Looking at ‘place’ through the lens of the Impact & Insight Toolkit metadata


The importance of place for the cultural sector has come under increasing focus through Arts Council England’s Let’s Create strategy and the government’s Levelling Up agenda.

However, engaging with place has long been at the core of much of the cultural sector’s work, whether telling stories about place; engaging with communities attached to particular places; or responding to the specific local needs of a place.

This blogpost will consider how we can look at place through the lens of the Toolkit, looking at what the aggregate dataset can tell us through the kinds of work that organisations are evaluating that engage with place.


Adding metadata for works that engage with ‘place’

When you create your evaluations you can assign properties to them, such as: location, broad artform, specific artform and keywords.  We see great value in the consistent use of these properties and the keywords in particular, which provide a richness to the dataset.  Because of this, in recent months Counting What Counts (CWC) has been working to improve the metadata in the aggregate dataset.

We first completed an overhaul of the available keywords, generating an improved set based on the work that has already been evaluated by organisations using the Toolkit.  We then retrospectively tagged submitted evaluations with the improved keywords if the evaluation didn’t already have any.  This was done using publicly available information about the events; for example, an event or artist description on a website.

So far, we have done this for all submitted evaluations up to April 2021.

One of the keywords in the ‘subject’ category is ‘Place’.  It has been tagged to evaluations that were understood to be engaging with place, either because the work or event was about a place, or because it was working with a specific place.

In the rest of this blogpost, by using the metadata keywords, we look at how aspects of works such as audience type, venue type, purpose and subject for works which engage with place differ to those that do not[1].


Place type

The place type category allows us to tag evaluations with information about the type of space that the work took place in.  These could be traditional cultural venues like museums or theatres, or less traditional venues like schools, prisons or community venues.

‘Theatre venues’ are the most common type of venue when we look at the entire dataset.  However, they are much less frequently represented when we just look at those works tagged with ‘place’.  For evaluations tagged with ‘place’, we see a higher proportion of art galleries, community venues, heritage sites, outdoor locations, and street locations.

This suggests that works engaging with place are more often taking place outside of traditional cultural venues.


Audience/ Participants

The audience/participant category allows us to tag evaluations with the intended audience or participants of the work or event.  This could be through age group (e.g., children), or communities of practice (e.g., audience or participants who identify as disabled).

For different audiences or participants, higher proportions of works are tagged with ‘community audience or participants’ and ‘local audience or participants’.

This indicates that working in place is engaging with specific communities within a local area.



The subject category allows us to group together works that speak to a particular topic or theme; for example, politics or identity.  The ‘place’ keyword itself sits within the subject theme but is often used in combination with other subject keywords[2].

History has the largest proportion of evaluations also tagged with place, suggesting that there is often a connection between place and local histories.  Other subjects like community, contemporary Britain, diversity, identity and migration are all tagged together multiple times.

This suggests that these works have something to say about the places in which we live. 



The purpose keyword category allows us to add whether an event or work had a particular intention.  This could be related to the structure of the project (e.g., competition) or to its outcomes (e.g., skills development).

When looking at the intersections of evaluations tagged with place and ‘purpose’ keywords, we see a larger percentage of commissioned works and residencies.

This indicates a deeper engagement and purposefulness about making work within a place.


What does it mean to work in place?

Looking at the dataset in this way gives us a feeling of a typology of what works engaging with place might look like.  Now, how can we explore this further?

  1. More data! For those who use the Toolkit, adding properties to your evaluations would help us to understand more about how ‘place’ intersects with other categories.
  2. We need to consider what it means to work in place in different ways…

In the Toolkit, there is a set of dimensions available for selection under the heading ‘Placemaking’.  If ‘place’ is an important focus of your work, we would encourage you to explore these and consider adding them to your evaluations to capture your impact in this area.

We are excited to announce that we are embarking on a new research project engaging with the sector about their work in place.  With a cohort of carefully recruited organisations, we will explore the diversity of place-based approaches from different sized organisations and artistic disciplines.  Together, we will: evaluate the existing set of metrics for placemaking and other measurement tools; identify any gaps; co-produce a new set of metrics or other questions to capture the specificities and values of working in place.

We look forward to sharing this work with you.  And, most importantly, we look forward to furthering our understanding of the importance and relevance of place-based work.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash





[1] As our focus is on works which engage with place, for the purposes of this analysis we have grouped together the keywords that have not been used alongside place on evaluations as ‘other keywords’ on the charts for Place type, Audience/Participant and Purpose keywords.

[2] For the purposes of readability we have included only the top 10 keywords that were used with ‘place’ in the subject category.





Featured image credit: Frankie Lu on Unsplash