Re-shaping Cultural Policies: The Why and How


This weeks blog gives some highlights of the 2018 Re-Shaping Cultural Policies update report on the 2005 Unesco Global Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

What is the 2005 Unesco Global Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions?

The 33rd session of the UNESCO General Conference held in Paris, France on 3–21 October 2005, adopted an international legal instrument for the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions. This Global Convention recognizes that culture, contributes to development holistically - both socially and economically.  As a legally binding tool, it imposes obligations domestically and internationally for the support of the rights of artists, creative professionals, practitioners and citizens worldwide to "create, produce, disseminate and enjoy a broad range of creative goods, services and activities, including their own."  To date 146 parties have ratified it. 

The Convention affirms that humanity is defined by its cultural diversity, which should be celebrated and protected.  By making diversity accessible to all, it increases our range of choice, and helps "nurture human capacities and values".  Diversity celebrated, it argues, allows for a more complete realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms central to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Convention, in particular, recognizes the importance of traditional and indigenous knowledge systems as a "source of intangible and material wealth", with greater potential for furthering sustainable development, and thus calls for its protection and promotion.  It affirms gender equality in acting to further this.  Critical to the Convention is its emphasis on strengthening the free flow of ideas, and of intercultural communication and exchange.  By encouraging intercultural dialogue it suggests we can foster peace throughout the globe.  Thus it recognises that there needs to be "freedom of thought, expression and information" and places high value on the diversity of media to enable this to happen effectively, and emphasizes in this the role of education and of the need to support linguistic diversity.  At the same time it emphasizes the importance of protecting intellectual property rights for cultural creativity, while recognizing the latter has holistic and not simply commercial value.  Globalization, it notes, has both positive and negative influences for the protection and promotion of cultural diversity, and this is especially concerning in the potential imbalance between rich and poor.  For these reasons the Convention is particularly important for so called developing countries, whose diversity is at threat because of the lasting and ongoing impact of imperialism, made more challenging by developments in information and communications technologies.  Simultaneously the latter provides many opportunities for such countries, with the right forms of support.  

A documentary highlighting the vibrant contemporary arts scene in Ethiopia, through the voices of Ethiopian artists, exploring the achievements and challenges faced. Reflecting on the importance of the UNESCO 2005 Convention for the Protection and Promotion of Diversity of Cultural Expression.

The 2018 Reshaping Cultural Polices Report

The 2018 update report (the second since 2015) focusses on sharing support mechanisms that would assist members to sharpen their public policies, to be more effective and sustainable.  It suggests, that what is most needed, is co-operation between government and non governmental actors in four key areas.  It makes a number of significant recommendations in each of the areas, simplifying these recommendations using a series of useful infographics.   These four areas are:  a) Strengthening governance for culture,  b) Improving the conditions for the mobility of artists/creators,  c) Integrating culture in sustainable development strategies and d) Promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms.   These four goals are further linked to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable development, bringing the 2005 Convention's message up to date with the United Nations 2015 adoption of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets.  The 2030 agenda is recognised as a universal plan of action for people, planet, prosperity and thus to foster global peace.

The report analysis suggests new approaches to key issues including artistic freedom, gender, public service media and digital creativity.   It highlights innovative cultural policies at regional and local levels to foster these, and makes particular references to the global South in this respect. Importantly it highlights a number of critical challenges: more especially persistent inequalities, which require shifts in governance.   A critical thread through the 2018 report is the importance of collaborative governance that can strengthen culture through multi-stakeholder policy making, leading to integrated policies for creation, production, distribution and access of cultural goods and services.  Recommendations to re-shape cultural policies, with this in mind, makes this an important topic for this blog. 

The 10th anniversary of the passing of the 2005 Convention at UNESCO

The 10th anniversary of the passing of the 2005 Convention at UNESCO

I will be highlighting in the blog, some of the key issues relevant to 4 goals, and what these mean in respect to the reports theme. I will end by drawing on a few of the key recommendations made, focusing on those most relevant for the global South.  The reader can then refer to either the document or its summary for further information.  Access the full digital report and downloads  here.



