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Arts participation methodology: Surveys or other instruments?

Measuring Cultural Engagement amid Confounding Variables

August 20, 201420 August 2014

Special Issue: Arts participation and engagement

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In an environment of media convergence and digital multi-tasking (with many people paying only partial attention to multiple concurrent tasks), can arts participation surveys capture an accurate picture of people’s activities? Some participants argued that behaviour is observable without a survey, but attitudes, thoughts, and feelings can best be captured by surveys. Others contended that, without benchmark surveys, our understanding of cultural participation would be significantly lessened.

One symposium participant maintained that the greatest threat to surveys is not measurement quality but rather the cost of getting enough people to participate. Participants questioned the willingness of the public to participate in surveys.

Participants were reminded that the data collected are not neutral. There may be very different narratives in examining (for example) participation rates (via surveys) compared with total attendance (via box office records).

Some speakers discussed their mixed methods research. A combination of quantitative and qualitative techniques were thought to provide a broader and more accurate picture of cultural engagement. In addition, qualitative research can identify how communities are formed through cultural participation.

One speaker argued that the key challenge is not methodological but rather in structural relationships and policy efforts.

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