I was invited to present a keynote talk last week on how I have engaged with heritage policy making over an extended period. This formed part of a workshop at the University of Leeds, run by PRAXIS, under the GCRF programme – a giant funding stream from the UK research councils designed to address a range of global issues. Various projects funded via the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) are either heritage-focused or have elements of heritage activity or cultural resource use within them. From discussion with the organisers and delegates at the workshop, this very international / externally-facing group of research projects (as far as geography is concerned) have potential to influence policy both in the overseas territories in which the work is being undertaken, but also potentially back home. However, the challenge and skills gap identified is one of how to go about translating these findings into a policy context, and where best to do it.
I tried to convey a few key points based on my experience:
- Policy happens in many places / levels / geographies and organisational settings. We tend to think of policy being something which is done by national governments through Ministries and the legal system. Policy, however, exists in many different places, and influence (possibly with greater results) might be achieved in a policy context at a city, region or locality scale, or with a particular group of stakeholders. Equally, policies exist within the organisational context, of NGOs, civil society bodies, charities and businesses – and research outcomes or findings may be able to have influence on decision-making and approaches to issues there. Indeed, some research outputs in the international development space, allied to low-tech and simple solutions to a problem, potentially have commercial application in another space supporting entrepreneurship. So, policy isn’t just about Governments.
- Approaches to issues and methodologies might be as important as a specific policy or shift. A lot of my own work over the past 25 years hasn’t directly influenced a specific outcome or output, but has facilitated development of knowledge management, which has in turn been able to be used to influence policy and decisions higher up the Governmental chain, or elsewhere in the sector’s ecosystem of organisations. I used the example of Heritage Counts and Historic Environment Audits – which I was instrumental in establishing in the first place (back in 2000-2002 in England, and subsequently in Scotland), through demonstration to lead heritage bodies in the home nations, that collation of key statistics and KPIs, alongside a focused data collection and analysis programme, could help to address the perceived lack of ability to argue the case for heritage within a national policy setting.
- This can take time. Policy and/or approaches to policy aren’t made or changed overnight (usually). Getting involved with policy has to be thought of in the timeframe beyond any research itself, and may take an extended period of years. Another case study I used was my small involvement through the Built Environment Forum Scotland’s workstream groups supporting the creation of the Scottish Government’s national heritage strategy in Scotland (Our Place in Time). This took place over a period of almost two years in total.
- Engagement with policy can take particular type of effort and engagement. I think it is really important to translate research into policy influence, to support better evidence-based policy making (to use a well known public policy phrase): but this requires a particular decision to get involved and stay involved on a personal level as an academic. This decision has to be made in the context of everything else that an academic might be expected to do ‘in the day job’, as many involvements beyond taking time, require other kinds of capacity to engage properly. In my own case, over the past 4 years, I have stepped back from an absolutely full time role in order to ‘buy’ me some space to continue to engage with organisations and policy approaches properly. It all complements and feeds back in a myriad of inter-relationships into my own day job, and arguably makes me a more useful member of University staff because of it, but it required me to make some very specific decisions and considerations about my career.
I will reflect a little further on the workshop in another couple of posts, and will also make my slides available. The PRAXIS team filmed parts of the event, and a podcast is also going to be made available, which we made at the end of the day picking up on some key questions.
Various people have contacted me since I started my gradual listing of useful journals for heritage-related research about the problems of accessing articles behind paywalls. There is an ongoing debate about this issue more widely in academia, but great progress has been made on making research more accessible via open-access decisions made in the publication process by authors; expectations now made by research funders for results to be open access; and publication materials being made available via institutional repositories.
Allied to this, it is worth flagging the UK’s excellent Access To Research scheme, which it not as well known about as it should be (and not well publicised by local library services either). Usually journals have their article abstracts fully available anyway, but a quick check via the search function on the Access to Research site shows if full availability is possible via a visit to a local UK library branch in person, and using a computer there. As a big advocate of the public library system (with weekly visits to our village branch), I think this is a great scheme – and helps to offer a fair way in to the gated community of academic publications for the general public and independent researchers.