To further the diversity of cultural goods and services, more informed, transparent and participatory cultural governance systems are needed.  This section highlights 4 key areas for monitoring.  The first is with Cultural Policies.  This is usually the competence of the national cultural ministry, however, to achieve the goals of the Convention, significant co-operation from other government agencies is needed. Secondly Public Service Media. To further the Convention, cultural policies should ideally work closely with media policies to foster freedom and diversity.  In South Africa for example culture and media are in separate ministries and so extra attention is needed to ensure alignment with the convention happens.  Third Access to Culture in the Digital Environment needs attention, this is especially so because a significant proportion of people now receive their information via mobile telephony.  Much of the content being engaged with is often from the global North.  Thus greater encouragement of digital creativity, and the participation of civil society in the digital ecosystem is needed.  Lastly Partnerships with and between Civil Society need to be fostered, through legislation and regulatory frameworks.  Civil society, the report argues has to have its capacity built up to participate in the design and implementation of cultural policies.  There are various ways this can be done.  The Cape Town cultural policy that we will look at in the next two weeks attempted to create mechanisms for citizen participation in the design, implementation and monitoring of their policy.  From a governance perspective therefore, this document recognises the importance of more linked up government.  This should happen between and within spheres of government and between government and civil society.  A clear connection between culture, media and the digital arena is also vital. 

Section of an infographic discussing participation in cultural policy development and explaining the challenges faced by Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in engaging with the Convention and other stakeholders, and suggests opportunities for governments to capacitate. 

Section of an infographic discussing participation in cultural policy development and explaining the challenges faced by Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in engaging with the Convention and other stakeholders, and suggests opportunities for governments to capacitate. 

Goal 2: Improving the conditions for the mobility of culture and Cultural professionals

There has to be both supportive measures to ensue that there is a balanced flow of cultural goods and services, and for increased mobility of artists and other cultural professionals.   There are three areas of relevance.  First, freedom of movement and mobility of cultural workers need to be supported by legislation.  It is especially important, the report suggests, to provide policies and measures to support those from the global South.  It suggests there is a role for the non governmental sector here.  Second, legislation, policies and measures to support the international flow of cultural goods and services are needed.  Third, treaties and agreements that further the principles of the Convention, especially in respect to international and regional, are required.   Thus this section recognizes, that in order to shift the unbalanced nature of the current environment, where some in the global North dominate, attention is needed for relevant support mechanisms to foster other voices.

A section of an infographic explaining the challenge of mobility of cultural workers

A section of an infographic explaining the challenge of mobility of cultural workers


What measures, policies and assistance, may be needed to integrate culture as a strategic dimension in sustainable development?  The report focusses on two critical areas.  First is an integration of culture into national development plans and policies,  targeting, particularly regional equity and  enabling equitable access for vulnerable  groups.   Secondly, culture needs to be integrated into international level sustainable development programs.  Technical assistance is especially important to "strengthen human and institutional capacities in the cultural and creative industries in developing countries", with financial assistance to support creativity in these countries.   This section therefore speaks to the practical ways in which the SDG's can be realized strategically and via technical and financial support.

`The film illustrates how the International Fund for Cultural Diversity (IFCD) invests in creativity to transform societies. Established under the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, the IFCD is the international cultural cooperation platform that supports over 70 projects on entrepreneurship and business development, new technologies and innovation, empowering individuals and social groups.


There is a need for international and national legislation to promotes artistic freedom and the social and economic rights of artists.  Here two areas are critical.  First, gender equality in the cultural arenas is needed, with policies and other support for women as creators, producers and consumers of cultural goods and services.  Secondly artistic freedom, and freedom of expression has to be protected and fostered through legislation, policies and measures.  This also include measures to support the economic rights of artists, who are often marginalised by a consumerist approach.  To ensure a rights based approach is mainstreamed, practical mechanisms are needed to support artists and especially women, so that their voices and stories can be heard.

Some recommendations

The 2018 report cards on the Convention's delivery recognizes a range of successes along many areas.  It highlights, for example. a few outstanding challenges in the critical first goals related to governance - notably insufficient budgets to implement cultural policies; the lack of capacitation of civil society to impact on policy actions; and a partial public service media coverage.  Recommendations are made for: structured platforms for policy dialogue, comprehensive strategies around the digital, adequate resourcing and skills for civil society organizations and investment in local quality content production.  The report recognizes and identifies areas for further data collection.  

Learning from best case examples, the report makes a number practical solutions for dealing with each the issues raised.  For example, in respect to furthering digital content, the report makes a set of recommendations that can be seen an infographic below.  Similarly, a set of recommendations are made to improve the system of collaborative governance for culture (seen above).   Told in simple infographics, highlighting up to date data, the report provides a sold base for researchers and civil society activists to begin to assess their country's shifts in respect to the Convention and to work collectively with relevant government bodies to further change.   The report provides a very welcome addition to the research landscape, providing a clear roadmap to help countries, and cities, to reassess their cultural policies in terms of this important, legally binding global convention. 

Section of an infographic explaining the challenge of the digital for broader creative expression

Section of an infographic explaining the challenge of the digital for broader creative expression

Go to the website for the 2005 Convention, to access the 2018 report and a host of other useful material: