Heritage impacts of the rationalisation and disposal of the defence estate

The National Audit Office has just published a review of the Defence Estate Optimisation (DEO) programme. Aside from the overarching conclusions that the programme isn’t going as well as it might do – in terms of speed, cost, reduced income generation and overall project management and complexity – the more interesting reading comes from a reminder of some of the facts and figures about the defence estate of relevance for heritage management and natural landscape management.

The defence estate comprises 344,200 hectares of land in the UK, which comprises 1.5% of the country’s landmass.

The built estate comprises 75,400 hectares (32% of the overall holding) containing offices, technical facilities, and storage and support for military equipment and inventory. It consists of 900 sites, which have roughly 96,000 buildings including houses, technical assets, such as storage units and training facilities, and other assets such as runways and electrical networks.

In broader landscape management terms, the rural estate comprises 157,500 hectares (68% of the overall holding) and is used for training and ranges. This land includes designated and protected areas including 13 national parks, 33 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and 11 National Scenic Areas.

Around 40% of the Department’s infrastructure is more than 50 years old and it regards 30% as not being in an acceptable condition.

The DEO programme aims for a reduction of the built estate by 30% by 2040.

The Ministry of Defence looks after significant heritage assets in terms of historic buildings/sites and landscapes – the ongoing optimisation and disposals programme presents both challenges and opportunities for its historic environment holdings in terms of ongoing maintenance and renewal needs, survival or protection, and adaptation and change under new management.

The multivalent future life of The National Gallery

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.

Mainstreaming & Equality Outcomes at Historic Environment Scotland

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.

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.

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

Appreciating scale from the air in heritage management – returning to China

F5392A91-62A8-46A6-A300-C57409778815I have just arrived back in China for one of my regular trips in my role as Confucius Institute director for Heriot-Watt University.  The sheer scale of heritage sites, cultural parks and the effect that scale has on heritage management practice never ceases to fascinate me particularly from the air as I arrive in Beijing. Sadly I didn’t have my camera to hand on this trip as the plane banked around the city from north to south to bring me in to the new Daxing airport, but the visibility was good enough to again identify stretches of the Great Wall to the north, and then a number of urban parks and cultural sites as we got closer to our landing point. Regardless of differences in management philosophies for heritage between the west and the east, one of the major factors that we sometimes fail to really appreciate is the sheer scale for heritage conservation which China faces in both the rural and urban landscape.

Behaviour change as strategy

The Built Environment Forum Scotland (BEFS) recently ran a workshop to explore aspects of prioritisation within the heritage sector. This was related to a Historic Environment Scotland work stream arising from a pledge within the last SNP Manifesto to explore funding priorities for public monies within the historic built environment, in order to ensure the dwindling pot of available public monies go to where they are most needed / effective. The workshop also allied to a decade-old collaborative thought experiment which I have been undertaking in a slightly ad hoc way with Dr Simon Gilmour, Director of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. This has, over an extended period, sought to investigate scenario planning approaches and long-term horizon scanning (sometimes called futurology) for the sector.  The use and applicability of such futures-oriented approaches are intimately linked through policy direction and strategic organisational intentions to funding streams and decision-making mechanisms.  They also try to understand the how and why organisations behave in the way they do, responding to external drivers affecting their operational and policy environments. This in turn affects the way they interact with each other; and collectively across organisations, the way the sector as as whole focuses its attention on specific issues at certain points in time.

Details of the recent workshop and the resultant discussion are reported elsewhere via the usual BEFS communication channels, but in reflecting on the day, and via wider discussion within the workshop co-ordinating team, it is worth trying to step back and consider macro-challenges which will influence the prioritisation debate as it moves forward. Bringing together the sector to try and create a matrix of funding priorities sounds entirely reasonable as an effective tactical response within a wider strategic movement to prioritise what we do with an asset base which we cannot realistically look after in its entirety. Sector wide applicability of a single tool, or even agreement of a single approach to using a flexible toolkit in organisations with different aims and priorities, divergent stakeholder views, and widely varied interests in sub-sets of the heritage asset base may be too big a challenge to contemplate in practice though. But, if theoretically it is a good idea, what really stops us from doing it?

