Why cultural impact needs to integrate in impact assessment ?
The social sector globally and in India have expanded the current criteria and assessment of impact from social impact to social, economic and ecological impact yet ignoring a very important context to development work, cultural impact. The idea of social, economic and ecological impact has been widely integrated as tools for measuring impact among non-profits and used also in the beginning of an impact project or program to define or design the project process that can be measured from start to finish.
It is important as part of impact assessment that the impact objectives, criteria and measurement tools are well defined at the beginning of a project or program. It helps to set the framework and track the progress till the end of a project or program to understand the outcomes of the program more effectively. In this process, assessing impact only through social, economic and ecological is not enough. We need to consider the fourth criteria, cultural impact as part of the assessment. Impact driven projects or programs targeted towards specific communities or regions are also influenced by cultural ideas, practices and values that overlap each other with nuances of identity, livelihood, engagement, rituals and so on. This also means that we don’t see the cultural lens from a narrow sectoral view of arts, craft or other culture rooted livelihoods. It is much beyond the sectoral view or production of culture consumed by larger public (including media & entertainment).
In India, the complexity and diversity that exists based on culture is deeply ingrained in our ecosystem where any social impact will have ramifications on the cultural fabric of a community or regions. It is imperative that when we define impact or sustainability or equitability, culture also is part of the criterias we talk about here and in our overall approach in the sector.
Cultural impact on:
The closest link of culture and its relevance is towards social impact. Society absorbs and reflects culture as a way of life that has deep influence on socio-cultural behaviours, ideas and practices which also is the root cause to social challenges and inequality. Some of the best solutions for social challenges in India have failed not because the solution was not good but it could not “influence” the socio-cultural behaviour of the target community to adopt the solution. An example, identity, geography and livelihoods are closely interdependent among rural or remote communities which requires a more cultural understanding of the challenge and additionally consider the solution’s impact on the local culture (which shouldn’t be negative).
The economic impact that considers areas such as skills, production, labour, welfare, wealth, consumption, governance, accountability and equitability are few outcomes rooted from the cultural DNA of a community and how they operate. The economic wellbeing of an individual, community and country at these three levels is also linked to the cultural identity, values and practices at each level. The impact assessment of livelihood, income growth, wealth distribution over a period of time needs to consider the cultural context of the target audience.
Cultural ideas, practices and stories across India has a long history of encouraging people to live in harmony with their environment. From getting food, running a household, a lifestyle to managing a village, the responsibility and compassion for ecology has been part of cultural production. The evidence of ecological balance as practice and relevance of preserving habitat also reflects in performing arts, visual arts and folklore across communities and regions. We need to encourage and equip children and youth with cultural narratives and tools that can be seamlessly integrated into their way of living.
Relevance to stakeholders
The social sector and the larger impact ecosystem players need to interpret impact from a broader view and the assessment of it should consider the four criteria. The impact assessment models have also been much debated, and there is no one model. It requires a broader framework that considers several assessment models operating with different contextual factors.
What we propose is a common process across assessment models to recognise, analyse and document the four impact contexts at the beginning of a project/ program and then monitor it to evaluate the outcomes of each impact area and/ or collective impact at the end of the project/ program.
Government, NGOs, non-profits, social enterprises should consider a more holistic impact assessment model that can be extended across institutions, organisations and regions to help have a more macro insights and assessment of sustainability outcomes defined for each region or country.
The hope is also the larger corporate companies, business and start-ups from the commercial world equally adopt a sustainable approach with all four impact criterias. Social, economic, ecological and cultural. Not because this is in-trend, but the right way to approach for future generations towards sustainable living.