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.
I am finalising ideas for a talk next week for the Praxis programme at the University of Leeds, considering how best to engage with the policy progress from an academic standpoint. I have been asked to talk due to my career path which has weaved backwards and forwards between industry and applied research as a very practical academic and hands-on manager (of projects, people and bits of Universities and charities), always within or closely aligned to the heritage sector.
The organisers are indulging me, so I have prepared the short talk from a autobiographical standpoint, using some case studies to illustrate different points on a personal journey working between policy and practice over an extended period (rather than advising on policy input per se). I am hoping that this may be a useful counterpoint to the typical “here’s what is expected of you as researchers to achieve impact” to think about longer term opportunities and trajectories for not only applying findings back into policy as an influencer, but also career and skills development, as well and managing different requirements and expectations of stakeholders along the way.
It has been a useful exercise for me in the preparation of the talk to begin to see the common threads in some of the wildly different and disparate things that I have been involved with over the last 25 years, and remind myself about still useful and relevant items stored in the far reaches of my files and notes.
There has been speculation for some time about the possible merger of Cadw and National Museums Wales (Amgueddfa Cymru). It has been reported today that Dr David Fleming, Director of the National Museums Liverpool, has written to the Welsh Government Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee (“‘Threat’ to National Museum Wales over merger plans“, BBC News 7 October 2016). He wrote: “I cannot stress enough the pivotal role that Wales’ national museum service plays in the demonstration of Welsh nationality and the damage that could result from any diminution of that role.”
One of the proposed names for the new body is apparently “Historic Wales”.
The Economy Secretary for Welsh Government, Ken Skates, stated: “This [evolution] is essential if these organisations are to continue to act as effective custodians of our outstanding historic collections and heritage and provide an outstanding visitor experience.”
The BBC is reporting that the Welsh Government has commissioned a review of heritage attractions in Wales “to improve the commercial performance of historical and culturally important places” (“Welsh heritage bid to compete with rest of UK“, BBC News, 23 January 2016).
Baronness Jenny Randerson will lead the review.
“The disadvantage is that we don’t have a vast number of tourist visitor sites, we don’t have a vast number old houses, shall we say, in comparison with England,” she said.
“But we do have huge quality and we have the advantage of being able to work closely together in a way in which it’s difficult to do in a country as big as England.”
She added it was “vital that our heritage organisations work closely together to maximise our cultural influence and the success of our tourist industry”.
Sean will present a review of the origins and operations of modern conservation services within local authorities, in particular their activities, analysis and the political and departmental objectives shaping them. This review leads to an informal exploration of future challenges for these services and their aspirations, especially when political considerations discourage public funding of service infrastructure while at the same time policy trends move towards a more holistic awareness of conservation benefits.
Open to all. Please contact Julie Barber if you’d like to attend.
“One lump or two? Fusion and fission in the heritage sector, a view from Scotland”
This seminar will explore the different trajectories currently being taken in Wales, England and Scotland with regard to the historic environment. It will focus particularly on the Scottish experience, looking at the process of developing high-level strategic thinking on the subject and possible trends, and make some comparisons with elsewhere.
Simon has, since 2007, been the Director of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, a charitable not-for-profit membership organisation founded in 1780 and instituted by Royal Charter in 1783. He is trained as an archaeologist with excavation experience in Syria, Romania, France and, of course, Scotland, where he is co-director of several archaeology projects coming to fruition, or part published. He is also currently the Vice Chair of the Built Environment Forum Scotland (BEFS) a membership organisation bringing together voluntary and professional non-governmental organisations that operate at the national level and represent people who work within the built environment sector.