Imagined and Participatory Communities

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Most heritage policies, officially adopted, encourage participatory heritage management by communities. You are likely to read the term in any heritage project nowadays, heck, even our page’s dedication is to it, yet the understanding and implications of the terms vary significantly.

To understand the imagined community try this process.

Think of your favourite/most notable heritage site. It might probably be a world heritage site.

Now think about how is it taught, used and promoted by the state(location)?

Is it acknowledged as a gift shared by all people, or does it advocate a part of the national agenda?

Politicians often run on a platform of cultural promotion proposing several heritage projects. Whether or not they come to be, governments will often use the terms participatory or “people engagement” in a cultural activity without comprehending their definition. Participatory heritage management stems from the people and follows a bottom-up approach.

The 2003 Intangible Cultural Heritage Convention cemented the use of participatory heritage management in all heritage. Unfortunately,  raising issues spanning from definition, interpretation and practice in the political and institutional spheres to ownership and rights.

The context of heritage management calls for a local level-up method despite this, project instigation is often reversed, especially in world heritage sites. At Local Approach, we promote and bring level-up projects that are largely still a minority among the sector.

To clarify, think of the best and most known internationally museum you have visited. How are their services relatable and available to the immediate local community? Does the neighbouring community play any role in the management and decision-making?

( Our take )

Community participation, in the literal sense, is an effective strategy for planning and management. Individuals, the entire community or representatives(not political) of every group fostering a cultural heritage, tangible or intangible, should :

  • initiate its protection and promotion
  • be part of the decision-making process
  • participate in management
  • define the values, promotion and use.

These responsibilities are shared with local government, organisations and other local stakeholders. In return, they create a unified view, sustainable management and incentives for use, promotion and economic growth.

In reality, the state will call for a project and assemble a team of heritage professionals, anthropologists, archaeologists, architects, communicators, etc. This process ought to include reaching out to the community to gather their views, values and vision, and then work together with all or a team of representatives.

The process is often left out due to deeming community participation bureaucratic or time-consuming, or hard to build engagement, trust and unified decision-making.  Thanks to technology, communication and investigative research are easily accessible, thus bypassing any concerns.

Whether you are an individual or heritage manager, you should ensure your local heritage’s management includes the community. Both the state and individuals should seek to achieve participatory heritage management. Considering we keep our treasures safe for the future, shouldn’t it be the best there is?

I want to learn more:

The Participation in the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage – the role of Communities, Groups and Individuals

Between Imagined Communities and Communities of Practice: Participation, Territoritory and the Making of Heritage

Cultural Heritage, Landscape & Rural Development HISTCAPE: Historic Assets and Related Landscapes. Good Practice, Methodology, Policy Recommendations & Guidelines for Rural Communities

Unpacking “Participation”: models, meanings and practices, 2008 by Andrea Cornwall

PS: “just shower thoughts” Nero’s political agenda run on an arts and culture platform

Our Articles:


Participatory mapping in heritage

Public Archaeology: our way to go

Local examples

Nunalleq, Stories from the Village of Our Ancestors: education for the future

Adopt a Monument

Local management and archaeology: a case from Thailand

Greek Paths of Culture: help trace your ancestors steps

The Ambulance for Monuments: local conservation and care

Heritage Schools: teach history with your heritage

Institutional examples

inSIGHT: play and manage heritage together!

Protect local tradition: Tramontana Network 

PERICLES maritime heritage, map and policy.

Cultural Heritage in Action: communities working together 

An ICOMOS walkthrough your project: European Quality Principles for EU-funded Interventions with potential impact upon Cultural Heritage

OpenHeritage: strengthen economy and local culture with your heritage

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