How should heritage decisions be made?

Phase 2 Research

Research Team during Phase 2

There were six research strands.

1) Heritage as a living stream: Distributed decision-making and leadership at Bede’s World

At Bede’s World – and drawing on work they’d done together at Ryedale Folk Museum – John Lawson, Kathy Cremin and Mike Benson reflected on their shared learning and specifically their approach to distributed leadership.

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

If a north star of the mission and principles guide the museum, this will be seen across that museum in the behaviours and conversations. This social museum will pioneer decision-making that turns the triangle of hierarchical decision-making on its head, with a mission and governance informed by users and beneficiaries of the organisation’s work. Our north star mission is that which nourishes the roots of a social space for heritage, that values the expertise and knowledge of different people and that – like an spinning atom – enables leadership to shift and change according to need will be a museum where linear hierarchies are redundant. In this model, decisions are made by the right person, at the right time, in the right place.

2) College Court: Processes and Rules versus Intuition and Interaction

The significance of a listed building is often imagined as a stable and fixed part of the planning process. However this strand of the project sought to explore the more complex social interactions that take place through one specific example in Leicester, College Court. In this project the collaboration between Jenny Timothy, a Conservation Officer and a team of architects and developers saw the building’s meaning becoming more and more explicit through the process of working together. Interviews conducted by Rebecca Madgin showed that the social and emotional dynamics underpinned an iterative negotiation, in place of rules or any simple moment of ‘decision’.

They did all the stuff that you need to do for your application, so the statement of significance and the justification and what was happening (yet the building’s significance) never felt like it was explicit, it kind of seemed to grow as you went along; and it wasn’t actually until it was kind of all finished and we were stood there that people actually then started to explicitly say, actually this is really important, it’s a really beautiful piece of architecture, it’s a really nice building. But all the way along you could feel people’s attachment to the building growing, and that the understanding of the significance of the building growing; and by turn, how much they cared about it kind of growing.

(one of the participants in the College Court project)

3) The Science Museum: An experiment in democratising collecting

At the Science Museum an action research project was created: How should decisions be made about what museums collect? Most often, participation in museum decision-making is pushed into organisational silos, or focused on short-term interventions. The electronic music co-collecting project experimented with a different model: we brought together experts from inside and outside the museum. The team’s discussions questioned a key tenet of museum practice; that use today endangers preservation for the future.

By the end of the project the group had made successful cases to the Museum’s Collecting Board, and ran ‘Synth Bingo’, an event at the Museum’s popular ‘Lates’ evening opening.

Martin Swan, Musician and Educator
If you engage the network of geeks out there then you create a community with ‘a curatorial head on’. They will say – ‘we will look for those things’. You’re creating a community of curators. But as soon as you stop playing them, synths start to decay. They become less and less the thing that made them worth collecting. As they become less and less viable as instruments. They also become less and less interesting to the geeks, the very people who would want to enthuse about the objects to other people. And these are also the people who could maintain them and could get them going again.

4) Discovering the Clyde: Organisational reflective practice at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland

A series of reflective interviews – conducted by Rebecca Madgin and Alex Hale – with key staff members involved in the Discovering the Clyde programme allowed different perspectives on what the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland ‘should be doing’ to be openly explored and debated.

Rebecca Madgin, Urban Studies, University of Glasgow

The interviews revealed intriguing opinions of what RCAHMs’ purpose; the fusion and conflict between individuals’ views of the purpose of RCAHMS and the pressure of internal agendas; the role of external agencies and agendas in shaping the origin, form and content of Discovering the Clyde; the inability in a number of cases to separate professional and innate decision making.

Alex Hale, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland

Having now listened to all of the interviews with my colleagues, I have a greater understanding of how affective and effective the programme could become for RCAHMS and the new heritage body in Scotland (Historic Environment Scotland, from October 2015). In addition, this phase enabled me to understand the aspirations of those involved in the programme management, as well as acknowledge the complexities that developing such a programme can entail.

5) The Potteries Tile Trail: The role of the catalyst and DIY approaches

The local focus for this research strand was The Potteries Tile Trail, a community and crowd-sourced virtual collection of tiles and architectural ceramics found in buildings and public spaces throughout Stoke-on-Trent and further afield. It enabled three members of the research team – Danny Callaghan, who worked on the Tile Trial, Karen Brookfield, Heritage Lottery Fund and Helen Graham, University of Leeds – to reflect on a funding programme, the Heritage Lottery Fund’s ‘All Our Stories’, from two ends of the spectrum and for Danny to draw out and present his principles of a DIY heritage.

Karen Brookfield, Heritage Lottery Fund

In my role at HLF I see a wide range of successful heritage projects from the very large to the very small, but often too late to get inside their skin and learn from their experience. Being part of this research gave me a unique opportunity to be alongside The Potteries Tile Trail as they completed their ‘All our Stories’ project and moved into a new phase. I have been on the journey with them as they set about identifying their ceramic heritage far beyond their local area, building up their Historypin site, widening their contacts and influence, and deciding how to take the project forward.

Danny Callaghan, The Potteries Tile Trail

For years I have found myself trying to get specific people in local councils or conservation professionals interested in what I was interested in. Basically they had other priorities and looking back, I can see I wasted a lot of time running into the same brick wall over and over again. Through the delivery of projects such as The Potteries Tile Trail – and importantly, the time for self-reflection enabled by the research – it suddenly became much more clear that these alternative ways of operating are not only possible but also highly effective in delivering results. This approach enables individuals and communities to make decisions for themselves and act without ‘asking for permission’.

6) York: Living with History – situating participation in heritage decision making in a city’s systems

York is known as a heritage city. Mapping heritage decision-making systems – and crucially how they these systems are experienced by the people who live in the city – made clear the urgent need for alternatives to traditional forms of ‘consultation’. Instead the York team experimented with participative approaches focused – not so much on ‘sharing your opinion’ or ‘having a say’ – but on action and argument.

The problem of ‘they’ and of ‘consultation’: Use of ‘they’ was directly linked to people’s experiences of ‘consultation’ as the most common organizational attempts at ‘participation’. The main conversations we had suggested how counterproductive consultation was, cultivating a perception that it was only a ‘fig leaf’ for decisions that already been taken.

The politics of networks: they are great if you’re in them and very hard if you’re not.

Richard Brigham and Lianne Brigham, York Past and Present

We do Urban Exploring and all we wanted to do is go in and take some photographs of some ex-military hutments before they were demolished. We tried everything to get permission to go in. We phoned the Council. We got passed on to the Art Gallery. Then they passed us back to the Council. We were passed from pillar to post. Even to the point that we asked a security guard to take our camera and take photos – and the answer was still no. We thought we’ve had enough, we’re going to start something new. Start afresh. That’s when we started the Facebook group – now over 7000 strong – York Past and Present.

Experimental action: We devised a series of experimental public events, which aimed to model ways of breaking down the division of ‘us’ and ‘them’ by diversifying who is included in the informal networks influencing heritage in York, by ‘humanising’ those in decision-making positions while also addressing some of the hard-edged critiques of participation we’d unearthed. York Civic Trust led on an event explore the past, present and future of the Castle Area and Eye of Yorkshire.

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.

One of the other experiments we did was to run radical history walks. Paul Furness led the walks and we published York: A Walk on the Wild Side as one of the project’s outcomes.

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