Spotlight on our members: the British Council
Whilst DSA members might know the British Council for their promotion and provision of English language teaching, exams, and cultural exchange, the British Council also manages and delivers successful development projects around the world. “We build connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and countries worldwide, and often utilise those extensive networks to deliver development outcomes,” explains Senior Soft Power Analyst at the British Council, James Carey.
“We employ a ‘cultural relations’ approach to development that draws on our unique combination of expertise in arts, culture, education, and the English language, as well as our global presence and relationships in over 100 countries. Our expert teams work with local partners and communities to understand drivers, build relationships, and deliver development programmes that benefit communities around the world.”
One example of this is the British Council’s programme Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning (CCGL) whose innovative partnership model allows it to operate in 29 countries alongside the UK. This initiative equips young people with the knowledge and awareness to act on local and global issues while also helping them to develop their skills.
“It is vital for the British Council to remain an active member of the DSA,” says James. “Our DSA membership helps us to stay informed about the latest advances, trends, and research in global development. It also enables us to connect and share our knowledge with the DSA community. As a result, it helps our research and insight to stay relevant, engaged, and impactful.”
The importance of culture
If you’re a researcher and have not considered the importance of the arts and cultural heritage in your strategies and approaches, the British Council have some practical advice.
Arts, culture, and cultural relations can help to address a wide range of complex, multi-dimensional and interconnected challenges relating to sustainable development. Through greater inclusion of arts and culture, we can foster holistic, inclusive, engaging, participatory, and people-centred approaches and strategies, which are sensitive to local/cultural contexts. Such approaches not only strengthen relations between cultures and communities but also lead to better development outcomes.
“Our work in arts globally recognises, integrates, and advocates for the role of culture in this sense. I have personally seen the transformative power of arts and culture in supporting locally rooted, long-term and effective change through our programmes,’ explains Nikki Locke, whose role at the British Council very much focuses on the importance and value of arts, heritage, and culture, particularly in sustainable development.
The British Council’s action research programme Cultural Heritage for Inclusive Growth (CH4IG) in Colombia, Kenya and Viet Nam is one example that demonstrates how cultural heritage contributes significantly to long-term, inclusive and sustainable development. At the heart of this approach lies an ethos and shared vision that celebrates cultural heritage and diversity, whilst being driven by a people-centred way of working. This approach has been essential in building equitable, mutual relationships with local communities, and supporting them to create opportunities on their own terms.
“I invite researchers to explore our CH4IG Essay Collection which endorses this from different perspectives and concludes that cultural heritage and cultural relations are at the heart of human development,” says Nikki.
“You can also delve deeper into our insight on this subject by exploring our Missing Pillar report and our Missing Foundation report (launching 25th October 2023). These publications set out our learnings and present a compelling argument for the central role of culture in community engagements on any topic, emphasising the importance of people-centred and culturally sensitive ways of working.”
“In practical terms, for the international development research community, this could entail incorporating arts and culture into research design and agendas through using cultural indicators to investigate impact; employing participatory research methods that give a voice to local communities in data collection, analysis, and the application of research; and prioritising case studies of arts and culture to demonstrate their value for sustainable development.
“In addition, we’d encourage researchers to think about how arts and culture can be integrated into their research impact plan. For example, both at the beginning and throughout a project, researchers could consider questions such as:
- How can my work help to advocate for the inclusion of cultural considerations in development-related policies and strategies?
- Can my research support capacity building and generate opportunities for local artists / cultural and community practitioners?
- Are there opportunities to partner with cultural institutions, NGOs, and artists to apply research into practice or create solutions to the challenges identified by my research?”
There is a growing movement of academics using cultural activities to disseminate knowledge – using theatre, photography, and illustration done locally to engage with the communities that are being researched, engage with public and highlight issues to policy makers at all levels. Nikki Locke says this is great to hear: “Artistic and creative approaches are a great way to make research ‘come to life’, resonate with people’s lived experience, enhance dissemination and raise awareness. Drawing on artistic mediums and collaborating with the cultural sector can support better story-telling, help to convey development challenges, advocate for better solutions, and communicate the impact of efforts to ensure continued support for these interventions.”
The British Council are very interested in these approaches to research and have supported this through their arts programme of work. One example is an artistic commission in response to Professor JP Singh’s paper on cultural relations, creative economies and development.
“The discussions among the artists and academics were fascinating and illuminating – as were the works of art that were produced as a result of these encounters. The final pieces illuminated broad themes from across different geographical contexts and helped us to understand some of the nuances in cultural relations approaches to development. Bringing these artists together with Professor Singh and the research findings was in itself an act of cultural relations. They capture the excitement, creativity, and ideas that this innovative collaboration generated.”
Through their What Works Cultural Heritage Protection Programme, the British Council have also funded fellowships and PhD placements, researching topics through their arts and heritage programmes.
Find out more
- The British Council very much welcome enquiries about opportunities for research partnership and knowledge exchange. If you’d like to connect with their team, please contact them on [email protected].
- James Carey is a Senior Soft Power Analyst at the British Council. He specialises in researching and understanding the effects of British Council work across development, peace, and security, and articulating the ability for the British Council to deliver mutually beneficial outcomes around the world.
- Nikki Locke is a Senior Relationship Manager at the British Council. She leads on the British Council Cultural Heritage for Inclusive Growth programme – an action research programme which explores cultural heritage for inclusive growth as a global concept with local solutions.
- Look out for more interviews from the British Council to follow.