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14.30  Sustaining Community-Led Heritage Stewardship: Co-Creating a Community-Sourcing Platform for Heritage Management

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Following repeated cuts to public funding in the United Kingdom, a growing number of local councils are without heritage conservation officers, leaving some councils unprepared to fulfill their statutory requirement to ensure that development is sensitive to the historic environment. In response to reduced availability of professional heritage expertise, and in anticipation of further budgetary cuts, the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) is establishing a series of projects to increase the capacity of community groups to take responsibility for stewarding local heritage. Seen within the broader critical heritage discourse of democratization and the empowerment of non-professionals in heritage management and conservation processes, the voids left by professional redundancies are both a threat and an opportunity. The reduced professional presence both necessitates and facilitates deeper non-professional involvement with heritage stewardship, whilst simultaneously highlighting a range of philosophical and pragmatic issues: How can the contributions of professional and non-professional knowledge be maximized? How can a national organization such as the CBA best facilitate and sustain community-led initiatives? Can, and should, community-led approaches be expected to address the identified needs of both professional and non-professional communities? How will the changing roles of heritage stewardship change people?  

Despite recent calls for alternative approaches in publications, the authorized heritage discourse  of “objective” and “scientific” expert assessments holds considerable sway over national heritage legislation and heritage management decision-making processes in the UK. In this regard, the reduced professional heritage capacity in local authorities could create more room for non-professional voices and perspectives. The crucial question that emerges is how approaches to shared authority can most effectively be implemented in practice, enabling and empowering non-professionals without neutralizing professional expertise. As the national organization for public interest in archaeology, with a network of existing local heritage interest groups, the CBA is strategically placed to influence this changing landscape of heritage stewardship.  

One of the proposed means by which the CBA hopes to encourage and facilitate sustained community-led stewardship of heritage is the development of an interactive digital platform. In light of the increased financial pressures placed on the CBA, co-creation and user-maintenance are central strategies for sustaining platform use and maximizing utility, partnered with targeted initiatives for increasing digital literacy. A central feature of the platform under development is crowd- or community-sourcing interpretations of heritage and its significance, following principles of best practice, to facilitate community-authored statements of significance for the formulation of stewardship goals and strategies. By embedding interactive guides to access sources of funding and professional expertise, in addition to drawing on the networking capabilities of the social Web to encourage the sharing of experiences and expertise between community groups, the digital platform is intended to both map community stewardship projects in the UK and serve as a resource for sustaining communities of heritage stewardship.  

Drawing on lessons learned from developing and implementing a pilot platform, this paper will problematize the popular notion that digital approaches to heritage can accomplish more with less, and the expectation that volunteer communities can (or should) be expected to maintain professional priorities when taking on formerly professional responsibilities. Finally, the experiences of non-professionals engaged in developing the pilot platform will be shared, highlighting how changing roles in heritage stewardship can change people.  

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