On 2 February 2023, the Scottish Government launched a 14-week public consultation, in the form of an online survey, to seek views on an International Culture Strategy. The aim of the consultation was to gather views on sectoral needs, aspirations and motivations in terms of international activity, in order to shape the content of the International Strategy. Social Researchers in the Scottish Government carried out detailed thematic analysis on the 77 survey responses received (from organisations and individuals). The main findings, from the 24 open and closed questions, are:
Scotland’s Cultural Footprint: Current Activity, Motivations and Barriers
- Respondents came from a diverse range of sectors, describing wide ranging international activity. Such as: collaborative projects with international peers, knowledge exchange, outbound work (e.g. touring), inbound work (e.g. tourism and hosting international visitors), involvement in international societies and partnerships, commissioning work and practitioners, sponsorship/funding and campaigning. International activity was seen as being intrinsic to the work of practitioners, organisations and the wider creative and cultural sectors. This view was common regardless of the type of organisation.
- Key motivations for working internationally included the desire to build connections, network and collaborate. Many highlighted sharing knowledge and expertise and the mutual learning that came from this. This led to innovation. Activity led to wider reach, created work opportunities, raised profiles and showcased work. Financial motivations were also highlighted by many respondents. This was emphasised as being particularly important given the wider pressures faced by the sector.
- The main barriers to developing international activities were financial, with COVID-19, Brexit, rising costs, and the cost of living crisis compounding challenges for an already pressured sector. Lack of funding and underinvestment were commonly highlighted.
Rationale for an International Culture Strategy
- Most respondents gave positive feedback on the idea of an international strategy, highlighting the need for a long-term strategic approach. Respondents felt that a strategy could support the sector to grow, bring investment and could have wider social and economic benefits. However, there were some concerns about the need for resources to match the ambition.
- Respondents were asked to comment on the proposed vision and themes (cultural connections, economic impact, diplomacy and reputation). The responses suggest that mutual exchange, mobility, connections and opportunities were regarded as particularly important characteristics of an International Culture Strategy.
- While respondents agreed that it is important to achieve economic outcomes, it was emphasised that the strategy should also consider alternative outcomes. Such as: health, wellbeing, sustainability, education, social inclusion and empowerment - outcomes that are related to different drivers for engaging in international activity, and reflect the differences between the type and size of organisations.
- When reflecting on the proposed vision, some concerns were raised about use of the term ‘Scotland’s distinctive identity’. This included a perception from some, that this did not reflect the diversity of culture in Scotland.
- Respondents also provided wider views on how the Scottish Government should approach developing this strategy. Some respondents favoured a strategic approach that builds on existing strengths and expertise as opposed to a ‘top-down’ approach led by the Scottish Government. In addition, it was suggested that a strategy should set out what it is going to achieve. Including, detail on responsibilities, resources and wider goals.
Current Support for International Activity
- The majority (68%) of respondents (both organisations and individuals) had accessed public sector support for international activities.
- The consultation asked about the impact of this support. The most prevalent themes included, building partnerships, enabling cultural exchange, facilitating tours and events and gaining international recognition. Respondents perceived the support as “vital” and acknowledged that many of their achievements and successes would not have been possible without the support.
- Over half (56%) of respondents (both organisations and individuals) had accessed other sources of support (30% had not). This included funding from international cultural organisations and specific Ministries or government agencies in the counties they were working.
- Respondents were asked if current support for international activities was appropriate. Across both organisations and individuals, 53% stated ‘no’, 12% agreed it was, and 21% were not sure. When asked to describe any gaps in current provision, the most prevalent themes were related to structural barriers in accessing financing, issues with project-based and short-term funding models, challenges navigating the post-COVID and post-Brexit landscapes, uncertainty around available support, and a lack of funding options for emerging artists, early-career professionals, and smaller organisations.
- Respondents provided a range of international examples that Scotland might learn from that successfully support their country-based creative workers and organisations globally.
Pressures, Challenges and Opportunities
- Respondents were asked how international activity can address the challenges the sector are facing. A number of responses emphasised the way that cultural activity enables engagement in international partnerships, which in turn facilitates shared knowledge and resource.
- The consultation asked if there are particular challenges that leaving the EU has caused to international activity. The most prevalent themes related to increased costs, visa administrative issues, loss of human resources and capital, new barriers to international trade and investment, reputational damage and a loss of collaborative partnerships.
- Respondents provided suggestions for strategic changes following Brexit. These included new funding models for the Scottish culture sector (e.g. making funding available to target specific aspects of international work such as covering post-Brexit administrative costs), establishing a new model for EU engagement and providing business advice and support to assist with issues relating to travel, taxes and visa requirements.
- Respondents were asked how the strategy should consider the impact of international activity on climate change. In summary, respondents felt that the strategy is an opportunity to provide leadership and guidance, to promote and advocate for change and to share learning.
- Respondents were asked how they would like this strategy to further the aspiration of handling historic injustices responsibly. Responses covered the view that the International Culture Strategy can help by acknowledging and taking responsibility for past injustices, by promoting understanding, sharing best practice and fostering partnerships and collaborations.
- When asked to consider new opportunities, the majority (61%) had begun to engage internationally in new ways and 23% aspire to in the future. Explaining their choice, common responses were related to the adjustments that had been made due to COVID-19 restrictions. This had caused many to explore alternative methods of delivering their services, working more remotely or digitally. Although, limitations were recognised in terms of the absence of in-person contact and the perspective that digital working is not practical for establishing long-term international partnerships.
- The survey asked if there are particular geographies that are of greater importance to the respondent/their organisation or the wider sector. 34% agreed that there are geographies of greater importance to their organisation, with 17% agreeing there are important geographies to the wider sector. Just over a quarter (26%) stated there are no particular geographies that are of greater importance.
- When asked if an International Culture Strategy should prioritise any particular geographies, 31% agreed, 27% stated ‘no’ and 31% were not sure, reflecting a wide spread of views to this question and some uncertainty.
- Follow up responses from the respondents on why the strategy should prioritise particular geographies, or not, reflected a degree of caution. It was suggested that there may be a risk in prioritising particular geographies, as this could lead to missed opportunities or the risk of overlooking emerging regions.
- The consultation asked respondents if there are aspects of engaging in international cultural activity that can affect equalities groups differently. A range of views were provided that reflected both the positive and negative impact of international cultural activities on different equality groups. Views were also expressed on how different organisations/individuals address equalities concerns through their work and workplace.
- When delivering cultural work internationally, some respondents had encountered challenging situations in, for example, countries with oppressive political regimes or with human rights issues. As such, equalities concerns factored into some respondents’ decisions around where to work internationally.
- When asked to specifically reflect on socio-economic status, it was suggested by some respondents that due to the higher costs associated with international cultural work, this can create inequalities in access and participation.
- Issues raised relating to island communities included limited access to international cultural activities (as these activities are often more concentrated in the Scottish central belt) and digital connectivity.
- When asked to specifically reflect on children and young people, respondents pointed out positive aspects of involving children and young adults in international cultural activities. They noted that participation expands children’s future career opportunities, builds connections and networks and contributes to a better understanding of Scotland’s global position. However, it was noted that the additional resources required to adequately support and safeguard the participation of children and young adults in international cultural work can be a significant barrier.
- A final question in the survey asked, if any negative effects had been identified (with equality issues), what could be done in the future to prevent this happening. Respondents stressed the need to engage with those who have lived experience within the culture sector, to gain a better understanding of the barriers, and to determine the support required to address equality issues.
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