CHCFE_24As an invited speaker at the Cultural Heritage Counts for Europe’s concluding conference held on 12 June 15 in Oslo, Norway, Prof. Claire Giraud-Labalte, member of the CHCFE Steering and chair of the ENCATC Thematic Area “Understanding Heritage” shared her reactions to the CHCFE process of mapping and analysing existing evidence of the impact of cultural heritage in Europe over the course of two years and resulting in the CHCFE final publication and recommendations.

Speaking in between the conference’s two panel discussions “Making the Case”, which was intended to give an overview of the CHCFE study and its results, and the second “What implications for evidence-based policy making in Europe?” to open perspectives and future implications for European cultural heritage policy.

What can we take away from this shared experience over these last 2 years? What reflections from this collective project can inspire us? In the brief time allotted to us, I would will do some basic, yet essential reminders and focus on a few points.

 1. The Process is as valuable as the research result

To illustrate my point, let me use a metaphor : Here we are crossing a river on a bridge connecting two banks in a landscape which represents cultural heritage and its complex context.

Whether we are venturing into the unknown or into very familiar territory, it is necessary to agree before starting any project: What is the situation? What is the problem? Who are we? What do we want to observe? With what means? What assets and what constraints?

The topic invites reflection, and subsequently we transform our ideas through research into a built, developed and problematized purpose. This process causes also a changing relationship with the initial question. This means keeping an open mind and not letting oneself be locked into the first working assumptions.

Watching, analyzing “our landscape” requires care to maintain an adequate distance from the subject, not too far, but not too close either. This critical distance, which is constitutive for any researcher, is particularly important to respect in the cultural area that is often synonymous with passion and involvement. Indeed everyone, as a human being, already has a point of view, and prejudices suggesting that our vision is clear, even “natural”.  Of course, this is not the reality.

In the case of CHCfE, which was to map and to bring forth inspiring recommendations, a time to take distance is also needed before moving from one river bank to the other, I mean between the phase of collecting and synthesizing data and the time for action which will exploit these results.

In the end, an overview on the project in needed as well on the process, including some collected feed-backs.

2. Diversity and Disparities to be considered  

First, the research reflects the diversity of European heritage and can been found in the examples recorded.

This diversity also characterizes the Consortium of the “Cultural Heritage Counts for Europe” project and the steering committee that included researchers – juniors and seniors – from various disciplines, responsible for heritage structures or networks, of different nationalities and cultures. Integrated in the process of reflection, this diversity of approach is an add value if given the time required for exchange and maturation of Intercultural dialogue.

The project also shows some differences between East and West as Prof. Purchla mentioned just some minutes ago. This reality was made evident by having two research teams, one from Poland and one from Belgium.

If we shuffle the cards and change our focus, other differences of various kinds as well as disparities would have a chance to emerge, especially in such an international project. Indeed, any heritage research carries with it its own culture, in a given time and a given space. Is this culture internalized? Does a group come to a consensus on heritage? What interpretation is proposed and in what frame of reference? Realities are often different behind even a common vocabulary (heritage, identity, interpretation, holistic approach, governance, participatory process, evaluation, etc.) ; this calls for clarification and an explanation of the concepts used.

Part of the complexity, this polymorphic diversity is thus an asset if we consider it. It would be damaging to European heritage and for policies to be implemented, if it was ignored.

3. From Research to action: promoting a collaborative approach

The findings of the study have inspired for us a range of Recommendations. I think everyone here can see how at least one or more of these recommendations can contribute to their activities and priorities.

For example, as an academic and researcher in a nearby field, member of Encatc – a network for cultural management and policy education – I would like to focus on research and training in the cultural and heritage sector which represents a challenge for Europe.

I wish to speak in favor of applied research development based on a balance between scientific rigor and social utility for the overall well-being of society. In other words, the challenge is to oppose both the radicalism of academic research, sometimes divorced from reality, and the exploitation of research, for political ends.

The objective is to provide policy makers with the analysis of a situation and how to inform their decisions & choices.

Once this option is taken, it should support cooperation between researchers and actors of heritage sector.

We have to join forces. While respecting the specificities and ethics [Aissic] of each, this is to enrich the knowledge of a territory or a problem using with reciprocal exchanges and dialogue.

This means : to inform, to train, to develop a cross-disciplinary approach & a  participatory way :

  • to inform stakeholders (politicians, policy makers, opinion formers, researchers, managers from private or public organizations, civil society, etc.) from the heritage sector and neighboring sectors (culture, environment…) about EU News Culture (communication 2014, statements of Namur)
  • to widely disseminate the studies in understandable terms for a non-specialist audience
  • to widely disseminate relevant research programs on current and emerging issues
  • to enhance training of cross-disciplinary research and / or international groups (building, comparing, evaluating concepts, methods, models, indicators, results)
  • to enhance Life Long Learning in the Heritage sector according to the principles outlined here
  • to promote articulation between territorial levels (regional, national, European) through information, education, and training of all stakeholders
  • to develop cross-disciplinary exchanges between researchers and stakeholders using an holistic approach and in a participatory way

Such experiments conducted in several regions (for example, Regional Consultative Conference on Culture (CRCC) Pays de la Loire, France) are conclusive. They nourish an iterative movement that encourages a more participatory governance in favor of our cultural heritage “that counts for Europe”.