What is meant by Values-based Management?

This is an article I am working on with the hopes of having it appear in print.  Please feel free to offer any comments.  I am looking to add something regarding the constant change in values; one generations values will often be dramatically different from the next.

Looking through the documents and reading relating to this topic, I find it interesting that, while so many start with definitions of critical terms, it was difficult to find a clear-cut definition for “values-based management”.  In fact, it was rare to find an article that directly referenced the term.  I find it interesting as this is a relatively new term in the heritage world, and is a movement that—from my fledgling perspective—has taken heritage conservation by storm.  It would make sense that, while groups participate in debates over contentious terms like cultural significance and the difference between preservation, rehabilitation and restoration, that there would be some dictionary-style definition readily available to assist in inducting practicing Heritage Professionals.

Before proceeding, there are some definitions that are readily available that will aid this discussion.  Heritage value looks at the aesthetic, historic, scientific, cultural and social meanings that are important for past and future generations[1].  In values-based management, understanding these values takes on primary importance—emphasised by the presence of the use of the plural form in values-based management.  However, it is important that all values be given voice.  Cultural significance is the identification of attributes that make a heritage resource valuable to society[2].  The term has much in common with heritage value, but is perhaps more useful in conveying the difference from fabric-centered systems.  In determining cultural significance, an additional step is taken in understanding the level of significance and therefore identifying areas which may be adapted.

Historic place is a place that has been officially recognized as having heritage value[3].  Note the definition limits the type of applicable resources.  The terms heritage value and historic place can be problematic to current values-based management practices when the traditional emphasis is used, favouring the aesthetic and historic values.  The subjectivity that can be inherent in these items often overshadows other values, most notably the cultural and social values, when evaluation is left to solely to experts rather than permitting participation by the stakeholders.  Along with character-defining elements, I would be tempted to level these items to discussion of aesthetic values due to the connotations.

The Burra Charter is credited with being the first document dealing with values-based management, or as the document terms it, the “Burra Charter Process”.   It was an answer to the problematic Venice Charter, which was critiqued for being Eurocentric and not applicable outside the conservation of established ancient monuments[4].   Adopted by Australia ICOMOS in 1980, the goal of the Burra Charter was to set forth versatile principles for the conservation and management of Australian heritage resources, and asserted the importance of three pillars values-based management:

  • The cultural significance of a place and other issues affecting its future are best understood by a sequence of collecting and analysing information before making decisions. Understanding cultural significance comes first, then development of policy and finally management of the place in accordance with the policy.
  • The policy for managing a place must be based on an understanding of its cultural significance.
  • Policy development should also include consideration of other factors affecting the future of a place such as the owner’s needs, resources, external constraints and its physical condition.[5]

The difference between this document and preceding ones was that this places weight on understanding the resource.  James Semple Kerr is an Australian heritage professional who served on the drafting committees for the Burra Charter.  He created a cyclic diagram to help communicate the new system.  In it, understanding the site was both the starting point and the assessment for creating a useful conservation plan[6]:

Each time, after completing the conservation plan, this process has a feedback loop which has the heritage professional reviewing and assessing the policy to ensure the full meaning of the site is preserved.  This can be held in the same light as testing a hypothesis.

Values-based management has the ability to accommodate many values and to address an array of issues effecting a heritage resource, and also to serve a range of stakeholders who hold special interest its protection.  This allows a more adaptable long-term view of management.  It can also cause conflicting values from introducing multiple stakeholders.  When using this system, the duty of the heritage professional is to balance all the conflicting values and to accommodate them.

There exists a good definition for values-based management to be found within Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site:  English Heritage, A Case Study by Randall Mason, Margaret G. H. MacLean, and Marta de la Torre.  In the paper, the authors provide a very concise definition:

Values-based site management is the coordinated and structured operation of a heritage site with the primary purpose of protecting the significance of the place as defined by designation criteria, government authorities or other owners, experts of various stripes, and other citizens with legitimate interests in the place.[7]

There are two items of note in this definition.  First, the stress on the values and significance attributed to the heritage resource.  Second, is the importance of the input from stakeholders.  Also, note what is absent from the definition.  There is no assumption of dominance of traditional values—historic, aesthetic, or scientific—over social[8].

In my work to date, I have not had many opportunities for my own evaluations of heritage resources.  As a carpenter, my focus has been on the physical components of heritage buildings, the aesthetic, and more particularly the woodwork and joinery involved.  However, I have been picking away at seminars covering more academic applications of heritage.  A few years ago, I attended Conservation Planning: A Values-based Approach, hosted by Simon Fraser University’s City Program and the Heritage Branch.  The workshop brought together a group of international and local experts to discuss this fairly new concept.  It was my first exposure to the idea that there could be more to heritage than the traditional values.  It made a lot of sense.  While I still have a great appreciation for the material and history, I love the ideal—however much it needs to fight for its status —that it allows the community a voice.  Something that I found disenchanting in studying history was the “great man view”, and the omission of other views due to their lack of academic written support.  By allowing others to give voice to their values systems, the door is opened to sources outside academia.

Values-based management is an excellent evolution of managing heritage resources.  It allows for a multiplicity of values to be recognized and utilized.  But it is only as useful as it is understood.  Values-based management is a tool for the heritage professional where the first step is to create a full understanding of the resource—in all its shades by all its users. Aesthetic, historic, scientific, cultural and social values are all given equal weight.  Once understanding is attained, then a conservation plan can be created that embraces the heritage resource in such a way that it is useful to the greatest variety of stakeholders.  As far as a dictionary style definition, here is my best try:

values-based management /val-u bāst ma-nij-mənt/ (noun) a system of heritage conservation management where emphasis is placed on the understanding of the significance of the heritage resource as defined by the stakeholders.

[1] Parks Canada.  Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada.  (Parks Canada, 2003), p. 2

[2]James Semple Kerr.  Conservation Plan.  (Sydney: The National Trust of Australia (NSW), 2004), p. 4.

[3] Parks Canada, p. 2.

[4] Kerr, p. 34.

[5] Australia ICOMOS.  The Burra Charter: The Australia ICOMOS Charter for Places of Cultural Significance.  (Burwood: Australia ICOMOS, 2000)., p4

[6] Kerr, p. 51.

[7]Randall Mason, Margaret G. H. MacLean, and Marta de la Torre.   Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site:  English Heritage, A Case Study.  (Los Angeles:  The Getty Conservation Institute, 2003), p. 1.

[8] Mason, p. 2.


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