Citizen Scholarship in Nottingham: understanding the value of engaging users with heritage and culture

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: School of English


This follow on funding project, developed in collaboration with the Theatre Royal and Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature, represents an important opportunity to work with partners across the city of Nottingham to establish frameworks both for enabling participation in cultural and heritage activities at a local level and for understanding the value of such participation in terms of the experience of the organisation and the individual. The project uses the small Heritage Lottery Funded project - 'Our Theatre Royal Nottingham: Its Stories, People & Heritage', led by the Theatre Royal in collaboration with the University of Nottingham and commencing in February 2017 - as a case study to develop, test and evaluate the innovative, transferable model, 'Citizen Scholarship'. The Heritage Lottery Fund project itself developed out of the AHRC funded research project 'Mapping Performance Culture: Nottingham 1857-1867' (2006-09) which led to a key collaboration between the University of Nottingham and the Theatre Royal.

Building from the experience of the Theatre Royal HLF project, we will work with pilot organisations across Nottingham to develop, test and evaluate an innovative, transferable model of 'Citizen Scholarship' for development and support of archives and histories, enabling communities of volunteers to participate in collection, curation and annotation of archive material and oral histories while developing basic research skills through supported training and activity. The value of volunteer engagement with this activity in terms of wellbeing and cultural enrichment will be evaluated through observing volunteer archive sessions, conducting focus groups and interviewing volunteers and other users of the Theatre and archive. Through the provision of this case study and structured activities to share knowledge and learning from this evaluation with a wide range of smaller cultural and heritage organisations in Nottingham, the project will enable an important shared learning opportunity and support those organisations in designing future engagement and evaluation activities with their audiences.

As an outcome of this research, a set of best practice guidelines and a 'toolbox' for Citizen Scholarship participation and engagement, including a publically accessible digital platform for co-curation of archives and histories and frameworks for the evaluation of user engagement through this methodology will be developed. These will be trialled and tested with organisations in Nottingham; the final version will be shared within the UK and Europe through the Heritage Lottery Fund (via the Theatre Royal project) and and more widely through the UNESCO Creative City Network.

Planned Impact

The impact of this follow on funding project, which is explicitly focused on engagement and cultural value, will be felt at local, national and international levels.

1. Within Nottingham, through enhanced cultural engagement and understanding of the cultural value of that engagement:
a. the Theatre Royal: Beyond the work carried out with Heritage Lottery Funding, the Theatre will benefit from a detailed record, observation and evaluation of its case study project that will enable it to record progress against institutional priorities.
b. the volunteer communities attached to the Theatre Royal and to other cultural/creative organisations in Nottingham: volunteers will benefit from i) enhanced wellbeing and cultural enrichment, through inclusive engagement with heritage and history and
ii) enhancement of public knowledge through the acquisition of basic research skills in relation to archiving, curation and creation of oral histories. Volunteer skills will be sustained beyond the project, with Citizen Scholars continuing to work with the Theatre Royal and encouraged to share their knowledge and skills with other Nottingham organisations to assist development of their own archiving and heritage strategies.
c.other organisations offered supported access to our 'Citizen Scholarship' model and publically accessible platform: will benefit from opportunities to reflect on their own needs in terms of history and heritage and to explore their own needs in terms of user engagement and cultural value evaluation; to develop and test their own pilot projects and digital platforms with communities of supporters and volunteers in a supportive and guided environment
d. Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature - the project will support the City of Literature's activities in terms of building cross-institutional collaborations and sharing best practice to enable the city as a whole to succeed in raising its cultural offer and in making that offer accessible to all its citizens - those engaged and those currently not engaged. The project will also enable the City of Literature to showcase their work across the International Creative Cities Network.

2. Nationally and internationally, by creating access to new technology and technological advancement:
a. the constituency of smaller organisations across the wider creative/cultural/heritage community which is often neglected and as the Cooke critical review points out, may 'struggle to get to grips with digital tools which are very often beyond their capacity both in terms of funding, expertise and personnel': will benefit from access to a fully developed, practically tested and critically evaluated model methodology and 'toolbox' for Citizen Scholarship and development of histories/co-curation of archives and for the evaluation of user engagement through this methodology that will be shared within the UK through the Heritage Lottery Fund and across Europe through the Europeana network.
b. members of the UNESCO Creative City Network will also benefit from the sharing of this model and 'toolbox' for Citizen Scholarship which can be utilised by organisations within their cities
c. researchers into cultural engagmement and value will benefit from an extended and rigorous case study that will add to the research base on the cultural value of digital engagement with heritage and offer a methodology for participation, engagement and evaluation that has been tested iteratively with a number of smaller heritage and culture organisations.


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