Creative Data?

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By Tina

It’s heartening to see in short succession the use of hard stats around private investment in culture. However, there is always more that can be done to complement some of the data and to make it more useful, both for the sector and for policy.

To begin with, Arts Quarter’s ongoing reporting of arts professionals’ attitudes about the recession and its impact on income is useful – however, it would benefit from more regular reporting to show the peaks and troughs and the changes through time, to compare more effectively the difference between stability and uncertainty. The wave-on-wave trends, based on only 4 installments of the survey, were quite reactive in nature (considering when and why they were conducted) and thus reflected the volatility of the time in which they were conducted. This could mean that the findings are slightly skewed, as respondents are influenced by the ‘heat of the moment’ and are likely to be affected by media hype surrounding some of the issues they are being questioned on. More positively, the level of detail is useful and provides an interesting backdrop against which to have any considered debate about the likely growth of private investment in the next three years or so. However, other than the summary, which neatly describes the landscape as it currently seems to stand, the data itself is not provided in a very user-friendly way and the pages of tables means that most people are not only likely to skip through them, but are also therefore likely to miss important trends within the data.

Spotting the differences and assessing why they’re taking place, or trying to predict what might happen next should therefore be made easier through data visualization and interpretation. What would make it even more useful, is triangulating with consumer trends and attitudes about likelihood to donate to the arts. And that’s where the data from We Did This for example, would come in handy, as it adds that all-important perspective of the consumer and profiles the behaviours of the very people that the arts professionals are speculating about. More business intelligence into likelihood for investment in the arts would also help – we are seeing some big businesses have a greater presence in this area lately, but at the same time, we don’t have a sense of the businesses that are opting out or playing safe at the moment. Finally some insight from trusts and foundations on how many arts applications they receive a year and how many are successful for example, would also be helpful in mapping the competitive landscape for the arts and understanding how difficult it is.

The issue here is that in terms of research, much can be said about the gap between what people say and what they do – particularly when it’s what people say about what other people are likely to do. Therefore any such attitudinal research should, in most cases, be considered indicative, though that’s not to say not useful. More research on actual behaviour and giving patterns would therefore helping in bridging some of those gaps and creating a more representative picture of what is happening and what might happen in the future.

The annual Arts & Business survey on Private Investment in Culture should help in answering some of these questions. Though the analysis is retrospective, it is useful and interesting in its own right (and much anticipated I should imagine), but again, could be strengthened with more forward-thinking and market-scoping research.

I know there have been many attempts in getting these projects to speak to each other, to save readers and policy makers from adding this all up themselves, but it seems that there are still other more urgent priorities. The risk with undermining the importance of robust and holistic research is basing recommendations on assumptions, many of which might therefore be misleading or even wrong.


Psychic value?

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By Jon

Malcolm Gladwell has written an article about why otherwise sensible business people buy sports teams, and what they get out of it.

Almost in passing, he makes the following remarks:

The best illustration of psychic benefits is the art market. Art collectors buy paintings for two reasons. They are interested in the painting as an investment — the same way they would view buying stock in General Motors. And they are interested in the painting as a painting — as a beautiful object. In a recent paper in Economics Bulletin, the economists Erdal Atukeren and Aylin Seçkin used a variety of clever ways to figure out just how large the second psychic benefit is, and they put it at 28 percent.7 In other words, if you pay $100 million for a Van Gogh, $28 million of that is for the joy of looking at it every morning. If that seems like a lot, it shouldn’t. There aren’t many Van Goghs out there, and they are very beautiful. If you care passionately about art, paying that kind of premium makes perfect sense.

The paper is available here and is interesting throughout.

It reminds me of Bruce Hood’s SuperSense and (the accompanying blog) in which he has written about the physiological and psychological reasons why people come to believe objects have non-physical properties. As a result, the object’s value is often significantly enhanced.

An Interview with John Kreidler – Part I


By Jon

2010 saw the launch of the beautifully named Medici’s lever – a web based tool designed to model the dynamics of cultural policy in an urban environment.

