In a rapidly changing world, the role of community engagement has never been more critical for cultural heritage. HERITΛGE’s mission is to empower heritage managers with the skills and knowledge needed to make a difference through community engagement. Our recent three-day workshop equipped 16 heritage professionals from around the world with the tools to engage with their communities, bridge cultural differences, and preserve our shared heritage.
Community engagement is not just a buzzword; it’s the linchpin of heritage preservation. HERITΛGE recognizes that communities are not monolithic entities; they are diverse, dynamic, and rich with unique traditions, perspectives, and values. To truly honor these differences, a cookie-cutter approach won’t suffice. We believe in the power of community-led initiatives and social research to foster engagement that resonates with the specific cultural and social dynamics of each group.
Our recent workshop, held from 27 to 29 October 2023, brought together heritage managers from Africa, North America, Asia, and Europe. These dedicated professionals were not just participants; they were change-makers in the making. Through a combination of lectures, discussions, and hands-on exercises, they delved into the heart of community engagement, exploring methodologies grounded in ethnography and oral history.
Understanding Community Engagement as a Process
One of the key takeaways from the workshop was the profound understanding of community engagement as a dynamic process over time. Participants learned that this approach is not just a strategy but a fundamental aspect of heritage management.
Overcoming Key Challenges
Working with local communities can be challenging, and the workshop equipped our participants with essential knowledge about the primary obstacles they may encounter. With this understanding, they are better prepared to navigate these challenges effectively.
Creating Tailored Engagement Initiatives
The workshop’s focus on understanding the unique traits, requirements, and capacities of different communities was a game-changer. Participants left with the skills to develop engagement initiatives that are specific to each community’s distinct characteristics, needs, and capacities.
Distinguishing Between Communities and Audiences
One of the key lessons learned was the importance of distinguishing between communities and audiences. This insight is invaluable in designing engagement strategies that resonate with each group.
Introduction to Ethnographic Approaches
The workshop introduced participants to ethnographic methodologies, fostering the creation of collaborative research-driven community engagement initiatives. This hands-on experience allowed them to understand the communities they work with on a much deeper level.
Oral History Techniques
Oral history, a powerful tool for eliciting and documenting both tangible and intangible heritage, was another focal point of the workshop. Participants acquired knowledge about the methods and techniques used in oral history, making them proficient in preserving and sharing heritage through storytelling.
A Deeper Appreciation for Heritage
Throughout the workshop, participants gained a profound appreciation for the inherent values associated with heritage. They left with a renewed sense of purpose and a commitment to preserving our cultural and natural treasures.
The journey doesn’t end with the workshop. A follow-up tutorial session is scheduled for 6 November, offering participants the opportunity to seek guidance, ask questions, and receive expert advice on enhancing their final assignments.
Meet the Instructors
The HERITΛGE workshops were led by a team of expert instructors:
At HERITΛGE, as we look to the future, we are excited to see the impact these dedicated professionals will make in their respective regions and the global heritage community.
HERITΛGE also offers an annual summer school in community engagement. Find out more and apply here.
At HERITΛGE we train professionals in the management of heritage sites, independently of project specifics. We have trained more than 1000 individuals and organizations in over 77 countries and are now on course to impact a quarter of global heritage hotspots by 2025.
Our upcoming opportunities include:
This course draws from our long experience with community engagement through heritage and will discuss several examples from our own and others’ work. At HERITΛGE aim to develop a distinct approach to community engagement, based on social (and art) research with community-led initiative.
Heritage Interpretation is a structured approach to non-formal learning, specialized in making visitors’ experience meaningful and unforgettable. In this 3-day course, participants will familiarize themselves with the principles of quality heritage interpretation and will practice how to use interpretation on their own sites.
The key to effective word-based Heritage Interpretation is written text that grabs and holds the reader’s attention. During a 3-day online course, participants will discover and practice a wide range of techniques to engage visitors and master the techniques of interpretive writing.
*There is funding available through the Benefactor Scholarships of the Heritage Management Organizations. The scholarships are available for qualified candidates and cover a large part of the cost, excluding travel and hotel expenses for in-person training.
By Dr. Aris Anagnostopoulos
It is almost a decade since we first had the idea to create a summer school for archaeological ethnography and heritage in the village of Gonies, in Crete. From the beginning, we had two basic ideas in our minds: one, that this would not be simply a school transferred into a remote place, but it would be a way to teach by doing research and by engaging with local populations. The other was that we had to find a way to involve locals as experts in their own heritage in the process. It was a very instructive experience for all of us, not only for its successes, but also because it made us think again about the way we work and the way we think about heritage, collaboration, and local communities in a more global way.
In this new version of our Engaging Communities in Cultural Heritage summer school, we have moved to an entirely different setting, the island of Paros, in close collaboration with a grassroots festival, the Paros Festival. Besides the change of location, the form of the summer school itself has changed towards a more hybrid form. Faced with the pandemic and lockdowns, we took the whole process online, but at the same time sought to keep a close link with the locality, even remotely.
We realized that remote work, especially with increased online presence of local places, may bring unexpected insights to the whole process of research and engagement. We already had evidence that the online presence of heritage projects increases their accountability and can serve as a research and engagement field of its own. At the same time, online work may bring together participants from a wide variety of backgrounds and contexts. This is important to the way we approach community engagement in heritage, as something that does not follow a blueprint or a set of ready-made techniques, but as an open-ended response to the needs and capacities of local places, groups, and stakeholders. At the same time, however, we have had to deal with the limitations of online work, especially structural inequalities in access and infrastructure. While we have found ways around this, such as the development of asynchronous modules that people can access in their own time, we are now geared towards creating hybrid forms for our workshops, that combine physical presence and online components, as a way to counter these inequalities.
Dr. Aris Anagnostopoulos is an Head of Community Engagment at HERITΛGE , Honorary Lecturer at University of Kent and Researcher for the Ottoman Heritages project .
Community Engagement Summer School page: https://heritagemanagement.org/training/summer-schools/engagingcommunities/