South African Cultural Observatory

Partnerships Are Critical Success Ingredients For Observatories

BY 04.07.19

The work of the South African Cultural Observatory is highly enriched by learning from similar initiatives and organisations doing similar work across the globe. This understanding has guided the SA Cultural Observatory from inception. In setting up the project the Department visited several countries and institutions to learn and understand how different Observatories functioned and undertook the research work. With this understanding, we continuously build and explore mutually beneficial partnerships with various Observatories with the aim of learning and exchanging information for us to improve how we work. 

From very early on, the SA Cultural Observatory formed a partnership with Argentine Cultural Information System (SINCA) for this purpose. SINCA is the largest collection of electronic cultural information in the Argentina, and contains objective data from all provinces, which have been verified and are permanently updated.

Our partnership with SINCA includes regular interaction, including exchange visits to see first-hand how and what both of us are working.  

In April (8 – 12) we hosted SINCA representatives for five days in Nelson Mandela Bay (PE) where they shared with us the various approaches they have adopted to guarantee the accuracy and correctness of the data and information they collect. They shared their challenges and opportunities, which were not too disimilar to ours.

The SINCA representatives were highly impressed with the type of reports that we have been able to produce and share with them, particularly given the few years of our existence.

Unlike in Europe, Africa does not boast many Cultural Observatories, and the SA Cultural Observatory is one of the few of its kind on the continent. Those that exist might work different from us and have a different mandate. The European website LabforCulture (http://www.labforculture.org) gives the following definition for cultural observatories: “Cultural observatories not only observe phenomena, they also identify trends and tendencies in the cultural sector. They monitor and disseminate the results of their observations, reporting back to the sector by developing strategies that reflect on past cultural trends and predict future developments. Observatories operate at different levels: internationally, nationally, regionally, sub-regionally and locally. They play an important role in the development of future policies”. The definition largely outlines our work, all be it at national level.

No sooner than the Argentines had left, we were asked to host a delegation from Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST) as they have an interest in establishing the country’s first cultural observatory at the University. The Malawians came to learn about SA Cultural Observatory in their interaction with the Nelson Mandela University. Led by the Vice-Chancellor, the delegation spent two days (12 – 13 June) with the Observatory where we able to take them through context of the establishment of the Observatory, some of our research outputs, how we are structured and the role of the Department of Arts and Culture. At the end of the visit MUST signed an MOU with the Nelson Mandela University. Included in the MOU is our commitment to assist them establish an Observatory in Malawi. 

In the interactions with both SINCA and MUST we learnt valuable lessons that we will take into our work of measuring and valuing the cultural industries. The team at the Observatory is acutely aware of the importance of partnerships, local and international, particularly how sharpen and shape our research approaches. It is thus imperative that we continue to nurture these partnerships and build new ones.     

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