As a law-abiding taxpayer, you naturally pay your taxes.. I absolutely do not intend to instigate a debate here on what our public money should be spent on. We all have different opinions. However, we can all agree on the following: the programmes on which the government spends our public money must be effective.

Researchers preaching to the choir. In these final days of 2016, Erasmus Magazine has completely submerged itself in the topic of ‘religion’. What role does faith play in academia, what influence does it have at Erasmus University and how do scientists and students deal with their own faith and the convictions of others.

Deficient performance management

Since the government feels that culture holds great value to society, it has earmarked millions of euros for grants to cultural institutions, and also for developing young talent and promoting cultural education.

These grants are intended to help us attain higher societal objectives. After all, the government owes as much to its stakeholders – i.e. us, the taxpayers. But so far, there has been little evidence that the money the government is spending on the cultural sector is actually having a societal impact. On the one hand, this is due to a lack of knowledge; on the other, it is because cultural institutions tend to be assessed by their sponsors for their performance rather than for their actual impact.

Assessments tend to focus on outputs, such as the number of visitors, number of performances or number of jobs created. In other words, we will have to pay more attention to the question as to whether subsidised cultural projects and organisations actually have a positive impact on society.  For instance, does culture really promote mutual understanding in our society? And is our improved quality of life really due to the fact that we have been able to take part in cultural activities?

The solution

Moreover, a proper societal impact measurement does not just take into account whether a programme has had the intended positive impact, but also how this positive impact was created. Cultural institutions can use such knowledge to draw up more effective strategies to generate the intended impact, which will increase their legitimacy in our society. The government can take this information into account when deciding on the recipients of its grants.

I believe that increased attention for societal impact will allow us to spend our tax money more effectively and achieve our societal objectives more quickly. Surely that is an impact all parties can get behind?