John Kreidler (and not Lorenzo de Medici)

Medici’s lever is not the brainchild of any one person, but John Kreidler, who introduced it with a guest blog at Grantmakers in the Arts, was its principal architect. John was heavily involved in the San Francisco arts funding scene for two decades before becoming Executive Director of Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley. Medici’s lever emerged from that project.

Pressures on cultural budgets in the USA and UK meant that the launch was timely, as did the announcement that Londonderry would be the UK’s first City of Culture. If anything, changing circumstances have made the model more relevant.

An earlier incarnation of Bad Culture featured an interview with John at the time, which is reproduced below. We will be catching up with him again in the next few days to find out what’s happened since.

Bad Culture (BC)- John, thank you very much for agreeing to this interview. Perhaps you could start by telling me about your time working for the Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley? It was, on the face of it, a unique venture and opportunity to develop a regional and urban cultural policy from the top down.

John Kreidler (JK) – Cultural Initiatives was unusual in several respects, most especially because it was founded with the idea of implementing the key features of a ten-year cultural plan for Silicon Valley, and then expiring.  The inspiration for this plan came from an exceptionally popular and talented political figure, Susan Hammer, the Mayor of the City of San Jose (population just under one million).  Although Mayor Hammer provided the initial leadership for the “20-21 Regional Cultural Plan”, most of the content for the plan was bottoms up, coming from hundreds of arts leaders, artists, educators, community leaders, business leaders, and via polling of the public at large.  The plan was completed in 1997, when Silicon Valley was reaching its apogee of world leadership in technology, and it was widely believed that an era of cultural ascendancy could soon follow.

Given Silicon Valley’s extraordinary concentration of technology and wealth, one might expect that its cultural plan would focus on the crown jewels of high culture: World class performing arts and museums.  Instead, the plan’s highest ambition was to restore “standards-based sequential arts education” in the region’s public schools.  In large part, this objective was derived from public opinion polling, which found that quality arts education had, by far, the broadest public support of any cultural objective in Silicon Valley.  The original poll in 1997 found that 90% of the adult population of the region supported this objective, and near-identical results were found in two later polls.  In addition to arts education, Cultural Initiatives also invested considerable work in the founding of an arts and technology festival, in researching the cultural dynamics of the region (including artists, professional cultural institutions, amateur groups and public demand for cultural goods and services), and in popularizing the notion that cultural policy could be relevant to the region’s quality of life.

My tenure at Cultural Initiatives began in 2000, three years after its founding, and continued until December 31, 2006, when operations ceased at the ten-year mark.  At this point, arts education programs had been upgraded in 75% of the region’s elementary schools by providing the schools with funds, which were raised from nongovernmental sources, teacher training and curriculum development.  When Cultural Initiatives terminated at the end of 2006, our arts education staff was transferred to a governmental agency, the Santa Clara County Office of Education, along with $700,000 to continue operations in 2007.  All of the research generated by Cultural Initiatives, including two books written by cultural anthropologists on the region’s amateur cultural groups, continues to be available at

BC – How did the experience at CI-SV differ from your previous (and extensive) experience at the San Francisco Foundation?

JK – The two decades I spent at the San Francisco Foundation were similar in many ways to my seven years at Cultural Initiatives.  My work at the Foundation involved making grants to nonprofit cultural organizations in five counties of the San Francisco Bay Area, but also allowed time for research and writing.  In 1985, the Foundation embarked on an effort to train its staff in the techniques of systems thinking as a means for better understanding the intended and unintended consequences resulting from its funding policies.  This training set me on a course of building computer simulations of cultural organizations, then constructing simulations of the cultural dynamics of entire regions.  While these simulations were helpful for advancing the Foundation’s policies, they proved to be weak vehicles for communicating to an outside audience of arts leaders, funders and policy leaders.  Accordingly, I began a period of research and writing that sought to express, in more conventional ways, the insights that I had gained from systems modeling.  The result was an article, entitled Leverage Lost: The Nonprofit Arts in the Post-Ford Era, which was published in 1997 (

The work at Cultural Initiatives also entailed the processes of making grants, researching and writing.  The chief differences were that as the director of Cultural Initiatives I was expected to be a public leader, and also expected to raise the funds used to make grants and cover operational expenses.  Fortunately, Silicon Valley’s two iconic foundations, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, made the task of fundraising relatively easy.

BC -How would you describe the Medici’s lever project?

JK – Upon joining Cultural Initiatives, I saw an opportunity to use systems modeling in a way that had never been possible at the Foundation.  Given Silicon Valley’s prowess in technology, its fascination with rational numbers-based thinking, and its leading position in video games, why not produce a computer game that provided a platform for thinking about the region’s cultural future?  Partially inspired by Sir Peter Hall’s great book, Cities in Civilization, Cultural Initiatives set out to produce a simulation model that combined culture with the social and economic dimensions of Silicon Valley’s destiny.  The result was packaged as a game in which the player attempts to implement a suite of policies to achieve an optimal future.  This game/simulation, entitled  “Great Cities”, was released in CD format and distributed for the next six years throughout Silicon Valley and beyond.  Along with Cultural Initiatives’ other research and publications, “Great Cities” helped to advance the view that cultural policy had relevance to the region’s success, on par with the more accepted domains of economic and social policy.

Despite its utility, “Great Cities” had the disadvantage of not being presentable on the web.  Although Cultural Initiatives had funds available to produce a new and hopefully more captivating version of “Great Cities” at the time we ceased operations at the end of 2006, the technology was still not available for a web version.  Nevertheless, independent work proceeded from 2007 to early 2009 on an entirely new logic model, now named “Medici’s Lever”, with the expectation that in-development software soon would become available to make a web version possible.  This expectation was realized when isee systems, a company based in Lebanon, New Hampshire, published its “NetSim” software in 2008.

The point of “Medici’s Lever” was to provide a parting gift from Cultural Initiatives to the field of cultural policy.  “Medici” contains three modules, two of which are games designed to assist with the education of cultural policy students, while the third is presented as an online laboratory that allows the user to simulate conditions in a real or imagined region.  The first game, “SJ Renaissance”, picks up where “Great Cities” left off, and is populated with characters and plot lines commonly found in Silicon Valley. The plot and characters for the second game, “Viamare Culture” were created by Amy Kweskin, a San Francisco-based arts consultant who spent several years living in the U.K.  The point of this module was to reach a more global audience.

BC – Was it always the intention that something like ‘Medici’s lever’ would form the final project of CI-SV, or did the need for such a project arise from your the experiences?

JK – As Cultural Initiatives’ closing date approached, the major imperative was to complete work on the tasks specified in the regional cultural plan, especially the transfer of the organization’s arts education reform program to the auspices of a permanent governmental agency.  “Medici’s Lever” became the last project by default, mostly due to the unavailability of software for web-based simulations prior to 2006.

BC – Medici’s lever is described as an attempt to “develop a more comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of arts and culture in a regional setting”. Is it your experience that cultural policy dialog underestimate the complex interactions involved?

JK – On the basis of my experience in the U.S., I have long believed that cultural policy is overly simplified.  In the formative years from 1965-1975, it was the position of the U.S. government and several leading private foundations that increasing the supply of high quality arts would result in a commensurate increase in public demand.  Coincidentally, a similar view seems to have been adopted in the Netherlands, where the government eventually concluded that the supply of subsidized arts was substantially exceeding public demand.  In various places and at various times, I have also observed policies based on the notions that arts developments in decayed cities will achieve broad economic renewal, that the intensity of regional cultural expression will stimulate business creativity, or that arts activities for youth will reduce crime.  While all of these policy perspectives probably contain elements of real causality, I would like to believe that there is a more fundamental way of understanding the dynamics of culture, ideally a model capable of aspiring to the subtlety of Einstein’s quest for a unified theory of physics.  At the heart of the logic model of “Medici’s Lever” is a causal paradigm that may edge toward a “unified theory” of cultural dynamics:

1. Cultural learning begets cultural knowledge;

2. Cultural knowledge is the basis for personal and communal          forms of cultural expression and passion;

3. Cultural expression and passion form the basis for the consumption of professionally produced cultural goods and services.

While my experience, research, and the research of others tends to support this view of a progression from cultural learning to cultural consumption, I would also acknowledge that the model can flow in the opposite direction, that sometimes supply can promote demand and ultimately stimulate the desire for new forms of cultural knowledge.  The more powerful dynamic, however, is from learning to consumption, and this dynamic is not only valid for the arts, but also for other forms of cultural activity, notably athletics, and probably for religion as well.

BC – You are very frank about the imperfections of the modeling in Medici’s lever. You state in your Grantmakers in the Arts blog that ‘We make no pretense that simulations can be predictive or free of the biases of their authors’ and in the model itself that ‘no model of an organic system can be fully comprehensive, much less predictive’. Given these limitations, do you think it can still be of use to policy makers?

JK – An economist at the Rand Corporation, the famous American think tank, once said to me that cultural policy will never be taken seriously in the U.S. until it can advance serious comprehensive models.  Such models, he said, have come to be commonplace for economic, environmental, labor, agricultural and defense policies.  Fields of public policy lacking in models, he said, tend to be marginalized in the hierarchy of governmental policies.  He was also quick to point out that no model is ever right, meaning that no model can ever be truly predictive.

Unreliable predictability, however, does not mean that policy makers should avoid simulation models.  To the contrary, models can often provide productive ways to experiment with alternative policies, to assess possible risks and unintended consequences, and to identify gaps in research.

The time and resources spent on “Medici’s Lever” are vastly short of those invested in, for example, a typical geopolitical simulation crafted by the Rand Corporation, but I hope that “Medici’s Lever” will serve to illustrate a way forward, and also help to guide a new generation of cultural policy research.

BC – One of the game modules is based on the award of European City of Culture to the fictional city of Viamare. In a fortuitous turn of events, Londonderry has just been named the first UK City of Culture. At this quite early stage, what steps would you advise the organisers to take? How do you think they could use Medici’s lever?

JK – My guess would be that the organizers of the European City of Culture in Londonderry have mental models of what they expect to achieve.  Oftentimes, individual organizers have varying or conflicting models, so it can be useful to capture these in some explicit fashion, perhaps in writing or in a graphic format (a full-blown computer simulation would not be needed).  The point would be to improve the extent of consensus on what is expected, to achieve a unified model, and to minimize unforeseen/negative outcomes.  For example, we the organizers, as a result of the European City of Culture, will be delighted if tourism increases, creative industries will move to Londonderry, and longstanding tensions between Catholics and Protestants are further eased.  In Silicon Valley, we would be especially pleased if each of these objectives was connected to a numeric measure.  The value of this exercise could be enhanced by describing as explicitly as possible the mechanisms by which each of these objectives would be implemented.  Tourism, for example, might a function of marketing, transportation, security and accommodations.  On the downside, tourism might also generate traffic congestion, drains on public services, and even a long-term decline in tourism if expectations of the European City of Culture are not realized.  I confess that I have been associated with a few festivals that would have been better left undone.

Of course, for all I know the Londonderry leadership is thoroughly united in their mental models.  If so, they might still find value or amusement in playing the “Viamare Culture” module of “Medici’s Lever”.  Within this module, five characters are vying to become the director of Viamare’s European City of Culture, each with a distinctly different mental model.

BC – Could you give me some more details about how you went about building the model? How heavily did you rely on cultural policy research and/or the views of practitioners?

