Student's Stories

Stakeholders – Who Are They?

In heritage conservation, each object has its own stakeholders who could be affected by the outcomes of any conservation treatment that is carried out on that particular object. At Cardiff University, we are encouraged to consult with an objects stakeholders in order to access the best possible outcomes. The result being that they can provide us, as conservators, with vital information that will affect and assist our decisions and treatments.

When first considering an objects stakeholders, typically our thought is to go straight to the museum that the object belongs to. But is this always the right idea? In most cases, yes as they can provide us with useful information, such as dates, previous records and object history which all impact our conservation process. For example, if an objects records shows it has had historic repairs as a result of its long-term use, you would know that these should remain a part of the object as it has become a part of its history. However, as some of you may know this isn’t always the case as museums can often have very little to no information about the objects in their collection. If you have ever had to approach stakeholders in the past you may know of some of the hurdles you have to overcome. When contacting a museum stakeholder for a ceramic I had been working on, I received an unusual email. I was informed by the museum staff that they had no record of this ceramic that was currently undergoing conservation. Through the confusion I learnt that some objects in their collection had been renumbered over the years and this might be the cause for their missing records. I was now in a strange position; my ceramic had no hallmark or recognisable features so I couldn’t identify its maker and I now had no access to museum records. So now I had to work from the object itself, whilst helping the museum to locate their missing records. When things like this happen and you have no records or information to work from you feel like you are being put back to square one. It can be stressful but don’t panic! There’s always a next step and other stakeholders besides the owners.

Figure 1 – Diagram showing the variety of areas stakeholders can come under. Bryce, R. (2017)  

In conserving an object there is never just one stakeholder, you should never simply reply on a single stakeholder as one person cannot be fully responsible for all sustainable conservation treatments (Wang, R. et al., 2019). As conservation affects many different areas, the museum, researchers, the public etc, they will each have their own interests and motivations in what they want to see come from your conservation work. It is because of this you should think of multiple stakeholders in order for you to provide the best conservation that will benefit the object itself as well as the majority of stakeholders. A stakeholder in terms of heritage conservation may be anyone who has awareness of conservation policy or those who could be affected by its process and/or outcomes (UNESCO UNITWIN, 2019). This allows you to have a wide variety of stakeholders; above is a diagram which can help you identify the key areas stakeholders can come under. I personally think it is best to start by looking at your object and asking yourself who would be most interested in this? Look at diagram and see which areas best fit your object. For example, when I look into other stakeholders I typically gravitate towards cultural heritage and educators first as a starting point, as these are people who have an interest in many of the objects that are conserved within the Cardiff conservation lab. In order to identify your more important stakeholders, think to yourself how will my treatment plan affect these people? Which of these stakeholders are more likely to contribute to your conservation process than others? These questions can help you focus on specific stakeholders and order their importance.

It can be daunting thinking about other stakeholders outside of the owners and when you might need to contact them. I recently came across this problem with my most recent object, a 3m long World War One Trench Panorama, which came to Cardiff for conservation from a very small museum over 30 years ago. The likely chance of this object being remembered by staff now was very slim. I also knew due to the sheer length the likelihood of it being put on display when it is returned was very unlikely and would therefore very sadly be returned to storage. I still went ahead and contacted the museum for general information with little hope of a reply and as expected I never heard back and due to Covid-19 restrictions I couldn’t visit the museum.

Figure 2 – My object, a WW1 Trench Panorama stretching across 3m.

I then had to look elsewhere for stakeholders, those who might be interested and know more about my object outside of the museum. As this was a historical war piece, it was suggested that I should get into contact with a military historian. At first, I was taken aback, and I was a little bit sceptical as to what I would gain from it, however, I was quickly proven wrong. Although not the original key stakeholders of this object, upon meeting with this historian, I was able to find out the importance of this war memorabilia which drastically increased its historical significance. This information immediately became the focus of my work. From the meeting, I learnt that contacting those who may not personally know the specific object you have, it may in fact prove helpful in other ways. Stakeholders that are not the owners, like historians, can offer insight into similar objects and relevant information that might surround your object. Which can open up a whole new aspect to your object that you haven’t thought of before, just like it did with mine. Don’t limit yourself to only contacting the owners of the object. For conservation, a variety of different opinions will help you expand your knowledge of that object as well as help understand how the work that we do within the lab impacts others.

There is no perfect theoretical method which can help measure the importance of each stakeholder, therefore it is down to your personal opinion. You must assess each stakeholder’s importance and their role in the conservation of your object. Don’t be afraid to branch out from the owners and contact people who could help you in other ways – you never know what you might discover!

References

Bryce, R. (2017) Common Methods to Identify Stakeholder Groups and Interactions, Sustainable Heritage Areas: SHAPE, University of the Highlands and Islands, Scotland.

Jamal, T., Stronza, A. (2009) Collaboration theory and tourism practice in protected areas: Stakeholders, structuring and sustainability. J. Sustain. Tour, Vol. 17, pp.169–189.

UNESCO UNITWIN (2019) ‘Value of Heritage for Tourism’, University of Leuven, Belgium.

Wang, R. et al. (2019) Identifying the Critical Stakeholders for the Sustainable Development of Architectural Heritage of Tourism: From the Perspective of China, Sustainability, Chongquing University of Science and Technology, China.

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