The ‘How should decisions about heritage be made?’ Co-Design Research Team gathered at Bede’s World in Jarrow on 13th-14th March for our first two day workshop. We knew this was our first step on our four month journey to working together to design a research project. What we didn’t know was exactly where our conversations would take us.
On the first afternoon, to help us begin our discussions, Mike Benson, Kathy Cremin and John Lawson introduced their approaches (developed at Ryedale Folk Museum and now at Bede’s World) to create space for volunteers to have ‘freedom of self’ to make their own decisions and how their long standing approaches relate to their more recent exploration of co-operative models. Tens of questions and tons of discussion were then generated. The key questions which emerged were: Did it matter that the work described was happening in a museum? What are the possibilities and dangers of de-institutionalizing museums? Can we scrap ideas of professional stewardship?
The next day we moved our focus to another area of heritage decision-making led by our resident local authority Senior Conservation Officer, Jenny Timothy. Jenny led us through a fascinating half-fictional case study and forced us into the decision-making place of her team. This generated a lot of crucial questions about: What is heritage significance? Who defines value? Who counts as the ‘communities’ or ‘constituencies’ for decision making? Is it just about the local community? What about those not immediately proximate (especially relevant when the issue is house building or job creation)? A major context for these discussions, emphasized by Peter Brown, York Civic Trust and Rebecca Madgin, University of Leicester, was the new Localism Act.
We then looked more briefly at the question of collecting personal stories using work Helen Graham has done with Alex Henry (Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums and Curiosity Creative) and Aileen Strachan (Glasgow Museums) as part of another research project. This led to questions about making personal things public and the question of posterity (see Tim Boon’s blog): What is the effect of making things (including personal things) available to others (the public)? What does this do to ‘ownership’ and ‘voice’?
The effect of the three introductory views into heritage decision making was to complicate and make messy (see Martin Bashforth’s blog) our understanding of the question we’d set ourselves.
We identified through discussion some key contexts for our work: public sector cuts and the Localism Act. We also identified through a long shifting process some key words (‘Institutions’, ‘People’, ‘Ownership’, ‘Personal’, ‘Voice’, ‘Value/s’, ‘Stewardship/Custodianship’, ‘Differences/Tensions’, ‘Scale’, ‘Leadership’)… which perhaps seem more opaque now than they did at the time!
We did also – thanks to Jenny Timothy – come up with something akin to a motto. Something which might keep us on track as we develop the research project: ‘the conflict is how different people value different things, in different ways at different times and for different reasons’.
Where we are up to now is a list of questions (below) which we will work through in the next steps of our co-design process. The next steps are to share the ideas within our own groups and organizations and to spend a day with someone else working in heritage. For example, Danny Callaghan is going to spend a day at HistoryPin, Rebecca is going to spend a day with Alex Hale at RCAHMS on fieldwork for the Source to Sea project development and Alex is going to work with a colleague at SCRAN.
We know we have yet to settle what we want to achieve through our research – some of us might want to see use develop usable policy, others are very skeptical about any top-down managerialism! It has been these differences which have made our discussions so far so rich – but I think we all know we’ve got some difficult decision of our own to come at our next workshop on 30th April and 1st May.
Questions so far:
What is a heritage decision?
• To do something (heritage as activity)
• To value something (to say something is important)
• To keep something (to fund something, public money) / To keep something instead of something else (to say something is more important than something else)
• To share something (to want others to know about something now or in the future)
• To be make choices with awareness of the past and the future
What makes making decisions about heritage difficult?
• Difficult because of: Institutions, People, Ownership, Personal, Voice, Value/s, Stewardship/Custodianship, Differences/Tensions, Scale, Leadership
And linked questions:
• What is, and who defines: Value/Merit/Significance/Quality? What counts as expertise? What is ‘world’/‘international’ significance?
• What, and who, should be included in decision making? Which people should have more or less say? (What is the legitimate frame for deciding ‘all those affected’ by a decision?)
• What is the effect of the ‘idea of the future’ (stewardship/custodianship) on heritage decision-making? And what is the effect of ‘ideas of the past’?
• What is the effect of making things (including personal things) available to others (the public)? What does this do to ‘ownership’ and ‘voice’?
• How should competing interests (differences/tensions) be resolved?
• What is the relationship between leadership, democracy and good decision- making?
How might these concepts be re-imagined so we can all make better decisions about heritage?
• Scale (as linked to value – world significance)
• Stewardship/Custodianship – therefore, ‘future’
• Scale (linked to who are the consistencies for decision making)
• Is part of this embracing mess and complexity?
How might museums, archives and heritage organisations be reimagined to make better decisions about heritage?
Some things we already got to…
• Deinstitutionalization – gains and loss?
• Will this be different for organizations of different sizes? What might this mean for a national museum? What might this mean for a local group?
• What might leadership look like in this context?
• How is this changing/what possibilities and dangers in the context of the Localism Act and public sector cuts?