This part of the model introduces key concepts of the model, namely societal engagement, impact and art-based methods. It explores how art may facilitate societal actions, interactions, practices and discussions. Societal engagement has become one of the central goals for HEIs. We think that an important prerequisite of societal impact for HEIs is societal engagement. In this section we shall first discuss what we mean by societal engagement, then address societal impact and finally look at art in this context. We need facilitators that are able to link different parts of society to each other; art has a great capacity to make such connections. Art can connect different types of people, fields and values.

What is societal engagement?

Societal engagement has been emphasized in contemporary economic, social, cultural, ecological and educational policies, and research on societal engagement has provided support for the development of various practices to plan, execute and evaluate societally important actions. We assume that societal engagement—working with and for society and working on society’s challenges—results in societal impact. The concepts of social (engagement/impact) and societal (engagement/ impact) are often looked at as synonymous, and often the term "social impact" is used instead of "societal" impact, but we consider "societal engagement/impact" to be different from "social engagement/ impact" as it refers to a broader concept that comprises but also goes beyond "social engagement/impact" (see e.g. Belfiore, 2008). We acknowledge this fuzziness of understandings on the meaning of social/ societal impact and engagement (Johansson et al., 2019), and adopt the more encompassing term “societal”. The phenomenon of societal engagement can be approached from various perspectives such as social, artistic, entrepreneurial, managerial and economic activity, which offer multiple ways for higher education institutions (HEIs) to engage with society and through engagement increase their societal impact. The “societal” in the term “societal engagement” refers to the various activities of humans in communities, and societal impact aims at social, economic, cultural or other kinds of engagement with people and society. The general aim of societally engaged higher education institutions is to influence and do good, to help people and society locally or in wider perspective, and to bring change and development to society. Moreover, we cannot separate HEIs and their activities from their political and national contexts. The importance of societal responsibility is applicable to all actors in today’s society, from businesses to HEIs. Societal engagement is multifaceted and provides wide opportunities for HEIs to solve grand challenges with and for the local community and globally. ...

FINEEC—the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre—invited HEis to present their societal engagement activities through cases where educational institutions can self-decide how they describe their societal engagement activity. This allows the multifaceted nature of societal engagement to be presented, but at the same time limits the comparability of the activities. (For more information, see:

In terms of the mental connections people make with ‘societal engagement’, we can look at Google searches. The Google timeline from 2004 to date (18.01.2018) shows a continuing growth in interest in the topic of societal engagement. In these statistics, the term „social engagement“ was used, as „societal engagement“ does not have enough data to display a chart. Nevertheless, it is a primary indication of the ongoing gain in importance of the topic. Furthermore, it shows that society is gaining awareness, as it basically shows interest in the topic from a broader audience—not jusr professionals.

Despite the Wikipedia article entitled “Social Engagement”, Google shows universities to be the stakeholders most involved in the topic of “societal engagement in society“. This is also promoted with several projects by the EU. Moreover there are plenty of examples of international companies reporting their societal engagement activities, often on their websites.

What is societal impact?

So, what constitutes societal impact? There is no unique answer to this question. There is still a lot of ambiguity associated with the term "societal impact“. As both components of the term—“societal” as well as “impact”—provide opportunities for various interpretations, multiple narrower and broader definitions of the term “societal impact” exist. Let us review some of these in order to illustrate the plurality of understandings and bring up the key differences in interpretations of "societal impact“. The following Table outlines some of the definitions of societal impact used by various institutions and authors.

It is important to note that a clear distinction between impacts and outcomes is often difficult. Therefore, it may be proposed that the term “impact” can be used for both shortterm and long-term consequences. A clear distinction, however, should be made between outputs and impacts (or outcomes). As Mills-Scofield (2012) summarizes briefly, but effectively: “Outcomes are the difference made by the outputs.” In practice, however, this important distinction is often forgotten and many societal impact reports tend to focus on outputs rather than on impacts. ...

Art enabling societal engagement as a connector in society

Nowadays there is an ongoing discussion about the meanings and values of the arts (Klamer 2017). Art makes its imprint on each of us in different ways and forms. Art can generate financial inome and contribute to economic developmentand at the same time promote happiness and longevity. The societal aspect of art does not insist that there should be a focused goal connected with welfare or wellbeing. Art and creativity are often seen as sources of innovation, new thinking and productive outcomes. (Arts Council England 2014, Anttonen et al. 2016) The understanding of what constitutes the arts has wide variation, and it can be proposed that the definition of art is not fixed, but rather organic.

Art offers multiple means for HEIs to engage with society and address societal challenges. Art offers the potential for critical thinking and doing. It is also has the potential to bring people together and tune them in to the “same channel”, even when they have very different perspectives or professional backgrounds, represent very different social classes, and represent very different political movements. For example, in the era of climate change and environmental threats, passivity and slowness are critical values that offer room for art to foster and expand thinking and non-active being in society. Art contributes value to society and HEIs in various ways. ...

Prescriptions for art-based methods vary according to context. Art-based methods can be incorporated in the fields of research, pedagogy and arts management, as for example when creating dialogues among groups. These all have a place in learning and in higher education. Learning is understood through the socio-constructivist prism (Kanselaar 2002), which means that knowledge and understanding is nurtured by social communication, togetherness and negotiation. Diversity of experiences and background are the starting point for learning and development processes. According to Känkänen & Bardy (2014) art-based methods can create a free space without right or wrong, which provides the opportunity to discuss and explore different phenomena without preconceptions and prejudices. There is room to wonder and question without limitations, offering new ways for self-expression using different art-based techniques. See example of a new model in the box on the right.

Alain de Botton and John Armstron in their book Art as Therapy (2013) note: “We are vulnerable, desperate creatures in need of support. And art has the potential to help with problems of the soul.” The author identifies concrete areas connected to inner wellbeing where arts can be of great importance and benefit for individuals. Art can support people in dealing with their mental problems by addressing them in a creative way, and creating a safe space for expressing and discussing these issues. Art gives us hope by providing the opportunity for creativity and it reminds us that we are not alone in suffering. Art can rebalance us—a beautiful painting or calming music may help us regain peace of mind after a busy day. It opens our eyes to the neglected value of everyday life, which we may have become blind to or forgetten about. In addition, it can guide us through our different anxieties. It helps us cope with loss and the imminence of aging and death, the fear of losing status or being rejected, and it accompanies us through mourning. Art can help us gain perspective and get an idea of how the future may look. Art also helps people feel connected and belonging to communities, groups or territories.
Art can be seen as a cultural human right that provides health and wellbeing for individuals in different life situations and stages. Art is an essential part of human life and it can protect against social isolation and strengthen the sense of belonging to a community. (see e.g., All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing, 2017; Lehikoinen & Vanhanen, 2017) Art has the quality of acting as a boundary object, which helps to link different fields and disciplines. This capacity of art is a great potential and can be considered as an intrinsic value of the arts.

See: New model Visual Arts organisations and Societal Engagement! click here