Assessing the contribution of literature to the city of Manchester

Telling the story of the collective impact of literary activity across the city of Manchester since becoming a UNESCO City of Literature.

Partner overview 

Manchester City of Literature (MCoL) is a registered charity that manages the UNESCO designation on behalf of the city’s literary sector. This includes Manchester City Council, Manchester Metropolitan University, The University of Manchester and nearly thirty partner literary organisations. A staff team of three are supported by a Board of Trustees and an Advisory Group. 

Project delivery: March to June 2021

The challenge

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In 2017 Manchester was designated a UNESCO City of Literature, recognising the significant contribution of literature to the city - both past and present. The UNESCO designation is managed by MCoL on behalf of a network of nearly thirty literary organisations within the city.

With MCoL due to report on its four-year programme to UNESCO at the end of 2021, a robust and coordinated information was required to help construct a compelling narrative of the diverse impacts of literary activities on the city. IWhile in the past MCoL's partner organisations reported their impacts differently and to different stakeholders, this project was called to create a joined-up approach to collate the disparate sets of data and tell a collective story of impact across the city’s literary sector.

Research team

  • Alessia Benedetti, University of Manchester, Faculty of Humanities, School of Arts, Languages and Cultures
  • Youngmin Kim, The University of Manchester, Faculty of Humanities, Alliance Manchester Business School
  • Thomas Olver, University of Liverpool, School of Histories, Languages and Cultures
  • Yingnian Tao, Lancaster University, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Department of Linguistics

The solution

With backgrounds in literary studies, corpus linguistics and business analytics, the Research Team were able to emply a mixed-methods approach to include:

  • Interviews with MCoL partners to obtain qualitative data regarding the impacts of literary activity in Manchester;
  • A review of text-based documents relating to past literary events to examine public attitudes by using a text-analysis software;
  • A final report outlining the main findings and analysis of the evidence that can be utilised by MCoL in preparation for its subsequent report to UNESCO.

Outcomes and impact

The research brought together, for the first time, evidence of impact that had previously been reported on a piecemeal basis by individual organisations, thereby providing both MCoL and its partners with a collective overview of the beneficial work being undertaken across the network. The research highlighted emerging evidence of the impact of MCoL partners’ work in the following areas:

  • Sustaining Manchester’s radical heritage through a thriving independent publishing sector, critical historical engagement, and maintaining the spoken word tradition.
  • Widening participation in literary activity amongst excluded demographics, and, in many cases, providing a necessary space and voice for marginalised groups.
  • Uncovering and developing the practice of emerging writers, strengthening wider employability skills and addressing poor literacy rates across all age-groups.
  • Maintaining a collective spirit, fostered through regular collaboration between partners, further facilitated by the establishment of MCoL.
  • Undertaking a range of international collaborations with cultural partners worldwide.

Findings provided both the required substance and a conherent conceptual assessment framework, based on MCoL core values, that can provide the basis for the upcoming UNESCO reporting work. The research also included several recommendations for MCoL partners to improve their ability to provide stronger evidence of impact going forward, particularly for smaller organisations, thereby addressing current disparities between the ability of partners to record the impact of their respective work.

The findings have given the MCoL team a robust template to capture impact data and case-studies going forward [...]. The report will be a catalyst for immediate and long-term change in the way we work collectively to gather data and to record collective impact. It will be a valuable resource to draw on to complete the Four Year Monitoring Report for UNESCO due to be submitted this November.

Ivan Wadeson / Manchester City of Literature Executive Director

I have greatly enjoyed working on this project. First of all, interacting with Manchester City of Literature has deepened my knowledge of the operation of literary/charity  organisations (e.g. partnership, fundraising) - managing literary events and campaigns is really fascinating. Second, I have honed my people skills, analytical skills and time management by working with three other great minds in a team. I am also delighted by applying research skills such as corpus linguistics analysis to this real-world scenario. It inspires me to bridge the gap between academia and industry.

Yingnian Tao / Lancaster University PhD Candidate