The reasons we can’t are complex and relate to organisational and stakeholder autonomy, and a set of behaviours, both individual and organisational, which can hardwire nervousness of the unacceptability of monolithic behaviour; instil worry about a democratic deficit in decision-making; exacerbate tensions to do with perceptions of exclusivity and inclusivity; and worry about the prospect of change with foreseen or unforeseen consequences that we don’t like the sound of, even before we know what it might be.

Individually and collectively within the sector we already recognise a wide set of macro level issues both as consideration or sometimes as threat: these include issues like climate change, stakeholder inclusion and emergent ideas like intergenerational equity. We are already thinking and discussing the ways in which they may affect the historic environment generally and how we can incorporate them or mitigate against them, and thus protect assets we want to save and/or pass to the next generation. We also already conceptualise and manage the micro issues, on a daily basis within our personal and organisational forms – as professionals and agents / having agency within a specific sector forming part of a bigger ecosystem of planning and managing the environment around us. The mid-range, however, that gap between the big concepts and the micro objects/actions – the realm of behavioural systems – is one that we still struggle with, and I would argue that in order to move things forward collective both better understanding of behaviours, and subtle behaviour change is perhaps the next strategic challenge to engage with.

What do I mean by ‘behaviour change’ as a strategic approach? Well, listening to the various stakeholders expressing their views in the prioritisation discussion, I was struck by the thoughtful and deeply analytical ways in which all of the individuals present engaged with the process of sifting ideas on the heritage asset base and its need, and by consequence where/how we might prioritise that need. Alternative views on issues were chewed over; viewpoints were balanced; and ultimately, consensus was reached collectively within the room, perhaps surprisingly, with many items flagged for higher or lower prioritisation. What we didn’t do however was fully articulate why we individually, organisationally, and ultimately collectively, took particular stances, and how those stances might have changed or might change in any period of time. We didn’t put ourselves in others’ shoes (professionally), as we perhaps assumed we understood the stance of an architect versus a planner, or an archaeologist versus an advocator implicitly. I would argue that assumed implicit understanding or tacit knowledge holds us back, as our professional and organisational identities still mask and influence what we say or are prepared to say to foreground motivations for our behaviour in the present. For example, why as an academic in the workshop did I de-prioritise the funding for academic study in the matrix? Why did nobody challenge me on this? What was I thinking? Was I betraying my own profession, or was I making a stance as part of a projected persona, trying to be some kind of enfant terrible of the afternoon, disrespecting something I should be defending to the hilt?

I am not saying we need to laboriously psychoanalyse the way we talk about and respond in our professional consideration of heritage in workshop situations, but I do think that we might explore our behaviour in order to better recognise and articulate our individual and corporate behaviours.  In essence we need to be much clearer about the ‘mid range’ linkage between individual stakeholders and the big issues.   We need to be much more open about the tacit knowledge we use, that which isn’t codified. We need to re-identify and flag the drivers which influence us individually and corporately, and how these have changed and will change again.  Organisational and professional expectations (whether it is related to professional standards or institutional mission) affect subtly the way in which individuals collectively discuss, disagree and arrive at consensus.  These influences change over time, and what was foremost in our individual or organisational mindsets at the time of writing Our Place in Time (for example), may not be the most pressing issues to address now.  I don’t think we would have had a workshop outcome of consensus in the same way a couple of years ago, or longer – so what has caused us to behave in this way right now?

Discussion abounded in the room about what we did care about and what is of less interest. I think we need to be bolder and braver about admitting what and why things do and don’t concern us any more, and how the concerns change subtly but relatively quickly from one year to the next.  A broader consideration of the way in which we frame our responses to consultations, and foregrounding the current drivers which affect the way in which we engage with heritage issues would, I think, help to bridge the micro and the macro – to build and articulate better the ‘mid range’ thinking which links the consideration of the day to day operational challenges against the grand challenges which the wider world faces, and where we try to deploy effective management of the historic environment in order to add value to the world we live in, and explain fully the decisions we make now for those that come after.

