Promoting People-Centred Approaches to Conservation: Living Heritage

Living HeritageHeritage has been created by and for people and our world is a better place for the richness that cultural heritage brings. Although individuals and their contribution to cultural heritage is important, it is often more appropriate to work with groups or communities. At heritage places considered to be a ‘living’ part of the community, engagement brings advantages to both the heritage and the community alike.

Communities have capacities and assets that outlast political or professional structures and can complement specialist knowledge and skills. People-centred approaches aim to harness these capacities in order to offer long-term conservation and co-management for the good of the heritage and of the community.

The People-Centred Approach is about addressing a core component of heritage management – the people who are connected to heritage – and ensuring that it is an integral element of conserving that heritage. Many challenges in the conservation and management of heritage are requiring for us to look at issues differently:

  • the need to respect diversity, to improve relationships between heritage and people, and to recognize the living dimensions of heritage;
  • the need to recognize the influence of heritage on the contemporary life of people and how it can improve their quality of life, focusing on both past and present and enhancing the value of cultural products;
  • the need to rethink heritage in its totality without drawing sharp lines between various types (e.g. movable/immovable; tangible/intangible; cultural/natural);
  • the appeal to recognize the custodianship of people for the long-term care of their heritage (with their traditional knowledge systems) and to respect people’s voices in the conservation and management of heritage;
  • the necessity to take into consideration the impact of globalization on living environments, such as historic urban centres and cultural landscapes, as well as the links between heritage and the sustainable development of society.

Building on ICCROM’s Living Heritage Sites Programme

Over the years ICCROM has pioneered approaches that address issues related to how cultural heritage affects and touches many aspects of human life, such as conservation as a cultural decision-making process; conserving the sacred; Living Heritage Sites; assessing values of collections as the basis for conservation decision making, etc. It is now recognized that the importance of heritage does not rest only in its physical materiality, but also in how it is valued and used by the society at large. In particular, the Living Heritage Approach  developed by ICCROM touched on many of the above-mentioned issues and can be considered the foundation for the new paradigm that is the People-Centred Approach, which places the living dimension at the heart of decision-making.

Engaging communities

Engaging communities in conservation and management processes is considered a key component within people-centred approaches: it is about strengthening their ability to participate meaningfully in the process of making conservation and management decisions for themselves and their heritage.

Debate on the subject does exist and involving communities can be a real challenge at many heritage places. However, significant experience has already been gained in some locations, allowing for publications and other tools to be made available in order to share approaches and offer guidance. Despite budget constraints, ICCROM is committed to looking for the financial means to be able to implement activities related to this priority area.

Extending to nature

The theme of People-Centred Approaches to Conservation is one that reaches beyond the cultural heritage sector and the natural heritage sector too is engaging with it: indeed both sectors are working towards a new paradigm shift based on the wellbeing of both people and heritage. Recent work on undertaken by ICCROM, IUCN and other partners has illustrated how there is an underlying rationale in both sectors to reinforce the ‘people’ or ‘community’ factor in their respective discourses. This is part of a broader shift from the care of heritage alone to the pursuit of well-being of both heritage and society as a whole (people and the environment). This work on nature-culture interlinkages has provided an important opportunity to explore and test this premise together and, where appropriate, facilitate a shift in respective management and conservation approaches.

It can be said that more effective management of sites is now understood to include a focus on the collective wellbeing of natural and cultural heritage, as well as that of people. This shift has become a way of overcoming past errors where heritage processes were overly led by experts and unfolded in isolation from the wider concerns of society and the environment. In this context, People-Centered Approaches for the Conservation of Natural and Cultural Heritage (PCA) is a way of providing a theoretical basis to underpin future heritage management practices.

For this reason the PCA Programme has focused on both nature and culture, involving practitioners from both the natural and cultural heritage sectors. Thanks to the specific formulation of the PCA courses, the experiences of participants and resource people are also being pooled to enhance our understanding of future challenges and opportunities.


The long-term goals of the Promoting People-Centred Approaches to Conservation: Living Heritage programme are:

  •  to promote recognition of people as connected to their heritage ensuring they are an integral element in the conservation and management of heritage.
  • to strengthen understanding of the Living Heritage concept and to promote a Living Heritage Approach.
  • to raise awareness of the need to engage communities and the reciprocal benefits that can be gained for both communities and the heritage.
  • to strengthen links between organizations interested in the People-Centred Approach.


  • development and refinement of teaching materials and research into People-Centred Approaches to conservation (ongoing)
  • workshop on ‘Promoting People-Centred Approaches to Conservation: Living Heritage’ (2013)
  • inclusion of Living Heritage and People-Centred Approaches within the course on the Conservation of Built Heritage (ongoing)
  • implementation of a dedicated international course on Engaging Communities (2015)
  • implementation of a regional course on (2016)



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