Future Trends: Social Value Creation and Measurement in the Cultural Sector

Social Value Creation and Measurement in the Cultural Sector

Future Trends Series

The Future Trends series explores different aspects of Coventry UK City of Culture 2021 (UK CoC 2021). It aims to provide accessible, research-led accounts of issues related and relevant to the development of the UK City of Culture programme.

Social Value Creation and Measurement in the Cultural Sector

The paper was released in December 2022.


Can arts and culture change someone’s life? Can a City of Culture change the lives of every person within a region?

The term ‘social value’ has increasingly been used within the cultural sector to categorise a way in which the arts impact individuals and groups. This paper provides a cross-disciplinary overview of this trend and illustrates how social value can be generated and measured in cultural contexts.

Social value represents the value that people experience as a result of changes in their lives. As such, social value is subjective to those who experience change.

Measurement of social value research is now moving beyond pure ‘impact studies’ to focus on how cultural programmes can be created in ways that are meaningful to the whole population without presupposing wants and needs. The three most common methods are impact measurement, theory-based modelling and social return on investment.

There are also a number of barriers to social value implementation. These are explored within the paper and include:

  • value disagreement on the ‘object’ of social value
  • measuring intangibles: a technical challenge
  • benchmark versus flexibility
  • accountability versus learning
  • balancing multiple stakeholder needs
  • trade-offs and choices
  • engaging relevant stakeholders in measurement
  • employee engagement difficulty
  • fiscal and temporal capacity.

The paper provides a case study entitled Stakeholder-oriented social value measurement for Coventry UK CoC 2021 that outlines the approach used for capturing social value for selected UK CoC 2021 events:

  • context for social value measurement
  • underpinning principles of social value measurement
  • applying the stakeholder-oriented social return on investment methodology.


Recommendations for how researchers might address current gaps in the literature on social value creation and measurement include:

  • forms of stakeholder resistance during social value measurement
  • evaluation overload/fatigue
  • sheltering of participants/beneficiaries
  • methodological limitations of stakeholder-oriented approaches
  • accessing baseline data to capture the ‘before’ conditions
  • representation of lived experience
  • (method of) presentation
  • literature-derived recommendations
  • programme decision making for social value
  • social value justification
  • broadening social value
  • investing in social value.


This Future Trends paper was written by Dr Andrew Anzel – Warwick Business School, Dr Patrycja Kaszynska – University of the Arts London and Dr Haley Beer – Warwick Business School.

These Future Trends papers were published as part of the UK Cities of Culture project and commissioned by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.


This website reflects a variety of UK CoC 2021 activities, funded by different funding bodies. It has been created as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project City Change Through Culture: Securing the Place Legacy of Coventry City of Culture 2021 (Grant Reference AH/W008769/1).

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