is professor of Arts Management at Heilbronn University, Germany, author of Introduction to International Arts Management and co-founder of the international, interdisciplinary network Brokering Intercultural Exchange.
Practical oriented student projects
Evaluation of the Robert Bosch Cultural Managers Network
In order to fully exploit the potential of the Robert Bosch Cultural Managers Network (RBCM Network), a group of Master students from Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences, Germany evaluated the network and identified central aspects for its further development.
The idea of networking has experienced a renaissance in recent years. Numerous publications (Cvjeticanin, 2011; Laaksonen, 2016; Henze, 2018) highlight the importance of networks, especially in and for the cultural sector. Sponsors who have been funding by outcome-oriented criteria for decades also increasingly accept the idea and understand that it can be quite expedient to bring innovative people together and wait and see what can result from these meetings.
In the meantime, however, a first disillusionment or fatigue after the network hype is noticeable. Too often, pure networking, often reduced to business card exchanges, has been overemphasized at the expense of content. The scattering losses are therefore too high and the technical added value is low. The European Union in particular is no longer promoting new networks, but wants to see 'results' from the beneficiaries. That is a pity. Much more research, including on the long-term impact and adequate organisational structure of networks particularly in the cultural sector, would be necessary.
Identifying and properly exploiting potential
During the session Network 4.0. The importance of international and interdisciplinary networks. A practical guide! at the ENCATC Annual Conference in Brussels in September 2017, which was chaired by Victoria Durrer and myself, it became clear that the alleged non-binding character of these associations can be quite problematic and that many active members of networks have a need for discussion and advice on topics of organisation and sustainability.
In addition to large networks such as 'EUNIC', 'On the Move' or 'ENCATC' with corresponding administrative structures and financial resources, there is a large number of smaller networks that are largely dependent on the voluntary commitment of their members due to their size and limited financial resources.
One such network is the Robert Bosch Cultural Managers Network (RBCM Network), which was founded five years ago and brings together graduates of the renowned Robert Bosch Cultural Manager programs as well as alumni of the programs Tandem Europe, Tandem Shaml, and Actors of Urban Change. It has about 300 members from a large number of nations, all of whom have international experience and are now active in various countries around the world. On Facebook, the network has over 5,000 followers. This pool of highly qualified people with expertise in quite high-ranking positions in the international cultural sector is what business economists commonly call 'asset'. Those responsible for the RBCM network are aware of the potential, want to further professionalize the network in the future and position their services even better in a thoroughly confusing "network market". In order to drive this process forward, Master students of Business Administration in Arts, Leisure and Sports Management at Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences, Germany were commissioned to evaluate the RBCM network after a successful pitch in the summer of 2017.
Challenges within voluntary structures
Part of this evaluation was a quantitative and qualitative empirical study that was conducted during the winter semester 2017/2018. Using an online questionnaire, qualitative interviews with members and selected experts, a stakeholder analysis, comprehensive literature research and a closer look at similar (alumni) networks, the Master's students developed a comprehensive inventory of the members, their professional fields and interests, their media use and their knowledge/acceptance of the numerous offers. This resulted in several recommendations for the further development and positioning of the network. On January 25, 2018, the students presented their results to the two speakers of the Virag Major network from Hungary and Gwendolenn Sharp from France as well as Sarah Herke of MitOst e.V. from Berlin at the campus in Künzelsau.
In essence, the students identified topics that most network organisers will be familiar with: internal and external communication, member motivation, financing, organisational structure, unique selling point and knowledge management were the cornerstones on which suggestions for further development were made. To optimize the implementation process, so-called 'key performance indicators' have also been named. A time bar was used to show at which time which milestones should be reached and how what has been achieved could be re-evaluated. Various other international networks were used as benchmarks or smart practices. The special organisational form of the fluid network with greater fluctuation and voluntary commitment was the special feature as well as the challenge for evaluation and consulting.
Growing field of work for cultural managers
This evaluation and counselling process has not only made it possible for students to deal with the increasingly important topic of evaluation and to deepen the urgently needed knowledge of empirical social research. It has also necessitated an intensive and practical examination of innovative forms of organisation and financing in the cultural sector. At the same time, the students got to know a large number of important international actors and became familiar with the importance but also difficulty of active, voluntary networking.
The RBCM network's special focus on promoting and advancing projects that focus on the social effectiveness of art and culture and actively participate in shaping social transformation processes led to fruitful discussions about the social design possibilities of artists and cultural managers and the tension between art and management. Not everything that an economist would find useful to ensure the continuity of a network is also in line with the goals and identity of the RBCM network. When choosing potential sponsors, especially for awards or prizes, the philosophy of the network and its members must not be lost sight of. As a result, some of the partners here have to be dropped from the outset.
Acquiring of important competences
In addition to the gain of knowledge, the expansion of the method canon and also the considerations for the professional presentation of the study results in English, came the aspect of teamwork under time pressure. This case study was challenging and excellently suitable at many levels to develop not only a multitude of competencies but also the ability to discourse and a feeling for current issues as well as for the social responsibility of cultural managers.
We would like to thank the responsible persons of the Robert Bosch Cultural Managers Network for the trust they have placed in the students by commissioning them with this evaluation project. We were assured that it was not disappointed. The representatives of the network took along many suggestions, which were discussed in detail the next day in an internal strategy meeting and are to be implemented promptly. The comprehensive evaluation report was made available to all members of the network. This practical transfer of science is beneficial for both sides and we hope that even more organisations/ associations/ networks will seek exchange with cultural management programmes.
- Cvjeticanin, B. (2011) Networks: The evolving aspects of culture in the 21st century. Culturelink.org.
- Henze, R. (2018): The Dangerous Eurocentrism in European Arts Management, in: Dragisevic Sesic, M./ Vickery, J. (eds.), Cultural Policy Yearbook 2017, Bilgi University Press, Istanbul.
- Laaksonen, A. (2016) DArt Report 49 International Culture Networks. Media.ifacca.org.
This article was first published in German in our German journal "Kultur Management Network Magazin".