How should heritage decisions be made?

Situate: Understand your work in context

Situate

If you narrow your focus too much it’s hard to see how change can happen. Seeing how people, ideas and resources connect and where disconnections happen can help you take action.

Mapping heritage decision-making systemically proved a powerful methodology. If you can see how formal structures and informal networks fit together, then you can start to notice key people and key points for increasing participation in decision-making.

We used ‘thinking systemically’ as a research methodology. We also found this technique useful for reflecting on our own practice and activism and for planning action and connection.

Thinking systemically
Systemic thinking offers a way of thinking about heritage not in isolation or fixed but as a dynamic process which is produced, and shaped, by people, ideas and things and the way they interact – and don’t.
• Map processes
• Look for patterns
• Notice boundaries and disconnections

John Lawson, Storyteller, Loftus, Kathy Cremin, Hive and Mike Benson, Bede’s World

We believe that folk engage with heritage everyday probably, in truth, in spite of, and not because of, heritage professionals. If we use the metaphor of heritage as a river that flows everyday then one choice is to contain the river and constrain its possibilities and box off opportunities. However, for us, it is the ecology that sustains the river, which is critical. The more streams that feed into the river, big or small – all carrying stories all playing their part in making the river flow – the better. Then the river, and its ecosystem flourishes and begins to sustain the places and spaces through which it flows.

Lianne Brigham, York Past and Present

Before it was like a 6ft wall with anti-climb paint on, whatever way we went it blocked you. It was only meeting some key people that we could see a way around the wall. You’ve got to find a way beyond the ‘them’ and ‘us’. We’re all working for a common goal, so let’s work together.

Jenny Timothy, Conservation Team, Leicester City Council

Working with Rebecca to reflect on one particular decision also gave me a great opportunity – through hearing about the perspectives of the other people involved – to see ‘the other side’ of the planning process, something I would recommend all local authority officers do, which would try and address the ‘us’ and ‘them’ attitude that has become so worryingly prevalent.

Helen Graham, Museum and Heritage Studies, University of Leeds

Taking inspiration from theories of complexity – and systems thinking – helped us design our research project. We were particularly inspired by Systemic Action Research pioneered by Professor Danny Burns in a development studies context. Danny Burns shows the importance of drawing on lots of different people’s knowledge within a local system to develop a ‘working picture’ and to recognize that ‘each situation is unique and its transformative potential lies in the relationships between interconnected people and organizations’.*

* Danny Burns (2007) Systemic Action Research: A Strategy for Whole System Change. Bristol: Policy Press, p. 32

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