Historic Environment Scotland has issued Version 7 of its Covid-19 Operational Policy & Minimum Operating Standards for Property Management and Visitor Operations.
The open sharing of this evolving publication by the organisation has been great to see. The first version was showcased publicly by the HES Director of Conservation, David Mitchell, back in June 2020 as part of the Covid-19 Historic Environment Resilience Forum (CHERF) event on Re-opening Venues which I chaired.
The document has been an incredibly useful resource for considering operational issues and decision-making system design for the sector to use as a comparator resource to adapt to their own situation.
From a heritage management teaching point of view, it has also been an excellent live case study to enable students to consider the organisational requirements and ramifications of decisions/actions which aren’t always obvious at visitor sites and organisational hubs.
Publication of the latest National Gallery Strategic Plan 2021-2026 will take the organisation through to its 200th birthday. The plan is very much a product of the pandemic, recognising the change over the past year, challenges and opportunities that the gallery has gone through and actions it needs now to mainstream in its operations to thrive into the future.
The Gallery sees itself as embarking on a newly enhanced commitment to engage with the widest audiences globally in innovative ways, and wants to demonstrate how art is transformative, enhancing culture and society. It intends to develop income streams through a range of digital channels and offerings, rework the visitor welcome and orientation in the Sainsbury Wng, and foregrounds the research credentials of the Gallery as a hub for an enhanced and diverse community of practice.
There is much to applaud here, not least the optimistic and engaging tone in which the strategy is written. As a connoisseur of strategic plans and annual reports, there are also some sentences which may baffle and amuse. My favourites for this plan include:
It is this multivalent life, always finding new ways to share our art, that defines the Gallery and will continually redefine it in future.
Strategic Plan, p.5
Multivalent? There’s a word you don’t see every day!.
…we will diversify the social media channels we serve to include programmes we do not already use (TikTok, Snapchat) as well as doubling down on the ones we do.
Strategic Plan, p.10
Doubling down? A phrase with history… but also a gamble.
HES has just published an update on its work to embed equality and diversity across its operations and activities with data on 2019-2020 and a range of case studies highlighting progress. The main report is web-based with dynamic content (personally speaking I feel a PDF would also be helpful, but I may have missed the link).
The report is good to see, not least the recognition that the organisation is at the start of its journey in comparison to others: a phrase that jumps off the page for example admits that it is still currently a ‘white organisation’ and needs to work to represent Scotland’s society better internally. It usefully considers both the internal and external environments for the organisation.
The complexities of the issues are large and structural barriers to overcome are large, and the report charges its directorates with expectations to address these, and enable the historic environment to work for everyone, and enable all sections of society to engage with their heritage.
The response to the pandemic and the shift to new ways of working with enhanced digital service delivery add a further challenge and opportunity, and will need to be one of the ingredients to address the issues.
I’d argue that further articulation in future also needs to be made around equality and access in the context of chronic ill health disability (beyond typical disability classifications) and challenges of ageing society; financial exclusion and its ramifications for engagement with heritage; and also consideration of specific geographic issues (e.g. urban / rural / island / remote) as they impact on stakeholders in the historic environment.
Given my research interest in the inner workings of heritage and conservation organisations (i.e. how they manage themselves and communicate their management role to stakeholders) I used to be a regular reader of the NPS Morning Report. Issued by the Visitor Resource & Protection office, it was very much focused on operational issues, but always gave insights into the way in which the Park operations responded and adapted to different situations and events.
Since the demise of the Morning Report, I now read the weekly NPS Green & Gray Report instead, which is issued by the Office of Communications and is much more focused on wider communication of NPS activities to external audiences as well as internal employees and stakeholder partners.
From an external standpoint, the evolution of the organisation’s management communication has been interesting to see in terms of ‘voice’ and ‘tone’ and of course reflects the NPS’s broader mission for engaging the widest audiences and supporters for the Parks which has grown over the past decade.
National Park Week in the USA has just finished, organised (of course) by the National Park Service and supported by the National Park Foundation. This year, there have been more virtual events unsurprisingly than ever before, along with daily themes around which social media content was focused such as Transformation Tuesday, Earth Day, and Junior Ranger Day. Twitter even rolled out a Covid-friendly Park Ranger emoji complete with mask to accompany the related hashtags for the week #findyourpark
The Presidential Proclamation from the White House noted the healing power of connection with nature, and the opportunities for the NPS as an organisation to engage ever more equitably with the communities it serves.
This year’s Park Week also saw the anticipated launch of the NPS app, which brings together a range of handy visitor information about parks and sites in the National Park System, along with maps and links to interpretation materials. The app takes the design principles of the Unigrid further into the digital realm (Those who recognise our guidebook and signage obsessions on this blog will realise I’ll inevitably be coming back anon on this….).
The app’s first iteration is good and, even though somewhat afar sitting in the UK, I have already lost a number of hours playing with it – and am now mentally planning future trips back to the States to try it out on location.
The Jewel Tower was constructed in 1365 as part of the Royal Palace at Westminster. It stood at the south-west corner of the complex adjacent to Westminster Abbey. From 1869 to 1938 it served as the Weights and Measures Office and in 1941 was damaged by an incendiary device. The tower was repaired in the years following the war, after being placed in the care of the Ministry of Works in 1948. It is now in the care of English Heritage.
The first official guidebook was prepared by A.J. Taylor, the then Assistant Chief Inspector of monuments. It follows the standard format of History followed by description. A fold-out plan was inserted inside the rear cover. A note comments: ‘The purpose of this guide is to provide the visitor to the Jewel Tower with a full account of its history and a description of its different rooms. Those who prefer to save the former to read at leisure will find a shorter historical note exhibited on the ground floor of the tower’.
