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Participatory heritage interpretation and social impacts on young people


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Domšić, Lana. (2018). Participatory heritage interpretation and social impacts on young people. PhD Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of Information Science.
(Poslijediplomski doktorski studij informacijskih i komunikacijskih znanosti) [mentor Babić, Darko].

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The scientific contribution of this research is three-fold: conceptual, methodological and empirical. The conceptual contribution relates to collecting and discussing current theoretical knowledge and results of empirical studies on the value of heritage for society and social impacts of heritage and heritage institutions and activities, with special emphasis on the idea of participatory heritage interpretation. Methodological contribution is in creating and testing of a model of participatory heritage interpretation in cooperation with young people in local community and evaluation of its impacts on their personal and social development through the application of contemporary methodological procedures within the research strategy of action research. The empirical contribution is in determining social impacts of participatory heritage interpretation on young people, thus extending existing knowledge about the value of heritage for youth and for society as a whole, as well as the knowledge about the indicators of social impacts of heritage and the factors affecting the achievement of positive impacts of heritage interpretation projects. The main theoretical concepts of this work are related to a theory, fundamental in the field of museology, of heritage and heritage interpretation as a resource for sustainable social development. The concept of social values and impacts of culture (and heritage as its constituent part) started to emerge in 1990s as a part of different social and cultural studies. The basis of the new heritage theory is social relevance, that is, the assumption that heritage can be means of positive social change within contemporary developmental processes. The thesis describes the development of this idea, starting from the emergence of eco-museums and the new museology theory in the 1970s, up to the current re-examination of the traditional "positivist" model of heritage interpretation. The main idea, today widely accepted, is that interpretation, as a process of creating meaning from the material and immaterial remains of the past which contributes to their better understanding and use, is not the sole task of experts but also of the community-based representatives. Within the "participatory approach", the interpretation of heritage is not considered solely as a scientific interpretation of the unique facts about the past, but as a process that is constantly underway with no final definitions. This process is depending on participants, the beneficiaries of heritage and members of the local community, who are actively involved in the creation of knowledge, narratives and meanings, as well as creation of alternative models of the uses of heritage. Participatory heritage interpretation also assumes that this active inclusion of the public in the creation of values and meanings of heritage has the potential to positively affect the quality of human life and the sustainable development of communities by contributing to lifelong learning, development of knowledge and skills of participants, fostering social cohesion, developing feelings of belonging and pride and creating many other social benefits. Social impacts of heritage are defined in this thesis as all the potential ways in which heritage can affect personal development of individuals as well as social development of communities. They are generally classified as cultural, social, economic and ecological. The theoretical part of the thesis discusses the results of previous empirical studies measuring the impact of heritage institutions and activities on society, mostly developed within the area of public policy evaluation in the field of culture or the evaluation of programs of particular heritage institutions. The presented research is mainly related to European countries and to the largest extent to the UK, which is a current leader in this type of research, and it suggests that heritage can have a significant impact on different aspects of individual and social development including the development of knowledge and new skills, increasing creativity, self-confidence and self-esteem, social cohesion, intergenerational relations, empowering the community, strengthening the local identity and sense of place. Different authors have dealt with these issues, but so far there have been no generally accepted classification of heritage impacts or fully effective measurement and evaluation methods. One of the purposes of this research was to create a model of participative interpretation of the local heritage that will include young people as the main participants and evaluate the impacts of the implemented project using the action research strategy and the mixed scientific methodology. Based on the study of relevant literature and the results of previous research about the effects of culture and heritage on society, a list of possible social impacts of heritage interpretation on young people has been created and classified into two main groups and four subgroups: Effects on Personal Development: - Development of knowledge, skills and interests - Quality of life, health and well-being Effects on Community Development: - Social cohesion, engagement and community relations - Local image, identity and sense of place Impacts within each of the subcategories were operationalized in a way that a certain number of indicators were attributed to them in order to obtain precise measurement variables that were later used in qualitative and quantitative research. The main research instrument was the scale of social impacts of heritage interpretation on young people, as a part of "pre-post" type survey. The constructed instruments were used to examine the impacts of the implemented project of local heritage interpretation, created in cooperation with the young people