ICCROM, ICOMOS and the Critical Global Studies Institute of Sogang University, through the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea, convened in an international conference on Participatory Approaches to World Heritage in Seoul from 19 to 21 March 2024. Speakers from multiple sectors, such as international finance, urban development and heritage conservation organizations, came together with the Advisory Bodies of the World Heritage Committee — ICCROM, ICOMOS and IUCN — to discuss more practical and sustainable ways of ensuring broader participation in the working methodologies of the World Heritage Convention.  

WHL Conference Korea March 2024

The World Heritage Convention has long been a cornerstone of international cooperation for the protection of cultural and natural heritage of Outstanding Universal Value. Beyond its focus on conservation, the Convention also emphasizes the role heritage plays in the lives of communities. This focus on communities has increasingly grown over the last 50 years, with a shift towards people-centered approaches. 

However, despite recognizing the importance of local knowledge and skills, meaningful ways for communities to participate in World Heritage processes remain elusive. This challenge is compounded by a lack of clear definitions and practical guidance for those working with World Heritage. 

Work is needed to analyze the existing literature and practice-based evidence — both in the heritage sector and beyond — to develop a structured and applicable framework. 

To address these issues, an international conference, co-hosted by ICCROM, ICOMOS, the Critical Global Studies Institute of Sogang University, and supported by the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, aimed to provide a platform for discussion and collaboration. The organization of the conference was warmly welcomed by the Director of World Heritage UNESCO, who emphasized the importance of ensuring wider participation for enhanced protection and management of World Heritage properties.  

Defining participation for more inclusive World Heritage 

The conference brought together a wide range of stakeholders in an interdisciplinary approach to foster a richer understanding of participation. Specialists from the World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, UN Habitat and various heritage conservation organizations, such as the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on World Heritage, World Monuments Fund, Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Anaq al-Ard, Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation and Taiwan University, joined representatives from the Advisory Bodies of the World Heritage Committee (ICCROM, ICOMOS and IUCN).  

A key objective of the conference was to achieve greater clarity on terminology. By exploring how "participation" is defined and used across different sectors, both within and outside of heritage, the conference aimed to establish a common ground for future collaboration. 

Building a framework for meaningful engagement 

WHL Conference Korea March 2024

Another crucial focus was to identify the areas of improvement that are most needed within the current system. Based on the analysis of existing literature from within World Heritage and real-world experiences from the heritage sector and beyond, the conference discussed aspects such as stakeholder analysis and engagement, consultation processes, decision-making processes and governance arrangements, addressing multiple communities, and setting up grievance mechanisms. By examining the possible methods for improvement, the discussion proceeded to discuss how the World Heritage Convention could best facilitate more active participation by diverse actors through its operational frameworks. Towards sustainable and practical participation 

The conference cultivated a collaborative environment where innovative solutions were explored. Participants worked together to design practical and sustainable ways to boost participation in World Heritage processes. This collaborative spirit is crucial for ensuring that the diverse voices of communities are heard and valued. 

By bringing together manifold perspectives and fostering collaborative problem-solving, the Participatory Approaches to World Heritage Conference can pave the way for a more inclusive and collaborative future for World Heritage.