Cultural heritage narrates our human story. Imagine what our lives would be like without it: our cities without museums and monuments, our families without stories and old photographs. Our heritage is a defining feature of our existence, our sameness and our differences. So why then is it often so difficult to persuade decision-makers that it deserves consideration? When budgets are being allocated and development plans set into motion, heritage is not often a priority.
Part of the problem lies in the difficulties to demonstrate the benefits heritage brings in a way that will resonate with, for example, politicians. Despite the amount of work done over the years to link cultural heritage to socio-economic benefits, we are still lacking evidence in the form of key indicators that tie our sector to employment, revenue and other social outcomes broadly grouped under terms such as “wellbeing” and “quality of life”.
The result is often an uphill struggle for cultural heritage to be recognized as an asset worthy of investment. This is a missed opportunity, as it fails to capitalize on the ways in which cultural heritage can facilitate sustainable development and benefit communities.
In addition to making the case for heritage outside our sector, decisions made within our conservation institutions should also be grounded in evidence, so that priorities, gaps, and opportunities are better identified, trends spotted, and emerging issues recognized in their infancy.
There is a need for wide-scale data that can paint a comprehensive picture of the cultural heritage sector, the benefits heritage brings, and the efforts needed to sustain it. This point was highlighted as a concern by ICCROM’s Member States during its General Assembly in November 2017. Delegates called for greater cooperation to draw together the necessary information to provide an evidence base to enhance visibility and stimulate policy-making and strategic decision-making.
In answer to this request, ICCROM has launched a new project entitled Tracking Trends, as a two-year pilot and preliminary step towards addressing this data gap. The project draws upon work carried out by ICCROM over the past two years to trace current trends in heritage research and training. The project aims to gather strategic data on sector capacity, knowledge production, and emerging issues of concern so as to inform policy and provide evidence for its capacity to contribute to sustainable development.
To launch this new initiative, ICCROM recently organized a first brainstorm meeting from 13-14 February, where a small interdisciplinary group from the fields of cultural heritage, conservation, digital humanities, social sciences, and data science was convened to share their perspectives on the priority questions to be addressed, and how we can use data more strategically to answer them.
Taking the relationship between cultural heritage and sustainable development as a starting point for discussion, the group focused on key parameters for collection, methods for data capture and analysis, and the insights that can be gained.
In the coming weeks, ICCROM will be reaching out to its Member States to launch an appeal for partners interested in working together on this issue, to share the data collected in their countries and help in piecing together an international overview of the heritage sector. Taking Tracking Trends forward will require close partnerships with national bodies, and ICCROM aims to better serve its Member States on this issue.
Damir Dijakovic, Regional Cultural Advisor, UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa, Zimbabwe
Cath Dillon, Consultant and researcher, United Kingdom
Michaela Hanssen, Head of the Monuments and Collections Department, Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands
Bertrand Lavédrine, Centre de Recherche sur la Conservation des Collections, Muséum National d’histoire Naturelle, France
Rosemarie Leone, European Space Agency (ESRIN), Italy
Christian‐Emil Smith Ore, Associate Professor, Department of Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies, University of Oslo, Norway
Jermina Stanojev, Consultant and researcher, Serbia
Chris Stewart, European Space Agency (ESRIN), Italy
Catherine Antomarchi, Paul Arenson, Jennifer Copithorne, Marco Carra, Alison Heritage, Eugene Jo, Theocharis Katrakazis, Webber Ndoro, Daniela Sauer
France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Serbia, United Kingdom