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The Measure of Meetings: Forums, Deliberation, and Cultural Policy

Working Paper #28, Fall 2003

Steven J. Tepper
Stephanie Hinton

ABSTRACT
This research seeks to answer the question: “Do meetings matter for advancing cultural policy?” The question is approached theoretically and comparatively by examining the broader literature on policy making, as well specific case studies of meetings in other fields, in order to draw lessons and implications for arts and culture; discursively and ethnographically, by attending the annual meetings of arts service associations and recording and interpreting how people at these meetings talked about problems and policy; and empirically, by looking at a sample of conference program books over ten years and coding and analyzing what issues were discussed and who was invited to discuss them. We also studied, in detail, what a random sample of 40 participants say they learned at a particular annual convention and what policy-relevant actions they took as a result of having attended the meeting. Overall, we find that meetings are not currently effective tools for advancing policy in the cultural sector, with some notable exceptions. In arts and culture, where resources are modest, where the policy community is fragmented, where problems are poorly defined, where there is no central authority or government agency, and where issues have low salience for the general public, welltimed and carefully orchestrated meetings can perhaps play an even more important role than they do in other fields.

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