JK – “Medici’s Lever” came about through the intersection of several influences.  Under the auspices of the University of Wisconsin, National Arts Strategies and Cultural Initiatives, a dozen American cultural policy practitioners were convened in 2003 to contribute to a “map” of how culture operates in both the commercial and noncommercial sectors.  Largely through the work of Andrew Taylor, Director of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration at the University of Wisconsin, this map was assembled, published and distributed around the U.S.  Separately, Cultural Initiatives was conducting research within Silicon Valley on the cultural habits and tastes of the adult population, on the condition of artists and nonprofit cultural organizations, on the amateur arts sector (with special emphasis on the region’s massive immigrant population), and on the cultural views of leaders from business, academia, religion and civic affairs.

All of these ingredients were distilled, beginning in 2005, into the logic model underlying “Medici’s Lever” by Steve Peterson, an expert teacher and consultant in systems engineering, and by me, a veteran of cultural policy thinking since graduate school.  We are happy to provide a complete diagram of this logic model, and the accompanying programming, to anyone who requests it, at no cost.  Nothing is hidden, toujours full transparency.  In the interests of promoting cultural policy modeling, we are also supportive of anyone who wants to devise alternative models based on “Medici’s Lever”, as long as Cultural Initiatives receives due recognition as the originator.

The logic model is common to all three modules of “Medici’s Lever”, two of which involve plots and characters.  This dramatic content, or “game interface” in the parlance of video gamers, was added after the logic model was in place and can be easily modified to suit different audiences or languages.  In addition, we wanted to enliven “Medici’s Lever” with video, music, spoken language and more graphic content, all of which were embedded in the original “Great Cities” CD, published by Cultural Initiatives in 2000.  The tradeoff would have been greatly reduced response times through our new platform, the web.

BC – I’m interested in the detailed assumptions that are built into the logic model, and how accurately they reflect real life. Specifically, can you explain how the following aspects work:

  • the multipliers

JK – Multipliers (or levers) are elements of a model that can provide a net result of greater magnitude than the sum of the inputs.  A simple example of a multiplier is an interest rate: An investment of one pound can yield one pound five pence in one year.  When using the modules of “Medici’s Lever”, it will become apparent that policies yielding short-term returns may yield substantially diminished returns in future years.  The obverse is also true: Low initial yields may lead to more substantial returns in future decades.  Policy makers in all fields often have trouble envisioning long-term gains and risks.

  • the two-way, interactive flows between the parts of the pyramid

JK – In the parlance of systems dynamics, an action may have a one-way linear effect, or the relationship may be “bidirectional”.  In the core of the logic model, people who are culturally active and passionate in their individual and social lives will stimulate producers to generate appropriate cultural goods and services, but at times, extraordinary and novel cultural goods and services may stimulate demand from consumers.  The history of arts, athletics, religion and fashion is littered with the carcasses of producers that fell out of favor with consumers, and so it goes today.

  • the market makers

JK – In the middle ground between producers and consumers are the market makers, practitioners or agencies seeking to establish efficient markets for the delivery of cultural goods and services.  Festival organizers, performing arts presenters, literary agents, and art dealers are all examples of market makers.  Although market makers may be influential multipliers in the dynamics of regional culture, they are often ignored by policy makers and funding agencies.  “Medici’s Lever” provides an opportunity to experiment with this lever.

Valuing Culture

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By Dawn

“…as a discussion in Clarke (2006:62) exemplifies, the need to fit the cultural sector’s understanding of value into central government’s standard framework for evaluating decisions is simply unavoidable. It is especially unavoidable given the increasing demands on decreasing resources expected across the public sector for the foreseeable future (Selwood 2010).”

I have wrestled with ‘Measuring the value of Culture: a report to the Department for Culture Media and Sport’ for several weeks now and I confess almost any distraction has taken me elsewhere. Having hit the above paragraph at the end of Chapter 3 ‘Values and Valuation’ I remained stuck there, initially too depressed to stroll any further. That is not to say it is a bad report. I think it is exactly what it set out to be a rigorous, multi-disciplinary literature review of methods for measuring the value of culture set within the context of HMT’s Green Book.

This probably locates it within a relatively specific readership, which is a shame because the challenge of measuring the value of culture really ought to be a sector wide debate. There is recognition that ‘culture is an intangible good that is hard to define’ but the report goes on to suggest that economic techniques have been applied to other intangibles such as environmental and transport policy making. Still I fight to get past the notion that this kind of measurement is unavoidable.