Additional note 24/1/19 – This blog post also appears on the Built Environment Forum Scotland website: https://www.befs.org.uk/latest/behaviour-change-as-strategy/ 

Academic journals: International Journal of Arts Management

Journal summary: IJAM is a non-profit project, published by HEC Montréal’s Carmelle and Rémi Marcoux Chair in Arts Management. HEC Montréal is the oldest business school in Canada, and is affiliated with the University of Montreal.
The journal offers insight into management processes, and the ways in which arts organizations operate within the various disciplines of management, including marketing, human resources, finance, accounting, production and operation processes, and administration;
identifies and encourages the development of best practices in the management of culture and the arts, and promotes their use through the publication of case studies and analyses;
addresses current issues of key relevance to cultural and arts organizations in a rigorous and detailed fashion;
presents studies, measurements, and other empirical research in the field of arts and cultural management;
provides a forum for challenging and debating coherent theories and models, as well as their application in cultural and arts practice.

Publisher: HEC Montreal

Website: https://www.gestiondesarts.com/en/ijam2/#.XDMvqdKeSCh

Access: Subscription

Journal type: Academic peer-reviewed

Academic journals: Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites

Journal summary: Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites (CMAS) was launched in 1995 and focuses on both theoretical and practical issues in heritage site management and conservation. Peer-reviewed papers from around the world report on new thinking and best practice in site management and conservation. CMAS also publishes short comments, conference, book and website reviews, and lists relevant new publications.

Topics covered include:

  • Cultural, social, ethical and theoretical issues in archaeological site management and conservation
  • Site management
  • Historical documentation and condition reporting
  • Site deterioration and environmental monitoring
  • Preventative conservation, including reburial and protective sheltering of sites
  • Building materials analysis and treatment
  • Restoration and reconstruction of buildings
  • Visitor management and sustainable tourism
  • Site interpretation
  • National and international legislation and charters

Publisher: Routledge

Website: https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/ycma20/current

Access: Subscription; some open-access articles

Journal type: Academic peer-reviewed

Heritage and business – inspired by @DirectorIoD @The_IoD

Director coverThe latest edition of the IoD’s Director magazine for Dec15/Jan16, as usual, has got me thinking about the implicit and explicit role of heritage and the historic environment within the corporate world of business and management. Quite apart from my own identification with the idea of an ‘obsession statement‘ rather than a mission statement advocated by Lord Allen (pictured on the front cover of the magazine) – where I suppose mine would be, “heritage is fundamentally linked to management – through people, places and products” – many of the articles and ideas draw on inspiration, ideas and understandings that professionals in the heritage world associate with daily.  A few examples from this month’s edition which cross the historic environment, civic realm and business boundaries include:

  • The business of the Bard – recognising the boost for brand Shakespeare in 2016 as the 400th anniversary of his death approaches (the success of the Globe theatre; tourism in Stratford and the surrounding area; RSC events and international artistic reach)
  • 2016 identified by Next Big Thing’s CEO, William Higham, as the year of tech/life balance – where authentic environments; the rise of the retro; traditionalist lifestyles and village life are seen as attractive touchpoints
  • Review of Erin Meyer‘s ‘The Culture Map’, advocating better business via better intercultural management through understanding of anthropological contexts and local values
  • American Express supporting independent businesses through the ‘Shop Small‘ campaign
  • The resurgence of of Madrid, as businesses recognise not only the business opportunities, but the cultural and civic opportunities of the historic city
  • The IoD’s own economic predictions for 2016 and beyond stating that ‘pretty cities prosper’ – noting that, ‘one of the most important [factors] is the existence of an amenable built environment… Physical environments matter and high-value-adding workers who can choose where they work will gravitate to aesthetically pleasing towns. That such towns will find they can support a greater range of cultural activities and amenities will only add to the positive spiral such a situation creates.’