Meanwhile, according to my spreadsheet, I have reached number 52 in my academic journals category on this blog. This is half way through my current ‘curated’ list – so hopefully another few months of ad hoc collating information and posting and I will get to the end of what started as a learning and teaching mission to signpost my students to the variety of places for accessing inter/cross-disciplinary heritage research (and ones which I considered useful). My intention is to upload the full spreadsheet as a resource page on the blog, and continue to add to it as I come across useful places where heritage research is appearing.
Journal summary: The Journal provides a forum for critical discussion of public policy debates relating to the fields of tourism, leisure and events. This encompasses the economic, social, cultural, political and environmental dimensions of official intervention. In addition to high quality theoretical and empirical papers, the journal publishes contributions examining the value of contrasting methodologies, or advocacy of novel methods. In order to foster debate and extend the scope of discussion, it publishes shorter carefully argued position statements on specific, topical interventions in the Contemporary Policy Debates section. In addition, the journal’s novel Dialogues section involves ‘point/counter-point’ debates between contributors on a range of policy-related or policy research-related topics. These may interrogate key concepts from different cultural, theoretical or spatial perspectives, or discuss potential responses to a range of practical challenges involved in undertaking policy-related research in the fields of tourism, leisure and events.
Access: Subscription; some open-access
Journal type: Academic peer-reviewed
Useful discussion has continued around the notion of what a heritage observatory might look like, and there seems to be common agreement that what the sector doesn’t need is another static repository where information, data and what could otherwise be useful knowledge gets dumped and gathers digital dust. We’ve got those already. Any such development needs to be useful and ultimately sustainable (therefore useful might be replaced with vital).
In participating in a discussion with the wonderfully entitled ‘helping to help things happen’ group (part of the wider Heritage2020 programme of activity in England), my takeaway is that there are a set of areas/activities where an observatory function might operate which need further considering in a future feasibility study. These are:
- Signposting of data / research / resources. There is lots out there, but it can be hard to find or sometimes accidentally stumbled across. The signposting could therefore be passively pointing to what is held elsewhere, and also actively undertaking scanning outside the core sector to signpost knowledge and data that is useful.
- Brokerage. There is a need for further assistance in putting partners together (users / producers of knowledge), and supporting knowledge exchange in the heritage policy space. There are excellent projects and partnerships already underway (such as the Oxford TORCH Heritage programme, or our own work at the Scottish Confucius Institute for Business & Communication’s heritage and tourism activity streams supporting international working), and also organisations that exist to support this area of work (such as knowledge exchange units or the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement which focuses on the ‘translation’ of research into wider society) but much more could be done here on a national basis specifically within the heritage sector.
- Synthesis. Complex datasets, information sources, and technical detail which exist can be synthesised and translated for end users (particularly in the ‘SME’ world of NGO heritage) where little capacity exists to undertake this. Again, organisations such as The Heritage Alliance and the Built Environment Forum Scotland already play a key role in this, but their own capacity is limited and could be scaled up further.
- Horizon scanning, scenarios and research agendas. There could be a ‘think tank’ role for an observatory, looking at longer term issues or macro pictures and drivers affecting the business and policy environment of the heritage sector. In undertaking the potential roles listed above, an observatory might play a role in forming a shared heritage policy research agenda (taking aspects of the Heritage Counts / Heritage Audits programmes further, and picking up on the UKHRG work previously blogged about).
- Rewiring the relationships and transforming practice. A key aspect of any observatory development might be that it can support the transformation of the way we already work in the heritage policy arena, thinking about how we can do knowledge management better, and support skills and practice development at an individual and organisational level. New ways of working, creating shared knowledge, and better ‘evidence deployment’ techniques in policy debates could be the transformative element for making the case for heritage.
