Laying the foundation for informed cultural policies

 “What difference did we make?” was the central question of a debriefing meeting organized from 19 to 21 March 2018 in Dakar, Senegal. Since 2014, UNESCO has been implementing the project “Enhancing fundamental freedoms through the promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions” in 12 partner countries (Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Colombia, Cuba, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal, Tunisia, Viet Nam, and Zimbabwe) and has produced two Global Reports in 2015 and 2017, “Re|Shaping Cultural Policies”. The experts involved in the project took stock of their experiences and assessed the impact of the project on policy change.

The meeting brought together selected international experts of the Expert Facility of the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, authors of the Global Reports as well as UNESCO Field offices. The project, funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), aims to strengthen the human and institutional capacities of governmental and civil society actors in the partner countries in monitoring and reshaping their cultural policies, and to share innovative policy practices through the publication of biennial Global Reports.

Its overall goal is to lay the groundwork for participatory and informed policymaking processes that support the development of systems of good governance for culture based on fundamental freedoms as stipulated in the 2005 Convention.

Culture at the heart of development

Through the organization of workshops and policy debates, UNESCO ensured the wide participation of actors, including civil society representatives, government officials and media professionals, in the policy monitoring processes of all partner countries. The discussions, which resulted in the submission of 12 periodic reports, also provided an opportunity to make policy recommendations that address critical issues such as those of artistic freedom, gender equality and media diversity. 

Drawing upon the periodic reports as well as other sources, UNESCO also produced two Global Report (see 2015 and 2018 editions) and organized public debates around the world on the importance of culture for sustainable development.

“Implemented at regional and local levels, cultural policies can improve governance and make it more transparent and effective,” said, Gwang-Chol Chang, Director a.i. of UNESCO’s Office in Dakar at the opening of the meeting. “In the context of vulnerable economies and reduced markets, small enterprises in the cultural and creative sector can contribute to jobs and wealth – developing alternatives for young people and not so young people to make a living. Moreover, freedom to create and express, creativity and critical thinking is among the solutions to prevent radicalization and violent extremism,” he highlighted.

Sustaining the project’s impact

The debriefing meeting provided a timely opportunity to address the sustainability of the capacity-building activities organized in the partner countries. Change at the policy level is often incremental, which, therefore, requires long-term commitment from all stakeholders involved. In the context of the cultural sector, establishing mechanisms for inter-ministerial cooperation as well as permanent multi-stakeholder national teams in charge of policy monitoring can be essential. Culture, being a transversal issue, requires the involvement of multiple actors.

Reflecting on the project’s sustainability, the participants also reviewed collectively a new training module on media diversity, which will be implemented in selected partner countries as part of the project’s goal to promote stronger legislative frameworks on media freedom and media diversity.Other follow-up activities will also be implemented before the project completion in June 2018, including training workshops with journalists and debriefing sessions with the national teams in charge of drafting the periodic reports.

Experts also discussed on this occasion the development of new training materials on artistic freedom, one of the core policy areas of the 2005 Convention. A first pilot workshop will be conducted on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day in Accra, Ghana (2-3 may 2018).

The new Policy Monitoring Platform of the 2005 Convention, recently launched, was also presented during the meeting as a new tool to further promote information-sharing and transparency for the design and implementation of cultural policies.