This is a collaborative doctoral project funded jointly by the University of Stirling and Historic Environment Scotland (see Partners).

The research is being carried out by Elizabeth Robson with the guidance and support of her supervisory panel (see Project Team).

Aims of the project

This research is seeking to understand how historic environments are valued by people today. The study will trial a range of methods for assessing ‘social values’ at study sites in Scotland. Social values include people’s sense of identity and belonging, their memories, and their associations with particular places. We are interested to find out what sorts of methods are most effective in different contexts, the sorts of knowledge that these methods can generate and how this knowledge can be incorporated into management practices for historic sites. The project aims to provide heritage managers with the tools they need to better understand these social values and incorporate them into heritage management decisions.

Why is this research needed? 

Since the Burra Charter was developed by Australia ICOMOS (1979, with subsequent revisions), social value has become increasingly prominent in international conservation instruments, as well as domestic heritage frameworks in Scotland and the UK. Scotland’s Historic Environment Strategy, Our Place in Time, stresses the importance of connections – often intangible and deeply held – between people and place and the impact of this on how people value built heritage. It also indicates that, increasingly, the outcomes of management decisions should reflect what people value.

However, in spite of the emphasis on social value in policy, there remains a lack of appropriate methods for the assessment of social value in practice. Qualitative social methods, shown to be effective in capturing the dynamic processes of valuing the historic environment, have not been systematically trialled in Scottish/UK heritage management contexts. Likewise, there is little understanding of the effects of institutional cultures and resource constraints on the incorporation of social value into routine conservation management procedures. This project seeks to address these gaps and provide practical guidance on how to assess social value in practice.

What is the expected impact?

This research has the potential for significant impact on both academic understanding and professional practice. Whilst the research context is a national one, the problems that the project addresses are global in scope and the results will be of relevance to international academic debates and heritage management practice.

As each case study concludes, the research findings will be shared with the communities that have participated and with Historic Environment Scotland. Where applicable, the findings will be used to update the Statement of Cultural Significance for the site. These Statements guide conservation and management decisions and are available on the Historic Environment Scotland website.

The findings from all the study sites will be used to develop a heritage practitioner ‘toolkit’, which will be used for training and also be made available online. Adoption of the methodologies will provide heritage organisations with a firmer evidence base to inform policy, guidance and decision‐making at local and national levels.

More broadly, the research will support a more sophisticated understanding of how methods can be combined to evidence the social value of the historic environment; allowing the heritage sector, in Scotland and beyond, to better demonstrate its impact upon society.

It is our intention to publish the research findings in both academic and professional journals. The University of Stirling is committed to making the outputs of research publicly accessible and supports this commitment through our online open access repository (STORRE). Unless funder/publisher requirements prevent us, this research will be publicly disseminated through STORRE. It is possible that there may also be other publications, such as book chapters, and the findings may be reported in general public media. The research will also be presented at relevant conferences and workshops.

Further reading:

The Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Cultural Value Project highlighted a pressing need for further qualitative social research on the value of Arts and Culture, including heritage (see Understanding the Value of Arts and Culture).

Jones, S. & Leech, S. (2015) Valuing the Historic Environment: a critical review of existing approaches to social value. AHRC Cultural Value Report.

Jones, S. (2017) Wrestling with the Social Value of Heritage: Problems,
Dilemmas and Opportunities, Journal of Community Archaeology & Heritage, 4:1, 21-37