Keeping up with the US National Park Service

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.

Discussion document on National Marine Parks

The Blue Marine Foundation has recently published a report which considers the idea of National Marine Parks in the UK, and sets out proposals for how they might be established using local partnership models which build on current environmental protection designations.

Map of current landscape designations around the UK.
Current landscape designations highlighted in report (Blue Marine Foundation)

The report recognises the opportunities which the pandemic has brought around raised recognition of environmental issues, and the opportunities which communities have with connecting or re-connecting in enhanced ways with the natural environment to promote wellbeing and generate sustainable economic benefits.

The report also highlights the relatively limited connections which many coastal communities have with management of the blue resource adjacent to them currently, and flags Plymouth Sound National Marine Park as a potential management model for increasing and widening stakeholder engagement in dynamic ways. It also highlights success of the World Heritage Site designation for the Jurassic Coast, generating £111 million annually for the economies of Dorset and Devon.

Recognition is made of the deep heritage connections which coastal communities have with the sea, and the proposed sites for National Marine Parks build on the distinct natural and cultural characteristics of these locations around the country.

The labelling of an area brings recognition and discussion, and the report’s proposals for National Marine Parks is an intriguing prospect which I hope will gain traction.

Heritage listening: Duchess the podcast

Inevitably I have become an avid listener to the new heritage-focused podcast series launched by the Duchess of Rutland, simply entitled, “Duchess” as I have headed out for my daily constitutionals during lockdown.

The first series has ranged far and wide across the UK, focusing on the personal stories of the women behind the running and development of private stately homes and estates – most of whom are united by being part of the British aristocracy with the title Duchesses. As Emma Rutland wryly observes, it is a somewhat elite club!

She has however produced utterly engaging interviews which have been exceedingly open and honest, revealing how the interviewees have married into, inherited, survived and prospered as members of the British establishment. More importantly the interviews go a long way to break down the stereotypes of the private stately home owner in explaining the trials and tribulations of the sleeves-rolled-up approaches needed for maintaining the ongoing survival and flourishing of the estates in local communities and modern society more widely.

The love of peeking behind the curtain will make the series appeal to many, whilst anyone interested more in the ‘management’ of heritage sites will find plenty too, as the stories have provided a wealth of case studies of innovation, social inclusion, community development, tourism experience creation, and reflections on long term stewardship of historic assets in private hands often against the odds.

The podcasts can be found in the usual audio locations, and further details can also be found on the dedicated website: https://www.duchessthepodcast.com

National Park Week (USA)

National Park Week logo

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.

Park Week details for this year, along with resources from previous celebrations can be found here: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/npscelebrates/national-park-week.htm

The Jewel Tower

The Jewel Tower © David Gill

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’.

1956 (2nd ed. 1965; 2nd impress. 1966)

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.

1996 (repr. 2001)

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.

2013

A sense of place: stories of stewardship from the National Park Service

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.

Link to the podcast series: A Sense of Place

Nested strategic messages and actions for the canal estate in Scotland

Scottish Canals communications strategy document
Scottish Canals comms strategy

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.

Scotland's canals in numbers infographic
Scotland’s canals in numbers infographic [Scottish Canals]

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
Nested messages and engagement by Scottish Canals sit within organisational priorities and broader Government aims
Nested messages and engagement by Scottish Canals which sit within organisational priorities and broader Government aims

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.

Greece: COVID-19 and the economic impact on heritage

Chart © David Gill, 2021; Data from the Hellenic Statistical Service

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.

Pandemic skill stretch for organisations and individuals

Photo by Sheri Hooley on Unsplash

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.

Eastern Region: Heritage at Risk

© David Gill, 2021

The RSA Heritage Index, issued in the autumn of 2020, provides information on heritage at risk for each local authority. It is possible to quantify each local and unitary authority. For example, in Suffolk there are 8 Grade I, 22 Grade II*, and 3 Grade II buildings at risk; in addition, there are 25 scheduled monuments at risk.

© David Gill, 2021

In Cambridgeshire there are 10 Grade I, 12 Grade II*, and 2 Grade II buildings at risk; in addition, there are 56 scheduled monuments at risk.

© David Gill, 2021

In Norfolk there are 41 Grade I and 29 Grade II* buildings at risk; in addition, there are 18 scheduled monuments at risk.

© David Gill, 2021

In Essex there are 3 Grade I, 19 Grade II*, and 1 Grade II buildings at risk; there are 28 scheduled monuments at risk.

© David Gill, 2021

Turning the numbers into a percentage, it is possible to see that Norfolk has a particularly high percentage of Grade I buildings at risk. Cambridgeshire has a high percentage of scheduled monuments at risk.