Solving problems through scientific inquiry is one of the bedrocks of cultural heritage conservation. Heritage conservation science is a well-established field, nevertheless, to remain relevant to current and future priorities it is necessary periodically to examine established approaches, especially in the ways conservation science operates and connects within the heritage sector and beyond.
In October 2013, ICCROM together with a consortium of 15 institutional partners from 14 countries organised an international think tank to critically reflect on the current role and future directions of science in the field of cultural heritage conservation: The ICCROM Forum 2013 on Conservation Science. This think tank brought together 80 professionals from diverse disciplines and contexts within the heritage sector to critically reflect on the current role of science in the field of cultural heritage conservation, and to set key priorities for a more impactful future.
The topics discussed at the Forum centered on three main aspects: the role of science within the cultural heritage sector, its contribution to wider society, and future strategic directions for conservation science.
An outline of the Forum format, themes and discussion topics is given below.
Each day started in plenary, with a single keynote speaker drawn from outside cultural heritage conservation to provide inspiration and fresh perspectives.
Following this, the meeting broke into small discussion groups each focusing on a particular thematic. At each discussion table, one group member presented a case-study paper related to the group topic, to initiate and stimulate the discussions.
On the third and final day of the Forum, discussion groups pulled together the findings of the first two days to arrive at a series of key recommendations for the field.
The topics discussed at the Forum centered on three main aspects: the role of science within the cultural heritage sector, its contribution to wider society, and future strategic directions for conservation science. A brief description of each theme and corresponding discussion topics is given below.
Theme 1: CONNECTING IN
How can science connect with and be of greater benefit to conservation practice?
“…strategies should be developed in collaboration with conservation practitioners, and used to promote creative research partnerships, undertake needs assessments, improve methods, and optimize access and dissemination of scientific knowledge…”
Brokerhof, A. 2015. How can science connect with and contribute to conservation? Recommendations and reflections. Studies in Conservation, 60 S2: 7-13
The primary purpose of conservation science is to support the work of other heritage professionals in caring for heritage and communicating its values. The relevance and effectiveness of conservation science are therefore determined by how closely it aligns itself to the needs of its immediate end users, and how well it engages and communicates with them.
Needs and priorities change, and for conservation science to remain relevant it must – like any other science sector – be agile enough to respond. This requires not only good needs assessment, planning and strategy development, but also professionals who are willing and able to adapt their skill sets to changing requirements, and collaborate closely with end users. Moreover, to be effective, the knowledge, tools and know how generated through such collaborative research need to be disseminated in ways that facilitate uptake in conservation management and practice.
Theme 2: CONNECTING OUT
How can conservation science connect with and contribute to wider societal priorities?
“It may be regarded as naive to think that conservation science can contribute to solving global problems, but, from the perspective of the significance of many small initiatives, conservation science should, and must, actively contribute to this work in any way it can”
Lagnesjö, G. 2015. Shifting the focus to people: Global societal priorities and the contribution made by conservation science. Studies in Conservation, 60 S2: 14-19
Connecting out to address broader societal challenges is a high priority in many fields, and today professional sectors are increasingly rethinking the ways in which they engage with the rest of society. In the field of conservation science, more often than not, attention is centred on its role to enhance the preservation of heritage assets. To be relevant and impactful, however, the sector’s focus needs to shift towards its greater goal which is to enhance the benefit it delivers to society.
Conservation science has a positive contribution to make through enhancing people’s understanding, enjoyment and engagement with heritage.
Also, assuming a responsibility to contribute economic, environmental and social sustainability, is not only ethical, but also pragmatic – considering that a large part of the conservation sector is publicly funded.
Theme 3: LOOKING AHEAD
How can we build an integrated and impactful future for conservation science?
“We need to become more solution orientated, and more strategic, and provide evidence of the benefits conservation science brings to society.”
Recommendation from the ICCROM Forum 2013
Building upon the outcomes of the previous thematic discussions, the concluding theme aimed to synthesize the findings and make strategic recommendations for the sector. These focus on enhancing the integration, relevance, and impact of the conservation science within the cultural heritage conservation sector, and its capacity to deliver wider societal benefit.
The Forum recommendations centred around the common concern of responsibility, in terms of the ability of the sector to provide benefit through relevant research and innovation, and also being seen as doing so in order to leverage support.
Looking ahead to creating a more impactful future for conservation science, the Forum concluded that focus should shift towards setting strategic priorities, promoting engagement and dialogue with stakeholders beyond the sector (e.g. policy makers and the public), as well as strengthening the role of specific actors within the sector (e.g. conservation organizations and educational institutions) to carry this forward.