Developing an impact toolkit for heritage science

The April Members' Meeting brought members together to discuss how to develop a toolkit to measure the impact of heritage science.

The workshop on 26th April provided an overview of activity by the NHSF Impact Working Group to address the 'Demonstrable Social and Economic Impact' theme of the Strategic Framework for Heritage Science in the UK. The group has looked at different ways of defining impact as well as the different types of value generated by heritage science activity (e.g. research or application of research) and the range of beneficiaries or audiences.

The presentation by the group's co-convenors, Jacqueline Ridge (National Galleries of Scotland) and Bronwyn Ormsby (Tate) captured the relationship between the Research working group's focus on identifying what societal challenges heritage science connects to, and the Impact working group's challenge of how to demonstrate and measure those connections. It built on previous work on why demonstrating benefit is important and then drew attention a number of different methods of defining and measuring impact from government, the academic sector, heritage sector and others.

The group's principal findings were that a toolkit should:

  • Use language that aligns to other national or international performance and impact system methodologies
  • Support the demonstration of impact within organisations as well as to external audiences
  • Enable the heritage science sector to speak to other sectors
  • Consider the feasibility of a standard set of impact or benefit parameteres
  • Allow the aggregation of data on impact
  • Recognise the connection between impact and public engagement
  • Draw on existing methodologies rather than build something new 

Presentation: Research on developing a toolkit to measure the impact of heritage science (pdf)

Attendees of the Member Meeting then heard from Adala Leeson (Historic England) on work led by DCMS to develop a Culture & Heritage Capital approach to considering the value of culture and heritage to society.

Presentation: Culture and Heritage Capital (pdf)

The final presentation was given by Caroline Peach, who talked through a paper that had been circulated to attendees to provide background to the four initial recommendations on how a framework for measuring the impact of heritage science could be approached as part of a wider toolkit. These four recommendations were then the subject of discussion by the breakout groups.

Presentation: Initial recommendations on how to develop a framework for assessing impact

Recommendation 1: Defining what we are trying to capture when we talk about assessing the impact of heritage science

Capturing the impact of heritage science involves demonstrating the contribution that the application of science and technology to understanding heritage, the management of heritage and engagement with heritage makes to: society, the economy and new knowledge.

Recommendation 2: Clarifying how we should approach the development of a toolkit

An impact toolkit should be developed by NHSF, in consultation with and for the benefit of the wider heritage science community, that adapts and re-uses existing methods of assessing impact as far as possible.

Recommendation 3: Which existing methodologies offer the best potential for adaptation and re-use

The following three methods could be adapted to form part of the heritage science impact toolkit

  • ODI REF impact toolkit (for planning)
  • Science Foundation Ireland matrix (to map activity/projects to a range of values e.g. societal challenges)
  • DCMS Culture and Heritage Capital Framework (emerging methodology for assessing economic value)

Recommendation 4: How to involve the wider sector in the development process

NHSF convenes a series of workshops or roundtables to consult the heritage science community on the development of an impact framework (identification of indicators and metrics) to form part of the toolkit.

Key points from group discussions:

The principal of recommendation one is agreed but the text is too wordy. Reconsider wording with reference to natural capital model. Does 'new knowledge' adequately convey 'research'?

Updated July 2021: Capturing the impact of heritage science involves demonstrating how the application of science and technology contributes to our management and understanding of heritage, and the value it adds to society, the economy and wider knowledge.

Recommendation two - agree that the heritage science community is broader than the heritage sector and the community for consultation should include researchers, practitioners and end-users (including audiences). Query - can the toolkit be scalable and adapt to different contexts and audiences?

Recommendation three - the three suggested methodologies each have strengths and weaknesses. NHSF could collate and host case studies and map them to the SFI matrix (or similar framework). Question - where are the gaps? what is not covered by these methods that is needed?

Recommendation four - mixed views on the best approach. Could either take a consultation approach to toolkit design (i.e. definition of content; impact categories etc.) or, take a service design approach that tests a developed toolkit and structure and engages practitioners in its use.

Conclusion: This is a complex piece of work and not necessarily quick. Forum members have relevant knowledge and experience to contribute to the development of the toolkit and impact indicators, but the work would benefit from being led by a consultant or outsourced to maintain momentum. Funding will need to be raised for this to happen.