Valuing the Historic Environment: a critical review of existing approaches to social value

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Arts Languages and Cultures

Abstract

This project seeks to advance understanding about how experience of the historic environment creates forms of social value, including its contribution to people's sense of identity, memory, and belonging. Value is central to how aspects of the historic environment are designated, managed and conserved as heritage. For much of the twentieth century this was primarily linked to what have been seen as intrinsic historic, aesthetic and scientific values. More recently there has been increasing emphasis, in both public policy and conservation practice, on the social values derived from active use of the historic environment. There are considerable difficulties surrounding how these different kinds of value should be weighed up against one another. This is exacerbated by a lack of understanding about social value, which falls largely outside of the kinds of expert knowledge traditionally associated with the heritage sector. Furthermore, social value is not readily captured by quantitative methods or easily subjected to instrumental forms of cost-benefit analysis.

Through a critical review of existing research, this project will examine current knowledge and understanding of social value. Encompassing the significance of the historic environment to contemporary communities, social value relates to people's sense of identity, distinctiveness, belonging, and place, as well as forms of memory and spiritual association. Particular attention will be focused on the modes of experience, engagement and practice that inform people's relationships with the historic environment. The project will consider the thorny issue of how to deal with the dynamic, iterative, and embodied nature of these relationships and the value created through them. It will also explore increasing evidence that points of crisis and conflict, including those associated with difficult and traumatic forms of memory, are particularly potent contexts for the creation of value. The range of methodologies used in existing research and surveys will be critically discussed, along with their application in the spheres of heritage conservation and public policy. Finally, the appropriateness of a conceptual apparatus that tends to quantify and fix values will be examined. The possibilities for capturing more fluid processes of valuing the historic environment will be considered, along with the implications for other spheres of the Arts and the Cultural Sector.

Planned Impact

* The principle beneficiaries of this project are conservation practitioners and heritage managers. They currently face considerable difficulties in terms of defining and measuring social value in relation to a range of questions, contexts, agendas and resources. This critical synthesis, drawing on a wide range of academic and applied research, will advance understanding of the role of the historic environment providing a basis for effective and rigorous narratives about social value. It will highlight gaps in understanding and identify fresh directions. Existing methodologies will be evaluated with a view to their practical application in the heritage sector, as well as in academic research. The project will provide a means for the heritage sector to move forward and deal with this complex issue in a more systematic and effective manner.

* Partner organisations will gain additional benefits through the opportunity to help shape the project in its early stages and to contribute to the critical review process in the context of the project workshop. The project will feed into their ongoing and future work, informing assessment of social value and its place in decision-making. The PI is already in discussion with three of the organizations about potential future projects that would build on this one.

* Other professions in the sphere of Arts and Culture would also benefit from this critical review. The opportunity it offers to explore distinctions between what are seen as intrinsic and instrumental values will provide a point of critical departure and debate for other spheres. Issues relating to the preservation of social values, and how they can be weighed up against historical, aesthetic and scientific values, will be of benefit to those working in museums and archives. This project's critical exploration of the problems created by increasing pressure to identify fixed values and measure the instrumental impact of particular resources/events will be especially important in terms of identifying new directions and approaches which can accommodate the fluid and iterative nature of value in the Arts and the Cultural Sector.

* Members of the public will benefit indirectly through the impact of the research on future conservation of the historic environment. In particular this critical review will highlight studies that provide insight into the unofficial and informal meanings and practices that mediate people's relationships with the historic environment. It will question the tendency to see social values as more transitory and/or superficial forms of value, in contrast to forms of value defined by expert judgement, such as historical and scientific value. Increasing evidence that the historic environment can provide a focus for productive memory-work dealing with displacement, conflict and trauma will also be considered. Overall, the project should provide a platform for a more sensitive and systematic treatment of social value from the point of view of contemporary communities.