 I should probably show my hand at this point, if you haven’t already guessed it. I am a qualitative researcher and evaluator, issues of meaning making and experience are important to me. There is no doubt I, like others, apply a particular lens in looking at the matter of value and I recognise it has an impact. It does not mean, however, that I do not appreciate there are other approaches, many of which involve particular forms of measurement. I hope it makes me a constructive critic rather than an outright detractor.

 There is no doubt that Dave O’Brien has done his legwork, there are probably enough references here to feed my blogging for months to come. I find it a bit of a shame that the consultees don’t include any of the culture SMEs or micros that any development in this field is most likely to have an effect on, if nothing else to bring them into the debate. I am not suggesting it should have been a representative sample, let’s not get hung up on that one, just that I know of many good smaller culture organisations who are wrestling with these issues right now. And they too might have a view on why the cultural sector ‘is hindered by its failure to clearly articulate its value in a cohesive and meaningful way.’ (Scott, 2009: 198)

 At the moment, and this may change with further readings, the bit I find most perplexing comes on the second page of the introduction. I was encouraged when I started to read that while techniques from economics are the most useful for government decision makers who have to make judgements about cultural value, i.e. distribution of scarce resources (probably fair comment), ‘they must not be used in isolation’ (great, couldn’t agree more). The next sentence starts robustly, ‘first’, I am now primed for a valuable list of reasons why mixed methods are relevant here. However, only two emerge.

1.       There is a need to gain the support of the cultural sector

2.       The debate over economic valuation techniques being able to capture all dimensions of cultural value is on-going

 It seems to me these two issues are the crux of the matter, and they have been around for some time, it is good that they have been highlighted in the report though. It would have been even better to have them drawn out more in the recommendations.

 Overall, it is hard not to hear a message that suggests, ‘we’ve given you lot plenty of time to come up with your own methods and measures and you’ve failed to convince anybody, now let the grown-ups who can count take over.’ Or am I being too harsh/paranoid/cross/fluffy…?

Where is the wisdom?

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By Dawn

It may seem curious to start a blog on cultural policy by considering wisdom but it is for me a concept that is often neglected in current discussions about organisational change, sustainability, agility, resilience, call it what you will. So much of the focus has now shifted to knowledge that you could be forgiven for thinking that wisdom had gone out of favour, confined perhaps to religion and folklore, something a little ‘cranky’ even. As has been so eloquently said elsewhere, ‘wisdom has lost credibility and prestige relative to science, rationalism and method in modern times.’ (Wisdom in Organisations: Whence and Wither?)

Where wisdom is raised, it is often in the knowledge management sector in relation to theDIKW (data, information, knowledge, wisdom) hierarchy.

There has, however, been increasing criticism of this model based on the view that it is an oversimplification ( Knowledge Jolt) but it is useful reminder of the possibility of there being a spotlight on something other than knowledge. Accepting that all models are in some ways wanting, for me DIKW has been useful because it has encouraged me to consider anew the concept of wisdom and what it might mean in relation to organisations in the arts and culture sector.

The concept of wisdom has a long history in philosophy, psychology, religion and literature and more recently it has been considered in terms of organisations and knowledge management. Definitions of wisdom vary but tend to focus on core characteristics related to exceptional understanding (based on common sense; learning from experience; awareness of context) and/or judgement (able to consider all points of view and offer sound advice).

