Recommendations on Cultural Heritage impact assessment - Towards a future shared action plan across Europe

Considering the lack of shared standards for the holistic impact assessment in CH, the main objective of the SoPHIA project was to build the SoPHIA impact assessment model for use prior, during and after public-funded interventions in urban heritage contexts and furthermore to enable mainstreaming the insights gained by drawing policy briefs with recommendations to support the EU’s future action for implementing and disseminating a shared standard for holistic impact assessment, as well as drawing guidelines for operational programmes and public policies and an action plan on the EU future action regarding operational programmes and public policies, and a research agenda based on the needs identified. The policy aspect is of vital importance for the overall implementation of the new SoPHIA model of holistic impact assessment. The governing tools or policy instruments connect policy formulation and policy implementation, which means that a new model of holistic impact assessment in the domain of CH should be recognized as a method by which the policy on CH or its change will be carried through.

In the scope of SoPHIA project, the argumentative support structure for the introduction of the new model was provided (along with the methodology and empirical research backing the SoPHIA model), through four policy briefs. The purpose of the briefs was to tackle topics that are relevant for: a) reasoning and/or advocating policy change in CH impact assessment; and b) informing and directing the formulation and implementation of the model as a new governing tool. To this end, the following topics that partake in the discourse and practice of sustainable development and consider a long-term perspective in planning, governing and managing CH were addressed through the briefs:

  • Transformational strategies for CH: resilience, sustainability, and green management.
  • CH and social inclusion: the importance of citizen ́s participation.
  • The relevance of data in CH impact assessment.
  • CH and education: new skills for heritage professionals.

The analysis presented in the briefs is diverse in the thematic range with many similar issues that are detected in all four of them. One of those issues are discrepancies between the policy rhetoric and practice in the sense that the policies are in place on a declarative level but are indiscernible on the levels of implementation i.e., practice. Thus, SoPHIA Policy briefs bring conclusions that are formatted into recommendations for policy formulation, adaptation and change. The identification of the policy recommendations aims to determine specific areas of policy interventions that are needed for the formulation and implementation of the new holistic IA model. Such a model needs to be considered not as a solitary policy instrument but rather as a multi and intersectoral policy instrument. To this end, policy transfer, coordination and convergence are fundamental not only for successful implementation and positive effects of the model but also for achieving a wider spread of multi-stakeholder governance.

This links to another point in the policy recommendations which is the importance of citizens’ participation through which citizens’ will be able to exercise their rights and access to CH as a common and shared resource. Citizens’ participation and local knowledge are a path towards more sustainable forms of environmental behaviour and care for nature and CH seeks stronger structures and networks of education along with higher investments and regard for research. All readings, considerations, and subsequent application or use of policy briefs should take note of the profound differences in the contexts and topics that briefs address. Therefore, the proposed policy briefs, the analytical arguments and recommendations behind them should be accepted as negotiable, open-ended guidelines for calibration of new policies and attuning of the old (existing) ones.

In order to foster the policy aspect that is of vital importance for the overall implementation of the new SoPHIA model, Guidelines for a future EU action plan have also been elaborated. So far, within the EU, the focus of evaluations have been on formal accountability of projects. Due to the lack of comprehensive heritage impact assessment models there was no real possibility to evaluate the quality of interventions or poor implementation of the existing ones. To assess impacts related to interventions on cultural heritage, a more advanced and coherent model is suggested. The aim of the guidelines was to provide directions to EU policymakers regarding heritage impact assessment and to ensure and monitor the quality of heritage interventions to be funded under the operational programmes. Recommendations are to be possibly introduced in future operational programmes (consequently also recommendations for public policies at the Member States’ national levels) and may also serve cultural heritage managers in planning the expected impacts of heritage intervention as well as in adjusting the intervention accordingly.

The last policy related outreach of the SoPHIA project concerns Future directions of research . The future need and research agenda focuses on the need to launch further paths of research to make the SoPHIA model concretely applicable in various contexts and propose it as a tool capable of offering an answer to the emerging challenges of our society. The research results point to three future directions of research that can be outlined. The first direction puts forward the need to deepen the applicability of the model by providing for an extensive experimentation in cultural organizations. The second research direction seeks to explore the specificities of the impact assessment of investments in the CH sector with reference to the allocation of funds deriving from the Next Generation EU (NGEU) plan, as well as challenges proposed by the New EU Bauhaus (NEB) initiative. Lastly, the third research direction aims to delve into the potential of SoPHIA model for institutional investors who are increasingly interested in investments that generate positive measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return. Indeed, the financial market may be interested in investing in the CH sector, since the related impacts may generate positive direct and indirect effects to society and could be a lever for the achievement of sustainable development goals as underlined by the UNESCO Agenda 2030 for Culture.

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