How should heritage decisions be made?

Reflect: See your work through other people’s eyes

Reflect

Talk to other people about what you’re doing – they’ll help you decide what to do next.

Life is pretty busy. As soon as one thing ends you’re on to another. It can be really hard to get perspective on what you’ve done and to think carefully about what to do next.

One of the most powerful outcomes of our research project – and its collaborative design – was the chance for us to reflect on our own work and become more self-conscious about our approaches and choices. This was made possible through individual conversations between team members and the powerful effect of seeing our work afresh through other people’s eyes.

Peter Brown, York Civic Trust

My organisation has, until recently, functioned in ‘silo-mode’, considering itself one of a small number of ‘experts’ engaged in the heritage decision-making process in York. Involvement in this project, however, has shown the benefits of a more democratic and inclusive engagement with a broad spectrum of opinion, thereby offering a more measured view on issues of common interest.

Karen Brookfield, Heritage Lottery Fund

Funders, policy-makers and development agencies all influence how people participate in making decisions about heritage, but do we really know what’s needed? You have to make time to get out, see how the system is working, talk to people on the ground and ask what they would change. Through doing just that in this project I’ve learnt that elements of the heritage ecology are more important than money: breaking down barriers; helping people to value their own heritage and act to give it a future; building a community of interest and creating a sense of ownership in good times as well as when there is the threat of loss. Clearly funding isn’t irrelevant, but as little as £50 may be all that is needed to kick-start activity and make change happen.

Rebecca Madgin, Urban Studies, University of Glasgow

Working on this project brought to life some of the day-to-day working practices that historians are rarely exposed to. For example, viewing the processes behind the adaptive re-use of College Court in Leicester through the lens of Jenny and the rest of the project team has enabled me to ask pre-emptive as well as reactive questions as to the nature of decision-making. Furthermore, I have refined my theoretical framings in the light of working with Jenny. This is most explicit with the role of emotion in decision-making as we worked together to co-design a research methodology that would elicit these kinds of subconscious decisions. In doing so the team became aware of their own emotional reactions to heritage and the role that this played in the process.

Jenny Timothy, Conservation Team, Leicester City Council

Working with Rebecca showed me that what I had often considered a luxury – stopping, thinking and reflecting on why and how I was making decisions – was actually a necessity. Day-to-day working is extremely pressured, and we often lose sight of the need for reflection. Talking through the methodology to try and achieve desired outcomes, and the very cathartic interview process, made me stop and take stock. It also made me greatly appreciate the academic process, and look at how this, when communicated and channelled well, could help improve personal and professional experiences of heritage decision-making.

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