- Geographical coverage. Discussions at the moment are centred in England, however many heritage policy issues are cross-cutting in terms of geography, and the research funding councils which fund most of the University-centred research activities have a UK-wide remit. Whilst heritage and cultural policy is largely a devolved issue across the home nations, any observatory development should try to work at a country-wide level, not least as the devolved approaches in heritage are already raising interesting opportunities for learning from each other about difference – and can collectively support the wider public policy challenges for the sector that lie ahead regardless of where we live.
Journal summary: The Journal of Park and Recreation Administration (JPRA) is the official publication of the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration. The Academy is an organization of distinguished practitioners and scholars committed to the advancement of park and recreation administration. The Journal was established by the Academy to bridge the gap between research and practice for administration, educators, consultants, and researchers.
One of the leading journals in the park and recreation industry, JPRA was launched in 1983 to encourage scholarly research and the advancement of knowledge for best management practices and delivery services. JPRA provides a forum for the analysis of management and organization of the delivery of park, recreation, and leisure services. JPRA will publish distinguished original manuscripts that will accomplish the following:
– move theoretical management concepts forward in the field of park and recreation administration
– provide clear implications of theory and research for problem solving and action in park and recreation organizations.
Access: Subscription; some open access
Journal type: Academic peer-reviewed
Journal summary: JHT focuses on exploring the many facets of one of the most notable and widespread types of tourism. Heritage tourism is among the very oldest forms of travel. Activities such as visits to sites of historical importance, including built environments and urban areas, rural and agricultural landscapes, natural regions, locations where historic events occurred and places where interesting and significant living cultures dominate are all forms of heritage tourism. As such, this form of tourism dominates the industry in many parts of the world and involves millions of people.
During the past 20 years, the study of tourism has become highly fragmented and specialised into various theme areas, or concentrations. Within this context, heritage tourism is one of the most commonly investigated forms of tourism, and hundreds of scholars and industry workers are involved in researching its dynamics and concepts. This academic attention has resulted in the publication of hundreds of refereed articles in various scholarly media, yet, until now there has been no journal devoted specifically to heritage tourism; Journal of Heritage Tourism was launched to fill this gap.
JHT seeks to critically examine all aspects of heritage tourism. Some of the topics to be explored within the context of heritage tourism will include colonial heritage, commodification, interpretation, urban renewal, religious tourism, genealogy, patriotism, nostalgia, folklore, power, funding, contested heritage, historic sites, identity, industrial heritage, marketing, conservation, ethnicity, education and indigenous heritage.
Access: Subscription; some open access
Journal type: Academic peer-reviewed
In pulling together ideas for a couple of upcoming talks, the Framework for Policy Research which the now defunct UK Historic Environment Research Group (UKHRG) created in 2005 re-emerged from my filing system. I was running part of the Heritage Futures programme at Glasgow Caledonian University at that point, producing regular e-updates covering research, data and knowledge which was of relevance for the sector. The Framework still has questions that are relevant, and which are now being addressed in a variety of ways through the Heritage Counts / Heritage Auditing programmes in England, Scotland and Wales, as well as via research supported through research councils such as the AHRC.
It is pleasing to see that an ecosystem of heritage research of relevance to policy is now well established, though there are still challenges in capturing all the potentially useful bits of knowledge that are ‘out there’. An oft-quoted mantra within the sector is that we don’t have enough evidence to make conclusive arguments (usually in the public policy arena). I remain firmly of the opinion that we are actually drowning in evidence – it can be found across academic research, grey literature, institutional data etc. Our problem remains in effectively signposting, synthesising and translating/using the evidence effectively. It is a knowledge management challenge, not a lack of data and information problem, so discussions underway in England about the potential development of a Heritage Observatory (which I have been making noise about for years!) is exciting.
Access the archived UKHRG Research Framework here: UK_HERITAGE_RESEARCH_POLICY