How should heritage decisions be made?

Discovering the Clyde: Organisational reflective practice

discovering-the-clydeOften institutional and professional decision-making processes are more subliminal than articulated and self-conscious. A series of reflective interviews conducted with key staff members involved in the Discovering the Clyde programme allowed the different perspectives on what the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland ‘should be doing’ to be openly explored and debated.

As part of the Co-design Phase the research team undertook ‘Day in the Life’ swaps. One of these allowed Rebecca Madgin (University of Glasgow) and Alex Hale and Neil Gregory (Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland) to see how the site visits were carried out and how this informed the next phases of the Discovering the Clyde programme. Alongside understanding the context of the site from the perspective of archaeologists and an urban historian, the visit also facilitated an ‘out-of-office’ space in which we could explore the working cultures and institutional mindsets and priorities that were shaping the decision-making processes. Throughout the day there was a lively discussion of macro and micro issues and comparative examples brought in from existing examples drawn from community, academic and RCAHMS contexts which then helped Alex to refine and develop the programme.

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

Part of the scoping phase for the Discovering the Clyde programme was to visit places along the river. This enabled us to engage with the places, people and aspects of the historic environment at different areas along the river system. At the same time this presented the opportunity to combine with the AHRC Heritage Decisions project, ‘day-in-the-life’ experiences. It was fantastic to visit Helensburgh with Rebecca Madgin. This enabled us to discuss topics, such as broad thematic opportunities for the programme, to specific aspects of Scottish urban renewal schemes. In particular this enabled me to consider the nuanced range of buildings, development phases and urban archaeological opportunities, that Helensburgh in particular and the programme as a whole could consider.

The ‘Day in the Life’ swap in the first phase of the programme ended up informing the design of the research undertaken. As part of an organisational reflective practice, Rebecca Madgin conducted interviews with the management team of the Discovering the Clyde programme. The interviews enabled participants to reflect on the decision-making processes that have occurred through the early development phases of the programme. This reflexive work was structured around taped interviews between the participants and Rebecca Madgin, and in one case with Alex Hale.

Rebecca Madgin, Urban Studies, University of Glasgow

The interviews revealed intriguing opinions of what RCAHMS as an organisation ‘should be doing’; 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, i.e. the awareness of making a decision was often subliminal and thus separated from an acknowledgement of the role of professional training in making key decisions and finally a reflective consideration of the traditional practice of RCAHMS in which a tension emerged between seeing Discovering the Clyde as part of incremental evolution or at the other extreme a revolutionary approach.

Crucially the methods adopted by the AHRC project allowed Alex and Rebecca to reflect through both thought and action as decisions were being made rather than after. Conducting interviews, participating in scoping workshops, testing engagement methodologies and spending a ‘day-in-the-life’ provided the mechanisms through which both the strategic and everyday decisions were consistently put under the microscope and future decisions informed by these reflections.

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.

 

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