* For Academic Beneficiaries see dedicated section.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description This critical literature review draws together a significant body of qualitative cross-disciplinary research to produce what O'Brien (2010: 41-42) has called a narrative account of value, specifically the social values produced in relation to the historic environment.

The key findings can be summarised as follows:

o Contemporary meanings are by no means restricted to the official histories. The ways in which communities come to understand historic places may be rooted in oral narratives, folktales, spiritual associations, and everyday practices, which often sit outside official narratives and at times can even be incommensurate with them.

o Communal identities are predicated upon categories of sameness and difference that create group boundaries. Research has shown that the historic environment plays an important role in the construction of boundaries, informing perceptions of belonging and difference. This is evident in relation to broader collective identities such as nationality, ethnicity and class, as well as local community identities.

o Performances and practices play an important role in the establishment of social value at heritage sites. These may include: community festivals; ritual and ceremonial activities; everyday practices; recreation and leisure; memorial events; and 'mark-making' performances, such as graffiti. Moreover, these practices and performances are often mediated through various forms of embodied and sensory experience.

o Social memory plays an important role in framing contemporary understandings of the past, but it rarely conforms to conventional linear chronologies. Instead, social memory consists of a dynamic collection of fragmented stories that revolve around family histories, events, myths, and community places. These stories are continually reworked in everyday contexts where they are passed within and between generations.

o Studies have shown that historic monuments, buildings and places are often subject to multiple claims by various stakeholders and community groups resulting in sites of conflict. Disagreements over whose values are represented and how heritage places should be managed are often complex and difficult to negotiate. This is because contemporary communities actively rework the materiality and meaning of the historical landscape in the negotiation of identity and memory.

o There is a growing body of research that focuses on forms of 'unofficial' or 'counter' heritage that crystallise around undesignated and unacknowledged monuments, buildings and places.

The research project has also highlighted a number of important implications for heritage policy and practice. Social values and meanings may have historical dimensions, but these are by no means always commensurate with historical value, particularly as defined by heritage professionals. Places that are deemed to be of relatively minor historical value may be extremely important in terms of oral history, memory, spiritual attachment and symbolic meaning, particularly in the case of ethnic minorities, working class and other communities who may feel underrepresented by national heritage agendas. Furthermore, aspects of social value, such as symbolic meaning, memory, and spiritual attachment, may not be directly linked to the physical fabric of a historic building, monument or place. Indeed, they may not even be subject to overt expression within communities, remaining latent in daily practices and long-term associations with place. It is therefore extremely important that effective methodologies are used to investigate the forms of social value surrounding specific heritage places.

This project suggests that it is in the arena of methodology that greatest diversity and disagreement prevails. A range of approaches to social value have emerged, informed by different definitions, questions and methodologies, creating great complexity and a good degree of confusion. This report makes a strong case for the use of qualitative research to create rigorous narrative accounts of social value. A range of methods are applicable including analysis of archival documents and historic photographs, individual and group interviews, oral and life histories, activity mapping, collaborative site visits (with community representatives), participant observation, and focus groups. Models of collaborative work involving both professionals and members of relevant communities also offer promising ways of investigating and addressing social value more effectively.

