Creativity: policy and practice

A study of government, the BBC and UK Film Council

Aims and objectives

This project set out first, to analyse the rise and elaboration of a discourse of 'creativity' in UK government thinking and to trace its impact on key cultural industries. Second, it undertook a study of the BBC and the UK Film Council to investigate the effects of creative industries policies in two sectors, television and film. Third, we set out to provide an account of television and film policy and practice in Scotland, a nation with devolved powers.

Our research into the UKFC and the BBC found that how these organisations oriented themselves to the governmental discourse of creativity was actually rather complex and indirect and this took the project in unexpected directions: first, into an examination of fiscal film policy and its implications for the economic conditions underlying production; and second, into an analysis of organisational change at the BBC under the slogan of creativity.

The broad aims and objectives, therefore, were adjusted to the finding that there was no simple relation of correspondence between government policy and its interpretation inside key cultural bodies.

Our third aim, to document - by way of case studies - the specific workings of creative industries policy in BBC Scotland and Scottish Screen was the framework set out for the project's linked PhD project.

Our remaining aims and objectives were to produce publications and other outputs analysing how specific lines of thinking about 'creativity' have shaped government policy and informed institutional strategies devised to manage cultural activities in the interests of 'national competitiveness'. This theme has certainly been at the heart of the research and is reflected in the published outputs, many of which address the tensions between the economic and cultural imperatives shaping policy and practice.

Finally, as intended, we have contributed to scholarly debate in the arts and humanities (and also the social sciences) and to public policy analysis. We have also addressed the wider public in a variety of ways.

A brief overview

Our study of New Labour creative industries policy traces the development of a system of self-sustaining thinking evident from commissioned reports and other interventions by a small circle of available policy experts and industry figures (Schlesinger 2007). We have also explored the role of expertise in public debate on creative industries policy, identifying the role of key players in the New Labour 'policy generation' and showing how expertise has moved from think tanks into the heart of government (Schlesinger 2009).

In our investigation of the effects of creative industries policies in the film and television sectors, we have documented how fiscal incentives in the form of tax credits are regarded as fundamental to the sustainability of the British film industry. In addition to benefiting indigenous filmmaking, an attractive tax credit structure is seen as promoting inward investment, chiefly from the USA, and is seen as important for maintaining the work force and organisational capacity in the British film industry. Securing the continuity of the skills base is at the heart of the UK Government's drive to make the 'creative economy' better fitted for global competition. However, in that broader context, film has been - and remains – a special case (Magor and Schlesinger 2009). In the UK television industry, our analysis shows that fundamental to optimum creative environments are the connections between individual talent, collective creativity and innovation. The contemporary organisational order and work regime has been established without paying attention to this dynamic, with uncertain consequences (Doyle and Paterson 2008; Doyle and Paterson 2010). In the post-Birt BBC, a new managerial wave under D-G Greg Dyke made 'creativity' its mobilizing slogan. The aim was to transform the BBC's internal culture. When in 2004 Dyke fell victim to the Kelly affair and was ousted from office, the rhetoric of creativity was maintained - under different conditions - by his successor, Mark Thompson, and has been incorporated into the defining purposes of the BBC. This turn seems to owe as much to US management theory as it does to government policy (Schlesinger 2010 in press).

Beyond its original scope, the project has also informed work on how music policy has shifted from music as culture to music as creative industry  (Frith, Cloonan and Williamson 2009).

Devolved policy and practice

Hibberd's PhD thesis (2009) addresses this issue. The project's work also informed the broadcasting policy debate begun by the Scottish Broadcasting Commission (SBC) (Schlesinger 2008). Our research also informed cultural policy during the Creative Scotland transition process. Although extremely difficult to assess the impact of such 'knowledge exchange', our work anticipated developments in the fields of cultural and broadcasting policies and was both read and discussed by key actors in the Scottish policy field.

Project staff

Professor Philip Schlesinger (CCPR) was Principal Investigator, with Professor Simon Frith (University of Edinburgh) and Mr Richard Paterson (British Film Institute) as Co-Investigators. The Post-Doctoral Research Assistant was first, Dr Pille Petersoo and then Dr Maggie Magor. Dr Lynne Hibberd, who completed her doctoral research during the project, was the linked PhD student.

Some project publications

G. Doyle and R. Paterson (2008): ‘Public policy and independent television production in the UK’, Journal of Media Business Studies 5(3) 15-31.

G. Doyle and R. Paterson (2010): ‘Die Produktion unabhängingen Fernsehen in Grossbritanien’ in Lanzsch, K., Altmappen, K. and Will, A. (eds) The Business of Entertainment: Medien, Märkte, Management, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

S. Frith, M. Cloonan and J. Williamson (2009): ‘On music as a creative industry’ in Tony Jeffs and Andy Pratt (eds) Creativity and Innovation in the Culture Economy, London & New York: Routledge.

L. A. Hibberd (2009): Creative industries policy and practice : A study of BBC Scotland and Scottish Screen. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

M. Magor and P. Schlesinger (2009): ‘“For this relief much thanks.”  Taxation, film policy and the UK government’, Screen 50(3): 1-19.

P. Schlesinger (2007): ‘Creativity: from discourse to doctrine?’ Screen 48(3): 377-387.

P. Schlesinger (2008): ‘Can Scotland have a communication policy?’ Stevenson Adam Smith Research Foundation Lecture, University of Glasgow, 21 February.

P. Schlesinger (2009): ‘Creativity and the experts: New Labour, think tanks and the policy process’, International Journal of Press Politics 14(3): 3-20.

P. Schlesinger (2010): ‘“The most creative organization in the world”? The BBC, ‘creativity’ and managerial style’, International Journal of Cultural Policy (16), in press.

This project was funded by the AHRC and ran from 01.01.06 - 31.12.09.