Examining the value and impact of the heritage sector in the UK
There are growing demands for all parts of the public sector to justify their values and impact, reflecting a trend in public administration towards greater accountability and credibility in the allocation of funding. This pressure has increased since the economic crisis, with governments looking to make drastic budget cuts. The heritage sector is particularly vulnerable in this savage new order due to its poor state of preparedness and the inherent difficulties in ascribing value to heritage resources.
This research network, established for a three-year period in the first instance, aims to intervene in these processes by generating data-driven research that critically examines the value and impact of the heritage sector in the UK. This will lead to the creation of high profile research publications and resources for the heritage sector, as well as strengthening the skills base in qualitative and quantitative social research methods at the Institute. The network’s initial activities will focus on the organization of consultation events, focus groups and seminars; these will lead into a second phase of research based on designing, funding and conducting a large-scale national survey of public attitudes towards archaeology and the heritage sector.
While there have been sporadic attempts to provide data to justify or dispute ongoing state funding of archaeology in the UK it is our opinion that the heritage sector is in a poor state to answer this challenge. This weakness stems from two main areas. The first is conceptual: there seems to be little agreement on what heritage and archaeology offers the public, how these benefits can be measured, and how the sector can best communicate them to policy makers and the public. This conceptual problem is best illustrated by the interminable debates surrounding the use of ‘economic’ measures of value in the heritage sector, and the host of ad hoc schemes which heritage organisations have adopted in recent years to evaluate their own projects and concerns.
The second problem is the absence of consistent and reliable data examining public opinions, wants and needs with regard to the heritage sector. DCMS have carried out its annual Taking Part survey since 2005, but data is spread rather thinly across the department’s wide-ranging remit with very little focusing on heritage. While the HLF have produced regular reviews of heritage research data this is principally a monitoring exercise rather than an attempt to instigate problem-oriented research. A more effective dataset would enable researchers to examine and critique a range of alleged impacts and benefits, as well as offering a well of information on the issue of public spending on the heritage sector.
This research network therefore seeks to meet these challenges and in doing so provide valuable theoretical frameworks and data for the archaeology and heritage sector, as well as bringing prestige and an enhanced skills-base to the Institute. The main advantage of such a research objective within an academic department is its ability to ask fundamental questions about the impacts of the heritage sector on the public, and the methods and metrics to measure and demonstrate it, without organisational or political mandates prescribing an approach or hoped-for outcome.
This is a newly-established research network; details of proposed network activities, including seminars, focus groups and consultation events and outputs will be made available in due course. Outputs will be made widely available through open access online publishing. A range of publications in journals across several sectors including archaeology/heritage, museums, cultural policy and cultural economics is envisaged. For example:
- Feedback sessions will also be provided to present the data and research findings to the stakeholders identified in the first stage of research.
- The skills and knowledge of social science research methods may be used as the basis of teaching sessions or training courses for incoming MPhil/PhD students as part of their induction course, as well as constituting a skills-base that staff and students at the Institute of Archaeology can draw upon.