How should heritage decisions be made?

Phase 1 Codesigning Research

research-team-phase-1

Research Journey

Conversation and experimentation guided our research – we now carry with us lots of different voices in our heads shaping our practice.

The project wasn’t a conventional research project. Usually, a research funder will expect a team – led by an academic – to submit a pre-formed research question and they will decide whether to fund it or not.  The money will usually go just to the academic team.

This project – under the auspices of the Connected Communities programme, which was set up to test new methods and approaches – challenged a number of conventional research practices. For example, we were funded to bring a diverse range of expertise together. This gave us the space to work out what would be the most useful questions to ask and the best ways to go about addressing them. It was also critical that the Arts and Humanities Research Council were prepared to recognise and remunerate the different kinds of expertise that were being contributed: the team of investigators included lots of people working outside universities.

Martin Bashforth, radical family historian and York’s Alternative History

Diversity was present in the Heritage Decisions group itself, opening up the potential for greater collective wisdom. After the first workshop in Jarrow, the event which for me most captured this quality was the workshop in Manchester, where we invited in an equal number and equally diverse range of ‘critical others’ to reflect and comment on our work up to that point. I continue to absorb and reflect on the intellectual impact of that workshop. Apart from that, the deepest influence has come from one-to-one discussions with team members, each of whom has helped me appreciate different viewpoints and perspectives in ways I could never have expected.

Paul Manners, National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement

Rebecca, one of the academics on the team was talking about how the project had influenced her practice. She said: ‘I’ll never be able to approach a piece of work on this topic again without hearing Danny’s voice in my head’. Danny is one of the ‘community activists’ recruited to the project. Prior to this project, neither he nor Rebecca had met – they worked on heritage in separate worlds. This project encouraged a wonderful form of ‘social learning’ – where different kinds of expertise and insight came together. This process is captured beautifully by the Russian psychologist, Vygotsky* who talked about learning as a social process ‘by which we grow into the intellectual life of those around us’. Not only did this mean we could think better collectively – but long term, these connections will continue to animate our practice and our ways of making sense of heritage: like it or not, each other’s ‘voices’ will continue to echo in our imaginations and challenge our thinking – even when we’re sat in splendid isolation, working back in our own heritage ‘worlds’.

*L.S Vygotsky (1978) Mind in Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard, p.88

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