Live Music Exchange Blog

Investigating ‘Impact’ – Stephen Henderson – first published May 2012


‘Impact’ has been at the forefront of many academics’ minds during 2013’s Research Excellence Framework exercise. In a nod to the REF and to the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s foregrounding of projects investigating ‘cultural value’ within the arts, today’s guest post discusses the matter of ‘impact’ and points towards the need for a clear-sighted approach to defining it.

The post was first published on the Live Music Exchange website in May 2013.  It is written by Dr. Stephen Henderson, an authority on event marketing and management and Senior Lecturer at Leeds Metropolitan University.

As Simon Frith suitably reminded us at the Live Music Exchange conference in Leeds in May 2012, ‘impact’ is a word at the forefront of many discussions between academics and business. In the world of live music, particularly the larger events, it is becoming an increasingly popular topic as the impact of these events is questioned by a variety of people for a variety of reasons. Of importance in live music events, a measure of impact is often used to encourage or justify financial support in the form of grants or sponsorship offered. So, pretty clearly, defining impacts and knowing how to measure them is something that we need to understand.

So, what is an impact? We might look at this in two ways. The most common way to look at impact focuses on investments that might benefit a community in a social, cultural and/or economic manner. For example, efforts to bring disparate communities together, introduce new music or, simply, encourage tourists to visit a specific destination. Conflicts can arise between these impacts where, say, a festival brings in tourists who spend money but create a potential social nuisance at the same time. So, managing how these tradeoffs work is central to those who decide to financially support a music event. Similarly, the ‘investor’ needs to have clarity of purpose in terms of what they want to achieve in terms of impact.

Secondly, in contrast, we might take the view that we seek sustainable development within all markets including live music. Using the World Commission on Environment and Development (now The Brundtland Commission) definition of sustainable development, this means we should be having a positive (or, at least, neutral) impact on each of the people, planet and profit aspects. We should be gaining any profit without taking advantage of people or unsustainably consuming the planet’s resources. Largely, this requires us to change our behaviour to improve sustainability at music events and, therefore, exercises the minds of those interested in social marketing. This, of course, assumes the (music) industry will respond to the sustainable development aims by offering sustainable events – as my article in Worldwide Hospitality and Tourism Themes illustrates. In the UK, the BS8901 standard offers a framework for shaping policy in this direction whilst practical ideas are offered by the likes of Meegan Jones in her book, Sustainable Event Management: A Practical Guide. Other parts of the world can be seen to be at different stages of response to the clamour for sustainable development.

Whether looking at the matter from one or both of these viewpoints, the most awkward issue is how to measure these various impacts. As all the elements discussed above revolve around finance as a common currency, you might ask how we put a value on, for example, improved social cohesion or music from another culture. Who sets the exchange rates between these different currencies of, say, culture or social impacts? I have no answer to that in this blog except to flag the problem to you. However, it is clear that you must remain objective. I see reports that crudely attempt to maximise the impact value in order to encourage the financial support of others. For example, including ticket sales as a beneficial financial impact is ridiculous when a large share of that ticket revenue disappears out of the area with the artists who appear there. On the other hand, some of that income may stay local with staging, sound and lighting companies. Hence, there is an implication that we need to have defined the community that we are intending to benefit with our impacts. So, in summary, we see here that defining impact measurement requires care and clarity via robust frameworks that can take over from some of the more ad-hoc impact measurements that can be found.

Please note that this is a forum for discussion, dialogue, and debate, and posts and comments on this blog represent only the author, not Live Music Exchange as a whole, or any other hosting or associated institutions.


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