The complex issues facing the heritage sector with regard to value intersect with wider issues raised by the Cultural Value Project. The dynamic, iterative, embodied nature of people's relationships with heritage, and the value that is created though these relationships, has been highlighted. Furthermore, it has been shown that practice and experience provide the locus for the creation of meaning in relation to the historic environment. However, there is a tension between the need for greater understanding of these processes within the heritage sector, and the increasing demands that the benefits of heritage to society be evidenced. Further work is necessary in this area to overcome the tensions between qualitative attempts to articulate the dynamic forms of social value created through experience, and quantitative approaches that seek to define types of value that can be measured and tracked.
Exploitation Route The findings have been incorporated into the AHRC-funded ACCORD project AH/L007533/1, which focuses on community co-production of 3D heritage visualisations. Social value is a key element in the ACCORD project and the findings from this project have informed the innovative methodologies used in ACCORD. The results of this project also provide the basis for a collaborative doctoral project focusing on methodologies for the assessment of social value in the heritage sector. The doctoral project is jointly funded by the University of Stirling and Historic Environment Scotland. I am the lead supervisor.
Sectors Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description This project involved a stakeholder workshop as well as interviews with representatives of project partner organisations: Council for British Archaeology; English Heritage; RCAHMS; HS. The workshop explored the issues surrounding the treatment of social and communal values in the context of heritage conservation frameworks in the UK. It revealed competing understandings of social and communal value as well as the dilemmas raised in terms of expertise, resources and investigations. It provided a forum in which academic and professional understandings could be shared and debated, as well as highlighting the different approaches of heritage organisations. In so doing it advanced discussion and understanding amongst heritage professionals, as well as influenced the key findings of the project. A detailed report on the workshop was produced and included in the Appendix to the project report (now available open access). I have also published an article in Context (the professional journal of the Institute of Historic Buildings) to publicize the results to professionals. This was included in a special themed volume on Value. The article has stimulated debate and also led to an invitation to present a paper on the project to a workshop on Cultural Value organised by The Scottish Cultural Evidence Network (SCENe): https://vimeo.com/90104353 I was also invited to participate in a HERA funded Heritage Values Workshop in Barcelona (Feb 2015) where I presented the results of this project to a European audience. The workshop included heritage professionals from range of backgrounds as well as academics, providing another pathway to impact in the context of professional practice. For further information on this HERA Network see: http://www.heritageportal.eu/Browse-Topics/HERITAGE-IDENTITY/Heritage-Values-Network-.html Finally I am currently contributing to the value sections of the production of a new Scottish Archaeology Research Framework on Carved Stone. I presented a paper on social value at one of the Workshops organised to facilitate the development of this Framework and my work for this project informs the social value section. As a research framework academic beneficiaries are a significant audience, but the Carved Stone Framework is also intended to inform conservation-led research and heritage management beyond academia, eventually with wider public benefit. For further information see: https://www.stir.ac.uk/cehp/projects/futurethinkingoncarvedstonesinscotland/ This narrative summary identifies important pathways to impact. Quantifying the impact is more difficult at this stage, but the invitations to participate in the latter 3 activities are evidence of early impact in themselves. Further evidence of impact can be seen in new forms of collaboration with Historic Environment Scotland focusing on social value. A doctoral research project has been funded under the University of Stirling MATCH funding schmes (co-funded by the industry partner, Historic Environment Scotland). This doctoral projct directly builds on Valuing the Historic Environment by developing a mehodological toolkit for the assessment of social value in heritage contexts thus realising greater impact, on the industry partner and beyond. I have also been asked to sit on two national advisory committees and have contributed to one international consultation as a result of the expertise gained through this project. It is early days in terms of specifying specific impacts but through these roles I will be able to impact on Scotland's new Culture Strategy, Historic Environment Scotland's care of historic properties in the care of the state, and approaches to assessing social value in the State of Victoria in Australia.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Heritage Victoria Report: Assessing & Managing Social Significance
Geographic Reach Australia 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
 
Description Historic Environment Scotland Estates Peer Review Panel
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Impact on Scottish Historic Environment Review
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Impact My research informed discussion and debate associated with the new Historic Environment Strategy for Scotland (Our Place in Time). This new strategy places considerable emphasis on the social values and benefits of heritage. My research has informed debate and practice among heritage professionals Historic Environment Scotland and I have been regularly consulted subsequently. See the impact narrative for more details.
URL http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2014/03/8522
 
Description Member of the Academic Working Group for the development of Scotland's new Culture Strategy
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description University of Stirling MATCH PhD Funding Award (50% UoS and 50% industry partner)
Amount £60,000 (GBP)
Organisation Historic Environment Scotland 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 12/2021
 