Taylor’s guide continued to be published for over 40 years, appearing as the English Heritage guide though with additional illustrations. Alan Sorrell’s reconstruction of the tower (along with part of the palace) was included on the back cover.
Jeremy Ashbee prepared the new English Heritage red guide (2013). This consists of a tour followed by a history. A number of special features are included. A series of plans are placed inside the read fold-out cover.
In the treasure trove of the US National Park Service administrative history resources which highlight the thinking behind the management processes and development of the organisation I have recently stumbled across a set of podcasts which were originally produced as part of an oral history project with the Association of National Park Rangers (ANPR).
The interviews with retired Rangers and other NPS staff provide fascinating glimpses into personal histories intimately tied into the Service’s activities and more tellingly, ethos, ideas and philosophy – and where individuals see their role in the wider development trajectory for the organisation as a whole. The podcast episodes range across a broad range of management activity in the Parks which is public-facing, but also takes in the work behind the scenes to support that front line activity and lead to overall Park and Service development and ideas of what stewardship means corporately and individuallt.
The episodes are a real pleasure to listen to – not least because one of them touches on my own particular obsession around ‘official guides’ to sites, considering the history of NPS publications and site brochure design principles.
The canal network in Scotland has been regenerated over the past 20 years to provide an enhanced environment for recreation, water-based transport and environmental protection. Since the old British Waterways organisation evolved in Scotland in 2012 to become Scottish Canals the focus within the organisation has been on reimagining the 250-year-old inland waterways from derelict and under-used industrial transport arteries into regeneration corridors for tourism and the natural environment.
The organisation has aligned its purpose to the wider Scottish Government aims for the country, and in the latest versions of the Scottish Canals Strategic Plan and Marketing & Communications Strategy documents covering the period from 2020 to 2023, the wider social, cultural and environmental purpose for the organisation and the waterway network has become much more clearly articulated.
Strategic plans can sometimes be somewhat turgid documents, and not necessarily accessible to wider audiences. This is not the case with the Scottish Canal document, moreso if read alongside the communications strategy. Whilst the focus of the organisation is on the cultural and environmental stewardship of a defined waterways and associated land estate, the opportunities for the organisation to play an important role of far wider relevance becomes evident as the management of that estate provides lessons and opportunities of what can be done with the repurposing of heritage and environmental assets and altering the perception for stakeholders and users.
The vision for the organisation has shifted to how people positively interact with the canal estate as green and blue infrastructure, and a set of thematic messages and engagements relevant to different audiences are clearly presented as nested within the requirements of the organisation which at its heart is a combined estate/asset management and stewardship function. The context for the nested messaging is completed by showing the relationship to the wider published Scottish Government ‘Purpose’ against which all publicly funded bodies align themselves.
Our vision is for Scotland’s canals to be a world-class waterway network with a thriving natural environment built upon 250 years of history that benefits communities and all users who live, work, visit and play along our canals.
Scottish Canals vision
The follow-through of purpose to function to message is neatly presented diagrammatically, and the documents effectively provide insight and greater profile for the organisation, and as a good example of the logic and ongoing development of transparent and inclusive corporate planning for organisations in the heritage sector.
The latest figures from the Hellenic Statistical Service have revealed the major impact on visitor numbers to museums and archaeological sites in Greece to the end of November 2020. I have already comments on the dramatic fall of visitors (museums; archaeological sites) and the picture continues to be bleak: 3.7 million visitors (to the end of November 2020) compared to 19.5 million visitors in 2019. However, the telling figure comes from ticket receipts: 21.1 million Euros (to the end of November 2020) compared to 130.9 million Euros in 2019. This is a significant loss of budget for the protection and conservation of heritage in Greece.
Over the past year I have taken the opportunity to attend a range of different professional development activities, some of which were absolutely required as we moved rapidly from a physical delivery mode of education to a responsive blended mode where far greater use of collaboration tools and tech resources than ever before have been vital to maintain ‘service provision’.
I’ve also been listening closely to others reflections on the learning and development aspects of their roles which might not normally get spoken about much in open forums as well as thinking about the requirements of the wider heritage sector as I played a very small role behind the scenes as a Heritage Alliance trustee helping with the early stage scoping and design of the lottery-funded Rebuilding Heritage project. This sector support project, along with its sister project Heritage Digital, are designed to respond to the needs of the sector in addressing the organisational priorities for staff in terms of technology, business planning, resilience and operational capacity.
The pandemic’s effects on organisations and therefore the individuals which make up those organisations has been interesting to chart over the year in terms of ‘required response’ for skills support and development. In very broad terms, organisations have had to adapt to circumstances far more quickly than normal to an even faster changing business environment; and these have fallen into distinct overlapping phases and forms:
Go remote [adapting suddenly to closure of facilities and working from home]
Triage the terrain [assess health and safety of facilities and collections]
De-staff and re-staff [staff furloughed; skeleton staffing; staff taking on differing roles]
Digital dynamism [creating or enhancing a digital offering]
Access audience [maintaining engagement and attracting new audiences]
Re-engineering resilience [plan tactically and reassessing strategy to ensure survival]
As the lockdown begins to lift, with gradual re-opening of services, sites and facilities, two further phases and forms seem to be emergent:
Permanent prototyping [building in ability to rapidly change operations for changed external circumstances]
Blended bounceback [reassessing the service / product / experience offer in the light of audience behaviour, need and sentiment]
It is certain that further phases and forms will emerge which reflect how individuals within organisations respond to circumstances, and how organisations themselves evolve as the role of culture and heritage reasserts its place in wider society as it recovers from the pandemic.