CT Consults

Archive for April, 2024

How can developing a cultural strategy be truly inclusive?

Posted on: April 9th, 2024 by ctceditor

When we were developing a cultural strategy in Suffolk, I received an email from the (rather brilliant) Elma Glasgow asking whether participants would be paid to attend the consultation workshops. She made the point that it would help to diversify engagement. 

We thought about this. The fee we were being paid by the commissioning council wouldn’t cover this support for workshop participants – and we had already conducted individual consultations for over 40 people, none of whom were paid. I replied to say that this wasn’t possible, and explained why. Elma expanded on how consultation methodologies often relied on those in salaried roles, or with larger incomes – disproportionately excluding freelancers, minority ethnic groups, people from working class backgrounds, women… She was right of course. On every count. 

We thought again. We discussed this as a team. We raised the comments with the client. And we all agreed that nothing could be done for this project, but that this was a sector-wide issue, not just an issue with one project. And we promised to raise this issue with future clients.

So we did. Our next client was the Blackpool Cultural Steering Group. They had already identified the issue, and had ring-fenced budget to pay non-salaried participants for their valuable time. This was more than consultation. It included reading documents, attending meetings, and contributing to the editing and writing of the strategy. So even with a fee that Blackpool residents could be assured was ‘best value’, we renewed our commitment – keen to be part of a process which trialled original co-design ways of working. It was research – for us as practitioners, as an agency, and hopefully for the sector. 

Now we had a potential model, we looked to utilise what we had learned in Blackpool and apply it elsewhere. We tendered for a cultural strategy of a major city, and worked with Harpreet Kaur, a local consultant specialising in equality and diversity in research and engagement. We identified a healthy budget to empower (and pay) people to contribute through workshops and consultation events – totalling 60 days of supported input from the local community, and at rates in line with the Artist Union’s recommended rates for mid-career creatives. Additionally, we ring-fenced budget for translators and interpreters, for childcare, transport, booking accessible venues… whatever additional support people might need in order to participate. We also identified local creative delivery partners for the strategy outputs. The approach is much more embedded than more typical consultation (which still has its place), and so circumvented the usual consultation fatigue. It avoids only consulting with ‘the usual suspects’ i.e. those who can (literally) afford to take part. People get much more engaged, and the results are much more of ‘their place’ as a result. Real, local, owned.

We were interviewed. We did well. We didn’t get the gig. The feedback was that we hadn’t allocated enough days for consultancy. Over 50% of our proposed overall project budget was going directly back into the pockets of the local creative economy. But, we weren’t paying ourselves enough in the engagement phase, and so gave the impression (wrongly) that our role as experts was smaller than in a more traditional approach. To say we were gutted was an understatement. We’re continuing to explore this with new place-based clients across the country. The will is there from many commissioners, but it’s not straightforward.

So this leaves us with a challenge – how do we get the balance right? How can we as consultants try to be (part of) the change, do the right thing, lead by example, be a part of a cultural sector that moves forward in really tough times – and still deliver within the constraints of ‘the brief’? How can already-stretched local authority budgets provide fees for participants? What methodologies are needed to be truly inclusive? And what happens after a strategy is developed and launched? How is this principle upheld over time, and how can freelancers be creatively supported to maintain their involvement in delivering place-based strategies? 

Answers on a postcard please. 

Some news

Do you think we can help?

Then get in touch

We’re serious about protecting your privacy and won’t share your details with anyone, ever. (read our privacy policy)

    Sign up to our newsletter


    Keep in touch to see our latest projects, thoughts and news. We promise we’ll only send you interesting content.