Description Collaboration with Historic Environment Scotland in developing research surrounding social value 
Organisation Historic Environment Scotland
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Contribution to meetings and workshops. Application for collaborative doctoral studentship project focusing on methodologies for the assessment of social value in routine heritage management and conservation projects (2 applications have been submitted, results pending) Collaborative application for AHRC project funding (responsive mode) focusing on economic and social value of the historic environment, building on the outcomes of the AHRC Cultural Value Project.
Collaborator Contribution Historic Environment Scotland have supported and hosted a workshop for the development of the case for support for the AHRC project funding application. For the collaborative doctoral award applications HES have committed £1000 per year for fieldwork costs and in the case of one matching scheme a further £4,000 per year towards the cost of the studentship. More generally HES have played an active role in the development of the these proposals.
Impact The outcomes to date include a workshop and the funding applications noted above (results pending).
Start Year 2016
 
Description Participation in a European HERA Heritage Values Network Workshop in Barcelona (invited) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was also invited to participate in a HERA funded Heritage Values Workshop in Barcelona (Feb 2015) where I presented the results of this project to a European audience. The workshop included heritage professionals from range of backgrounds as well as academics and PhD students, providing another pathway to impact in the context of professional practice. The workshop itself provided opportunity for debate and discussion of my findings. I was subsequently invited to publish an journal article based on the research in a volume linked to the HERA Network.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.heritageportal.eu/Browse-Topics/HERITAGE-IDENTITY/Heritage-Values-Network-.html
 
Description Participation in a workshop for the development of a new Scottish Archaeology Research Framework on Carved Stone 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I presented a paper on social value at one of the Workshops organised to facilitate the development of of a new Scottish Archaeology Research Framework on Carved Stone. The audience included a wide range of heritage practitioners and policy makers. In contributing to the debate that will inform the new Framework my research will inform professional heritage practice, which in turn should ultimately result in public benefit. I have subsequently been invited to contribute to the Framework document.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://www.stir.ac.uk/cehp/projects/futurethinkingoncarvedstonesinscotland/
 
Description Presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited paper for Discovery Programme Anniversary Event, Dublin, Republic of Ireland, 10 May 2016 (Title: 'Community Archaeology, Heritage Co-production and Social Significance')
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation at a Workshop on Cultural Value organised by The Scottish Cultural Evidence Network (SCENe) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The presentation of my research at a workshop on Cultural Value organised by The Scottish Cultural Evidence Network (SCENe) stimulated debate amongst a wide range of professional practitioners and policy makers. Audio-recordings of the workshop presentations and powerpoint slides have been uploaded onto Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/90104352
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL https://vimeo.com/90104352
 
Description Project workshop 'Valuing the Historic Environment' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This project involved a stakeholder workshop as well as interviews with representatives of project partner organisations: Council for British Archaeology; English Heritage; RCAHMS; Historic Scotland. The workshop explored the issues surrounding the treatment of social and communal values in the context of heritage conservation frameworks in the UK. It revealed competing understandings of social and communal value as well as the dilemmas raised in terms of expertise, resources and investigations. It provided a forum in which academic and professional understandings could be shared and debated, as well as highlighting the different approaches of heritage organisations. In so doing it advanced discussion and understanding amongst heritage professionals, as well as influenced the key findings of the project. A detailed report on the workshop was produced and included in the Appendix to the project report (now available open access): https://www.escholar.manchester.ac.uk/uk-ac-man-scw:281849
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL https://www.escholar.manchester.ac.uk/uk-ac-man-scw:281849
 
Description Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This workshop was hosted by Historic Environment Scotland and led by myself and Prof Nick Hanley. The purpose was to facilitate in-depth discussion of a funding bid focusing on social and economic values of the historic environment. This bid will build directly on this project, as well as the wider outcomes of the AHRC Cultural Value Project. I reported on the outcomes of my own research project, and the wider Cultural Value Project at the workshop.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017