Journal summary: Evidence & Policy is the first peer-reviewed journal dedicated to comprehensive and critical assessment of the relationship between research evidence and the concerns of policy makers and practitioners, as well as researchers. International in scope and interdisciplinary in focus, it addresses the needs of those who provide public services, and those who provide the research base for evaluation and development across a wide range of social and public policy issues – from social care to education, from public health to criminal justice. As well as more traditional research articles, the journal includes contemporary debate pieces, articles from practice and an invaluable sources and resources section.
Publisher: Policy Press (University of Bristol)
Access: Subscription; some open-access articles
Journal type: Academic peer-reviewed
I have met with new colleagues and contacts at the County Council, the Borough Council and the Hoteliers’ Association over the past couple of weeks. Discussions generally focused on non-heritage topics such as hotel occupancy levels and booking systems and followed through to community safety and bar/pub operations, including the Best Bar None and Purple Flag schemes. However all this “tourism talk” had clear parallels with ideas being discussed on aspects of museums, archives and conservation service planning (the more hard-core heritage operations!). What has been interesting is that the glue linking such topics and meetings was a shared aspiration for what heritage and culture can do in an specific urban setting such as Ipswich, or a wider County context for Suffolk. The physical infrastructure that surrounds us – the very material of the historic environment – has a lot to offer a location that recognises and understands that diversity in, and care of, the physical built environment draws people to places, makes people feel safer as they walk about, and provides opportunities to explore the culture of a locality away from the bubble of a car’s interior. People linger longer… The twilight and night-time economy, and the visitor experience of a hotel or pub within its cultural environment is enhanced through the literal and metaphorical ‘footfall’ of lingering, but much more needs to be understood about how people move about in a location, what they do, and how many there are. There are a variety of evidence bases which can be put to use, and much data does exist – but a research aspiration over the next few months is to establish a clear data requirement and help design a useful multipurpose evidence base that will link place, hospitality and economy to underpin some some of those local aspirations.
With some degree of tardiness I have also now reflected on the Culture Matters conference in Norwich. I spent the Thursday morning sitting in on the Income Generation seminar, chaired by the Chief Executive of The Heritage Alliance, Kate Pugh. The four presentations came from quite different perspectives, but raised in my mind a couple of key issues: income generation strategies are vital for heritage organisations, which goes without saying, but those income strategies need to be properly ‘owned’ by the whole organisation and must be demonstrated to support the whole organisation’s aims and objectives. Secondly, the definition of income is wide, and an understanding of where and why the money or its equivalents flows in, out and around organisations could often be better understood. Leading on from this, recognition is needed that it isn’t all about money, but the equivalent, be it time, ‘in kind’ support, engagement and PR or other type of activity should wisely be able to equate an economic value (for those who do think in those terms). This was described by Ruth Towse as accounting for the ‘whole income’, and put into my mind the work by the New Economics Foundation on social return on investment (SROI) which could be explored further in a heritage context. A particularly insightful point (which is obvious if you think about it) was made by Alice Marsh, who was talking about gallery and museum shops: often the shop provides the most interactive element of an exhibition, and that staff in the gallery shop may be seen as more approachable than staff elsewhere who they have encountered. Therefore the shop staff are far more important than most organisations give them credit for – and should be more integral to thinking about the visitor experience.
The afternoon’s plenary sessions, kicked off by Loyd Grossman, saw in typically bombastic style, an assessment of where the heritage sector is and why it still feels undervalued. Loyd pointed out that the ‘burden of evidence’ required for heritage to argue its case for attention seems higher than for other sectors, and that we can do so much more with the plethora of evidence we already have available. It was pleasing to hear the sometimes derided tourism income link played up as a key provider of evidence, and a reminder that the Heritage Counts research programme which reaches its 10th anniversary this year. (I helped establish this back in 2002, as a successor to the annual Heritage Monitor and, subsequently advised on the equivalent ‘Heritage Audit’ in Scotland). Advocacy remains a key challenge – with killer facts that need to be deployed at an instant in the right kind of policy language – I hesitate to use the word ‘spin’, but that’s what we still need to improve.