phases in up to 20 countries from all regions and expert meetings in order to ensure the pertinence and credibility of the Suite.

An important caveat is that the Indicator Suite will not provide the “definitive” picture of
culture at the country level nor will it produce policy guidelines or recommendations: this
is not its objective. Instead, its purpose is to bring the value of culture in development
processes to the foreground of national debate and discourses. In other words, although it
responds to the challenge of explaining the “how”, the UNESCO Indicator Suite on Culture
for Development recognizes that this is only the first step in a much longer process of
integrating culture in national development strategies.

In the first Human Development Report (1990), the HDI originator Mahbub al‐Haq famously

Mahbub-ul-Haq, the HDI originator, gave 5 year plan to South Korea which helped South Korea to progress rapidly

proclaimed that, “people are the wealth of nations”. Twenty years later, the UNESCO Culture for Development Indicator Suite hopes to demonstrate how and why culture effectively and sustainably enriches and adds value to this wealth. 2010 has witnessed great strides in the international recognition of culture’s value in development processes. The Culture for
Development Suite aims to add to the growing global momentum of the agenda, and to
contribute to pushing culture out of the shadows of other development issues so that it is
recognized as a development priority in its own right.


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