Cultural Heritage Counts for Europe provides for the first time a comprehensible and comparative view on the value and relevance of Europe’s heritage. The aim is to produce a credible basis for policy recommendations that reflect an integrated and holistic approach towards the increased importance of heritage in today’s society. In 2014 the project started to map existing evidence on the multiple benefits of cultural heritage.

This is no doubt an ambitious and monumental task to gather existing data, research, case studies, publications, projects and other material that demonstrate heritage’s social, economic, cultural and environmental impacts in Europe. Led by two research teams within the project consortium, Raymond Lemaire International Centre for Conservation (RLICC) at KU Leuven in Belgium and the International Cultural Centre (ICC) in Krakow, Poland, the collection phase has been nourished by extensive desk research, two surveys and the help of cultural heritage experts in 11 countries. Furthermore, the consortium has reached out to heritage professionals, academics, researchers and stakeholders across Europe and beyond for their knowledge of material that can make an important contribution to this comprehensible and comparative overview.

From the start, the aim has been to gather evidence from all 28 EU Member States as well as interesting examples and evidence from around the world. Aware that this would be a challenge two main issues have arisen posing a challenge to the the collection process: language and a lack of data or evidence. How do the project’s research teams address these issues or how can they be explained?

Despite efforts to be as linguistically inclusive as possible, the fact remains that until now much of the collected evidence on cultural heritage’s impact has been written in English. This over representation is twofold. First, Anglo-Saxon literature is widely known in Europe. On one hand, this is because research on the impact of cultural heritage simply has a longer tradition in the United Kingdom than in other parts of Europe. On the other hand, in many Central and Eastern European countries English is a lingua franca in contemporary humanities and sciences. This reality also influences many researchers to publish in English to give their work greater visibility in Europe and beyond. Consequently, literature not produced in English may be overlooked if a translation is not readily available – a reality the research team in Poland has witnessed.

The issue of language is a sensitive one in Europe and efforts have been made within the project’s framework to respect Europe’s rich linguistic diversity. The project has the object to be as inclusive as possible. In addition to the six languages spoken between the two research teams, 12 cultural heritage experts have been invited to contribute to the collection of existing research. Their knowledge and language skills allow the project consortium to go beyond its limitations to be more resourceful. These experts have been brought in from in Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

The other issue presenting a challenge for the research teams in Belgium and Poland has been a lack of data or evidence, both in terms of geographic coverage and the types of heritage impacts studied. The long tradition in the United Kingdom of collecting, studying and researching the impacts of cultural heritage explains why the two research teams have quickly assembled a large quantity of UK studies far outreaching the quantity of studies collected from other European countries.

The reason for the lack of data at least in Central and Eastern Europe can be explain to some extent by the legacy of the previous political system, where everything, including heritage was state-owned. In the absence of a free market economy there was no need to compete for funding, there was not a need for a lobby to advocate for heritage funding. Without the demand for evidence from policy makers, there was little incentive to invest time, money and human resources to measure, analyse or research the impacts of cultural heritage. In the majority of cases the investment itself, e.g. regeneration or modernisation of a building, was the end of the project. Funding for activities (cultural, community outreach, audience development, etc.) was not part of the investment package. Also for many years the idea of speaking about the economics of culture and cultural heritage was relatively taboo in the cultural sector and in society at large. Using culture for solving social or economic problems was deemed to undermine and trivialise the importance of CULTURE. If research was taking place in this political and social context, it shows how the heritage managers and/or authorities of the time were progressive in their thinking.

While inconsistencies in coverage were to be expected, the following countries have been underrepresented to date in the evidence collection: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Malta. Yet, the two research teams are confident there is research on the multiple benefits of cultural heritage exists in these countries, but it has been difficult to collect so far. As the project’s data collection phase is ongoing evidence of existing research, case studies, publications, projects and other material from these countries are welcome to help counter the imbalance.


Note: The exact values for each data point (impact domain) add up to more than 100% because several of the collected studies address more than one impact domain

The researchers have also cited a strong gravitation to study cultural heritage’s economic impact which was not unexpected. Policy makers, managers, funders and stakeholders want to know how cultural heritage immediately stimulates the economy, growth and employment. While not as popular, but still well represented in the data collection is evidence of heritage’s social, cultural and environmental impact. Emerging sub-domains are filling in the gaps and include cultural heritage’s historic, touristic, and educational value, as well as its role in sense of place and memory, and its contribution to well-being and quality of life.

Although the data collection phase will be ongoing, RLICC and ICC are now concentrating on mapping and analysing the material collected in order to define and elaborate the complex relationships of heritage’s many benefits. The result will be a cultural heritage impact matrix to present in detail the potential of cultural heritage and its intersecting influences across all aspects of society.

With the aim to present solid and persuasive arguments for convincing policy and decision makers on the impact and multiple benefits of investing in European heritage, the final project report will be published in June 2015. It will include a summary of the project findings, the cultural heritage matrix, case studies as well as policy recommendations and suggestions for further research needs.