Drawing on the Aristotelian philosophical tradition and empirical psychological research it has been proposed that wisdom comprises a number of elements (McKenna, 2008):

  • It is a spiritual and metaphysical quality that takes it beyond pure reason
  • Wisdom includes the non-rational and subjective elements of human experience in relation to decision making
  • Its purpose is virtuous action
  • It is prudent and practical and provides the capacity to see the world as others see it
  • Wisdom understands the circumstance and constructedness of phenomena in and is therefore not reducible to method
  • It is articulate, aesthetic and intrinsically rewarding
  • It is tolerant, born of natural affection for humanity

Wisdom is therefore a combination of both knowledge and judgement but is also firmly rooted in the pragmatics of life it does not exist in rarefied isolation but is contextually based. To my mind these elements point to wisdom being particularly important in contexts of uncertainty. Wise people are aware that there may be multiple aspects to a given problem and accept that while they make reasonable judgements based on available information at the time this view might change as events unfold.

In considering issues of organisational survival, something that is occupying many of us at the moment, the ability to act wisely becomes paramount. However, in the arts and the wider nonprofit sector the capacity of organisations to have the freedom to act on such wisdom is generally governed by the power structures in which they operate. In order to achieve wise outcomes wisdom is therefore required by both the organisation concerned and the other actors in their system. We now have policies that encourage entrepreneurialism but inhibit risk taking based on accountability, promote quality (high cost) and access (low price), encourage innovation but are still intolerant of failure, it is a context rife with paradox.

The experience of many of the arts organisations I have worked with shows that the extent to which they can access the wisdom of their members and act upon it is linked closely to their embedded nature as they are heavily resource dependent on external bodies and any action has to be negotiated both internally and externally. The double bind of accountability and freedom to act needs a wise leadership and management to be able to respond.

This is what takes wisdom beyond being a purely cognitive attribute and why I think it is important to consider; it requires social, ethical and discursive abilities. Managing multiple stakeholders and keeping abreast of current policies takes nimbleness, flexibility, and political awareness, what I would now describe as wisdom. Capabilities that can ebb and flow throughout an arts organisation’s lifecycle and are increasingly difficult to maintain when an organisation is on the edge of non-routine change or financial crisis.

No amount of data, information, knowledge, good judgement, intuition, planning, or decision making is sufficient if it is done without acknowledgment of context and the value of wisdom. This is particularly pertinent in relation to many of the discussions that are being had around change and learning much of which does not seem to take account of such wisdom and is based in a technocratic rationality which privileges cognitive knowledge.

I will close with two lines that are frequently quoted in the knowledge management sector for they provide food for thought…

“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

T.S.Eliot, The Rock, 1934

Measuring impact in Florence

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By Jon
My attention has been drawn to Italian research into the so-called Stendhal syndrome – the condition which occurs when an appreciation of works of art literally sets your heart racing and your head swooning.
It is named after the French author who experienced these and other, more extreme, symptoms in Florence in 1817. Apparently, it is a real psychological disorder which was first formally described and observed in Florence between 1979 and 1982.

Hence, today a well-respected group of Italian scientists are investigating the effect of the Palazzo Medici Riccardi on pulse, breathing and blood pressure. Per Artinfo:

The tests are meant to measure the effect the combined aesthetic assault has on modern audiences, who are centuries away from the Romantic dispositions that held sway in the time of Stendhal

This is a great piece of research – I am envious of the participants, and tip my hat to the researchers for coming up such a lovely way to spend their time.

However, a couple of issues exercise my mind.

First, the coverage of the research suggests it is aimed at establishing whether the syndrome really exists. But I’m skeptical of whether that’s actually their intention. A brief bit of research suggests there is at least some doubt over whether it is a genuine syndrome, so I imagine it is unlikely that there is a clear baseline against which researchers can compare their subjects.

The work might therefore say some interesting things about the impact of walking through the Palace and who it affects, but won’t confirm the syndrome’s existence on its own. It might suggest directions for further research, though.

Second, the choice of the Palace is entirely apt for historic reasons, but one wonders about the possibility of measuring the relative impact of different locations. Jonathan Jones in the Guardian writes:

It would be much more effective to put the heart monitors at nearby San Lorenzo, where anyone with a soul emerges stupefied from the sublimely dark and disorientating architecture of Michelangelo’s Laurentian library.

Jones’s motives probably include demonstrating his own good taste and depth of knowledge, but he hints at some intriguing possible developments that might follow when the results are in.