Translating international heritage research into policy

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

The US National Parks system as a political pawn causing untold damage

The current Government shutdown in the USA caused by the political dispute over President Trump’s demand for funding for a wall along the US border with Mexico is having significant negative effects on the historic environment and nature conservation of the ‘treasured’ National Parks system, as well as related agencies falling within the realm of the Department of the Interior.

During this shutdown 80% of the employees of the NPS have been furloughed, leaving only skeleton staff mainly for policing and security.

It has been reported that the National Parks Service is losing $400,000 per day by not collecting admissions revenue where parks and heritage sites charge, quite apart from wider revenue lost from concessions, campgrounds, retail and hospitality. There have been widespread reports of significant human health, pollution and threats to nature and ecosystems, with sanitation sites overflowing and litter not being collected. Questions have also been asked on why sites have been left accessible, rather than simply closing the various NPS units/sites altogether.

Maintenance backlogs and acute maintenance/management issues are building due to the impact of weather at this time of the year also. It is not a pretty picture – foremost for the dedicated NPS staff who are not being paid, many of which are trying to keep things going on a voluntary basis, secondly for the long-term damage being done to the natural and cultural resources of the Park System which has been heralded as “America’s Best Idea”, and thirdly for the unfortunate political circumstances whereby the environment (in its broadest form) comes low down in the pecking order when Government faces a crisis.

Academic journals: International Journal of Cultural Policy

Journal summary: The International Journal of Cultural Policy is a peer reviewed journal that provides an outlet for an interdisciplinary and international exploration of the meaning, function and impact of cultural policies. Cultural policy is understood as the promotion or prohibition of cultural practices and values by governments, corporations, other institutions and individuals.

Such policies may be explicit, in that their objectives are openly described as cultural, or implicit, in that their cultural objectives are concealed or described in other terms. The historical range is not limited to any given period, but the Journal is primarily concerned with material that is relevant to the contemporary world and which contributes to a fruitful international exchange of ideas.

The Journal acknowledges the multiplicity of meanings around the idea of culture and the inter-relationship of these meanings. However, whilst it takes a broad view of culture, encompassing a wide range of signifying practices that include the products of the media, the arts and various forms of government or religious display, the Journal will attempt to maintain a focus on policies relating to culture as symbolic communication rather than to culture in the anthropological sense as ‘a whole way of life’.

Publisher: Routledge

Website: https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/gcul20/current

Access: Subscription; some open access

Journal type: Academic peer-reviewed

Management of heritage sites by the state – researching administrative histories in Scotland

Piecing together the administrative history of heritage properties in care (as an organisational function rather than as decisions relating to individual sites) inevitably requires documentary analysis from a number of sources. Investigating organisations in Scotland which oversaw the national historic sites portfolio, is complicated further by the relationship and stages of devolution of responsibilities between Ministries in London and the former Scottish Office (now Scottish Government). The National Records of Scotland provides a useful research guide for Scottish Government records in the period post-1707 (post Union).

Whilst many responsibilities were transferred to the Scottish Office in the post-War period, responsibility for the Historic Buildings Council for Scotland (which advised on conservation issues) was only transferred from the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works to the Scottish Secretary of State Edinburgh in 1966 (and put under the auspices of the Development Department) .  Formal responsibilities for ancient monuments, royal parks and palaces was not transferred to the Development Department until 1969.  Some aspects of Scottish heritage management are covered in research mentioned before as part of the Men from the Ministry project led by Simon Thurley at the then English Heritage, and records for the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works (and its successors – the Department of the Environment, and Property Services Agency) are held at the National Archives in Kew.

The Scottish-based records are catalogued as: Ministry of Works/Department of Environment/Property Services Agency (MW)
Ancient monuments, 1794-1975 (MW1); royal palaces, parks and gardens, 1816-1968 (MW2-3); public buildings, 1808-1979 (MW5).

As the Historic Buildings & Monuments section within the Scottish Development Department gradually coalesced under the Historic Scotland banner (prior to its formal creation as an Executive Agency), records are also held and catalogued as follows:

Historic Scotland – see Scottish Office Development Department
Ancient monuments case files, from 1859 (DD27) and historic buildings, from 1952 (DD32).

The Scottish Office Central Services (SOE) files have a catalogue relating to Manpower and Organization (SOE1) which contains information on the way in which the Development Department functions were organised, so these are a further line of enquiry for administrative histories of heritage.

There are also inter-relationships with other sites and functions of Government which now may be considered as part of the wider heritage or cultural landscape and therefore other organisations with heritage-related responsibilities (property and land management) are worth considering – this includes Railways and Canals (Ministry of Transport); Forestry (Forestry Commission); countryside recreation and nature protection (Countryside Commission); and Museums and Galleries (formally under the Scottish Office Education Department).

For detailed consideration of individual buildings / monuments, the research guides to Buildings, Canal Records, Lighthouses and Railway Records provide signposts. Additionally, Historic Scotland commissioned Morag Cross to produce a Bibliography of monuments in the care of the Secretary of State for Scotland in 1994, produced as an Occasional Paper by the University of Glasgow’s Archaeology Department, which is a key source of information, as (of course) are organisational records currently held within Historic Scotland (now Historic Environment Scotland) rather than those ‘archived’.