Demonstrating the impact of heritage science, March 2020

NHSF members met in Edinburgh on the 6th of March to discuss the impact strand of the Strategic Framework for Heritage Science in the UK. The meeting aimed to clarify how heritage science can demonstrate impact and who the key audiences are that should be targeted. It also explored what level of shared understanding there is about heritage science’s impact and the methodologies available to assess it.  

The meeting began by considering why it is important to demonstrate heritage science’s impact.  It was felt that this was most usefully understood by asking what would happen if heritage science’s impact was not demonstrated? If that were the case, the meeting considered that:  

  • there would be less funding available, leading to less heritage science work, which would ultimately harm the condition of collections and heritage assets, 
  • heritage science could lose contact with policy makers/ funding councils 
  • there would be less knowledge or public understanding of heritage science 
  • loss of heritage science related posts/ departments/ jobs 
  • skills would be lost as a result of fewer opportunities for practice heritage science. 

Overview of Members' Meeting:  Demonstrable social and economic impact (pdf) - Jack Ridge, National Galleries Scotland

The meeting went through case studies illustrating several methodologies which can be used to demonstrate impact, and the different types of impact, for example, social or economic impact. The methodologies included economic techniques like contingent valuation, revealed preference and travel time, and other techniques such as wellbeing valuation, the ACE toolkit and Heritage Counts. The slides from the case studies can be found below. With all the techniques, collecting statistically robust data for aggregation across the entire heritage science sector will be challenging.  

Methods of Measuring Economic Value and Impact (pdf) - Frank Gribben, Consultant

Demonstrating social and economic impact: Heritage Counts (pdf) - Jen Heathcote, Historic England

Impact in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) (pdf) - Jo Vine and Paola Ricciardi, Fitzwilliam Museum - University of Cambridge Museums

The Research Excellence Framework used in higher education requires Impact Case Studies (ICSs) to be submitted by HEIs.  They must demonstrate measurable change from the application of research findings in the public sphere (beyond the HE research community). The impact working group will explore the REF impact case study template and consider if it can be adapted for use within a disparate, heritage science community. The adapted tool will aim to erode the divide between STEM and arts subjects. A key challenge will be getting the heritage science community to use the tool without the monetary power that research councils have to compel HEIs to carry out REF assessments.  

Future NHSF and forum member actions to build the evidence base of heritage science’s impact identified by the meeting included: 

  • create an evidence baseline, 
  • understand what data collection is already happening - by whom, where, and how, 
  • understand what aspects of ‘impact’ are attributable to heritage science 
  • create consistent metrics for useful year on year comparison 
  • capture heritage science’s impact not only for heritage but for others in the science field and industry e.g. the creative industries, and 
  • identify the key components of an effective impact case study. 

Find out more about this strand of work on the 'Impact' pages of the strategic framework.