UNESCO report: UK heritage sector ‘world-leading’ on innovation and international development

Article: David Styles | Image: © Paul Basu

The UK’s National Commission for UNESCO has published a report which details how the nation’s cultural heritage sector is leading the world in terms of both innovation and international development.

The commitment of the outgoing UK government to help utilise heritage expertise as a way to build international development opportunities is also referenced in the report.

Will the new incumbents of the departments for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy continue is this vein?

A new report from UK’s National Commission for UNESCO (UKNC) has described British cultural heritage innovation, undertaken in partnership with developing countries, as having created “exceptional outcomes” and “impact well beyond the cultural field”.

Sizeable contributions to the UK Government’s international development objectives and the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals are also referenced in the report. Developing new technologies such as prototype sensors, applying technologies including 3D documentation and imaging, along with cultural heritage management in conflict zones are cited as particularly strong examples of such work.

Findings were not all focused on the positives, however. Cultural Heritage Innovation: Opportunities for international development also points to significant scope for the UK’s heritage expertise to make a greater contribution. Assessing areas in need of improvement, recommendations (below) are geared towards finding and implementing better ways to benefit cultural heritage assets and to advance the economic and social welfare of ODA countries.

Rani Ki Vav UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Centre for Digital Documentation and Visualisation LLP - a partnership between Historic Environment Scotland and The Glasgow School of Art.

The report was the UKNC response to an invitation from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to develop a high-level overview of innovative practices in cultural heritage being spearheaded by UK organisations.

Chris Skidmore MP, former UK Minister Of State For Universities, Science, Research And Innovation, stated: “The strengths that this report raises show how a wide a range of sectors and communities can contribute to the realisation of the UK’s Industrial Strategy.”

The outgoing UK Government, of which Skidmore was a part, identified building partnerships between researchers in the UK and researchers, policymakers, the private sector and development initiatives further afield as critical to delivering its international development objectives.

Whether or not the newly appointed ministers ushered in by the Boris Johnson premiership will look to build on this work remains to be seen. If the report is to be believed, Nicky Morgan MP and Andrea Leadsom MP, the new Culture and Business secretaries respectively, cannot say they have inherited anything other than a burgeoning sector.

The report’s recommendations

1 – Government departments and funding bodies should raise the profile and promote the value of cultural heritage in international development.

2 – Funding bodies should commission – possibly collaboratively – more research to gather evidence of the impact of cultural heritage projects as a driver and enabler of development. This could include longitudinal data to demonstrate long-term benefits.

3 – Britain is GREAT campaign and The British Council, and other diplomatic networks should work together to profile innovative heritage projects that could be applied in ODA eligible countries.

4 – Governments, culture and heritage agencies and funders should signpost more strongly funding opportunities to increase and engage a wider range of heritage bodies.

5 – To promote inclusive growth, funders should consider offering support before and during the application process.

6 – The UK Government’s Cultural Protection Fund should be continued and developed further, beyond 2020.

7 – In drawing up funding criteria, funding bodies should communicate the value of interdisciplinary research and delivery.

8 – To maximise opportunities for researchers and staff in ODA eligible countries, funding bodies should draw up criteria which are appropriate to ODA-country research contexts.

9 – Education providers should recognise and promote the need for emergency and post-disaster heritage training.

10 – FCO, British Council and UNESCO in-country offices should facilitate and broker networks and contacts.

11 – Governments should facilitate visa applications and other logistical issues, especially preceding and during themed international ‘years’.

12 – All funding bodies should require that outputs from projects are made public and promoted in the UK and ODA eligible countries in order to share knowledge and maximise impact.

13 – Project sponsors should ensure that maximum value is obtained from individual projects by sharing policies and training with other countries.

14 – All funding bodies should require long term digital storage and data management as a condition of grant.

15 – All funding bodies should require adequate provision for translation and dissemination where appropriate as a condition of grant.

The report was penned by Independent Heritage Expert Kate Pugh OBE and Helen Maclagan OBE, Non-Executive Director and Vice-Chair of the UK National Commission for UNESCO. Maclagan describes the UK’s cultural heritage sector as “enormously diverse, innovative and active”, while co-author Pugh claims to the “exceptional levels of research and international delivery are the result of past investment in higher education and professional development”.