Bringing the Tools of Consensus Building to Sustainable Heritage Management Practice

Over the past three and a half years, CBI has served as consultant to the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) on a GCI project to improve heritage professionals’ knowledge and skills in constructively engaging stakeholders around the sustainable management of cultural heritage places.  

Decision making around conserving, preserving, and managing cultural heritage sites is a challenging endeavor due, in no small part, to the broad range of stakeholders that are often involved: governmental authorities, public and private sector actors, scientists and historians, ethnic or cultural groups, citizen neighbors, visitors, and many others. To further complicate the process, these stakeholders may hold very different interests, values, and priorities, and may exist in a context of overlapping management mandates and responsibilities. In this complex environment, heritage practitioners need solid skills and practical, proven strategies for negotiation, consensus building, and conflict resolution to ultimately reach lasting agreements. 

Through their long-standing work around the values and significance of cultural places, the Getty Conservation Institute has seen firsthand “the necessity for heritage practitioners to engage with the wide range of stakeholders and other authorities who attach importance to heritage places” in order to “ensure a shared understanding of the collective values of a place and help produce better conservation outcomes" (www.getty.edu). However, consensus building and conflict resolution skills have not typically been included in educational and training programs for heritage conservation and management, and little if any written guidance has been published on this topic to date. In an effort to begin to fill this unmet need, in 2009, GCI launched their Heritage Values, Stakeholders and Consensus Building project, utilizing the expertise of the Consensus Building Institute.

In the culmination of the first phase of this initiative, GCI – in partnership with the Department of Antiquities of Jordan – recently published new teaching materials on stakeholder engagement in heritage place management, co-authored by CBI Senior Associate Stacie Nicole Smith. A Didactic Case Study of Jarash Archaeological Site, Jordan: Stakeholders and Heritage Values in Site Management, based on the archaeological site of Jarash, Jordan, is designed to help heritage professionals recognize the importance of stakeholders and their values to effective site management, and to teach them skills for identifying stakeholders, eliciting their values and interests, and integrating these into management decision-making.

The first volume of the two-part Case Study focuses on Jarash’s history, archeology, configuration, and management context, offering four activities for engaging stakeholders in order to understand the site’s value and guide decisions on several critical issues in the site’s current management. The second volume contains teaching guides, worksheets, and sample answers, to assist instructors in implementing the activities. The materials are available for download.

Smith worked with the GCI and the Jordanian Department of Antiquities to create the Case Study, participating in brainstorming sessions, developing an interview protocol, and designing the Case Study didactic activities. Smith also led individual and group interviews with forty-two stakeholders, from the Director-General of the Department of Antiquities, to scientists and academics from international archaeological missions, to the vendors selling handicrafts from stalls on the site.

The range of stakeholder interviews and concerns highlighted the complexity of the management context of this site: the economic development challenges faced by the populous modern city of Jarash, located just beyond the walls of the DoA-managed heritage site, yet generally cut off from the tourism benefits of the site; the tensions between ensuring an exciting and fulfilling visitor experience while conforming to international principles calling for minimal physical intervention to safeguard historical authenticity; and the questions about which eras and cultures of history to showcase in a site that was populated by numerous cultures over thousands of years.

A Didactic Case Study of Jarash Archaeological Site, Jordan: Stakeholders and Heritage Values in Site Management powerfully demonstrates the potential for applying the techniques of conflict resolution to the field of cultural heritage management. It is the first step in a broader effort by the Getty Conservation Institute and CBI to bring the tools of consensus building to the sustainable conservation and preservation of cultural resources.

CBI Case Study: Bringing the Tools of Consensus Building to Sustainable Heritage Management Practice

For more information on this project, contact Stacie Nicole Smith.