Heritage Public Policy Engagement

By E. Keats Webb

In November 2015 the Heritage Consortium AHRC Centre for Doctoral Training and the EPSRC SEAHA Centre for Doctoral Training organised a training workshop on heritage public policy engagement.

In preparing for the training, I came across an article about research policy and cultural heritage imaging that provided a new perspective for me on the relevance of public policy and imaging research (Evans 2006). Evans argues that the imaging techniques and technologies available at heritage institutions are a result of the funding received for research through public policy. “Museums, memory institutions and heritage organisations are dependent on research policy decisions, which underpin both the development of basic imaging, knowledge, network and display technologies as well as their applications for cultural purposes” (p549). While heritage institutions like museums may be reliant on research and development, it is also essential for the research efforts to maintain the support from the museums and wider cultural community in a mutually supportive way.

The complexity of the heritage sector provides various levels of public policy engagement to consider from the top with the European Commission and the European Union to UK National governments, international and national regulatory organizations like UNESCO, and the organizations that directly manage heritage, local authorities and professional associations. Public policy engagement can start within an institution and amongst professionals, but the training in November focused on engaging with parliament and government.

The objectives of the training included increasing the awareness about the importance of public policy engagement, providing requisite knowledge about the frameworks for heritage-relevant public policy regulation and governance, aiding with the identification of engagement needs and strategic planning and facilitating engagement with experts and policy makers. The training was divided into sessions that included discussion, presentations, and structured conversations with public policy experts and policy makers including May Cassar, Ruth Fox, and Lord Norton of Louth.

May Cassar, Director of the University College London Institute for Sustainable Heritage and Director of SEAHA CDT, outlined her public policy engagement trajectory since 2004 to establish the emerging field of heritage science as a case study. Ruth Fox, Director and Head of Research of the Hansard Society, works closely with policy makers and parliament and provided insights to better engage with policy makers. Lastly Lord Norton of Louth, known as UK’s greatest living expert on Parliament, provided the prospective of a policy maker and how to access government and parliament.

Preparation activities before the training and the first session focused on how the participants’ research was important and relevant to public policy. The participant group involved several humanities projects including components about how the roles of museums are defined, the accessibility to heritage institutions to disabled persons, and how archives are managed and the potential of scientific research from archives. In addition to the humanities research there were a couple of scientific projects looking at the measurement and documentation of heritage materials for preservation and monitoring. With both the humanities and scientific research, there was a need to reference past examples of public policy to guide engagement strategies.

The initial stages of planning a research project, especially for a young researcher, can focus on preliminary approvals and processes, literature reviews, creating timelines, and other similar logistical components. A common thought may be that public policy engagement is not an initial priority of the planning stage especially if it is listed in the timeline towards the end of a project as part of the impact of the research. However, the training encouraged us to think about this engagement earlier reflecting on the relevance and importance of our research to public policy or vice versa and starting to form an engagement strategy about who and how to engage with policy makers. Ruth Fox informed us that there is an interest and appetite for research amongst policy makers, but there is a general feeling that the research is inaccessible through long documents with technical language and jargon. May Cassar encouraged us to have the evidence in place for any moment, tailor the message to your audience, be succinct, and see the possibilities even in the downfalls. Lord Norton provided details of how to access policy makers by specifically targeting your message to them by knowing their interests through tracking Parliamentary debates (Hansard Record on the Parliamentary website), following All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPG), and looking at the list of past, present, and future Inquiries for Select Committees and the evidence submitted (past, present and future).

As young researchers in the emerging field of heritage science, it is important to consider the relevance of public policy in our research and the impact that our research can have on public policy. We need to start building our relationships early by going to events, setting up meetings, and making new connections; to address the ‘appetite’ of policy makers for research by making our research more accessible through clear language, a focused message, and brevity; and to keep ourselves informed about public policy and heritage governance through.


Evans, Tom. 2006. “Research Policy and Directions.” In: MacDonald, Lindsay (ed.). Digital Heritage: Applying Digital Imaging to Cultural Heritage. Oxford: Taylor & Francis Ltd., pp. 549-574.


Additional Links and Information:

Hansard Record on Parliament Website

Mind the Gap: Rigour and Relevance in Heritage Science Research

National Heritage Science Strategy

National Heritage Science Forum: Policy Consultation

UK Parliament

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