in the city of Zaprešić. The research linked the contemporary museological theory of social inclusion with the use of participatory action research. Action research was a natural choice of methodology because it is based on the same assumptions as the participatory heritage interpretation: involvement of participants in all segments of the process with the aim of their empowerment and creation of social values. In this regard, this work provides methodological guidelines for implementing a project of participatory heritage interpretation in accordance with the principles and methodology of action research. This includes the initial steps of organizing a participatory project and gathering knowledge about the community, defining the process and critical analysis of the problem and defining and implementing the action plan. Within the project, the young participants of the research created the local heritage exhibition by themselves, through a number of workshops in cooperation with experts. The workshops were focused on the process of acquiring new knowledge and skills and creating content for the exhibition. The entire process, as well as the exhibition set up, were successful and highly valued by young people, their friends and family, and the entire community. It has been shown that the very process of participatory heritage interpretation is as important as the end result. The process, as it turned out, can be very risky because the final product is uncertain and, in addition, there are no specific steps to follow, one must be flexible and responsive to the needs of the participants. Young people, as well as institutions, were not used to work in this way, so it took some time for them to learn to work together, share ideas, support and listen the opinions of others, or to become a team. Having more time would certainly improve the quality of the process and the final product. Due to the participatory approach, it took a lot longer to make decisions, encourage the interest of young people and to gain different benefits for participants and the entire community. But although the process required a lot of time, patience, optimism, co-operation and flexibility, the final result was a quality product and, even more significant, a new, motivated and involved heritage audiences. In this respect, the result of the conducted research is not a universal model of working with young people on the interpretation of heritage. It is more of a detailed description of the processes, a case study, an overview of the opportunities and challenges of involving young and different community members in creating a local heritage exhibition. Nevertheless, the created model and the presented methods may have a practical contribution and are applicable, with adequate adaptation, in other institutions, environments and contexts for working with the youth and the local community. Also, the constructed social impact scale and other evaluation tools can be used to evaluate other heritage projects and their impact on young people. The main purpose of this thesis was to examine the impacts of participatory heritage interpretation on individual and social development of young people. Therefore, the empirical contribution of the work involves examining the initial attitudes and perceptions of young people about the values and social benefits of heritage, as well as determining the results of the implemented project, i.e. the social impacts and factors influencing them. The research was conducted by the survey method before and after the project implementation and the focus group method with the project participants after its completion. The results have shown that heritage is an important factor for local and personal identity of young people. More than half of the respondents mentioned the heritage elements of Zaprešić as one of the first associations to their city and the element that makes it special, which shows that heritage is one of the most important factors in building their sense of place. In this context, the students most frequently mentioned specific elements of material (architectural and natural) heritage. More than a third of respondents (39.7%) stated that they are interested in heritage. This interest mostly relates to their own past (70.9%) or past od other people (63.3%), visiting cultural and historical attractions (59.5%) and museums (59.1%). It is less connected with the active participation in heritage organizations and associations (29.1%). Approximately half of the young people consider the heritage important for the quality of life and the development of the city of Zaprešić, primarily in terms of attracting visitors and tourists (84.3%), providing additional content for inhabitants (81.7%) and a better living environment (79.6%). With regard to visiting heritage facilities in and outside of Zaprešić, more than half of the young people stated they visit them only once a year and mostly within organized school visits. What they believe would attract them to visit heritage sites more is the organization of various special events such as heritage festivals, historical festivals, tasting of local gastronomy, tradition demonstrations (50.5%), better promotion and information (47, 9%), restoration and renewal of cultural and historical buildings (45.8%), as well as new interesting exhibitions in museums and heritage sites (43.6%). Regarding the social impacts of the implemented project, it was established that the most powerful effects were achieved in the category of personal development of young people, especially in the field of knowledge, skills and interests. The percentage of students who believe that the heritage of the Zaprešić area is unique and special increased from 41.5% to 58%, while the percentage of students who think that Zaprešić has an interesting history increased from 45.9% to 68.9%. Also significantly increased the number of young people who consider important living next to historical buildings (45.9% to 62.9%) and preserving cultural traditions (from 55.6% to 70.4%). The project has also influenced students' development of curiosity and interest in further learning. The results show that the percentage of students who are interested to learn more about the heritage of Zaprešić increased after the exhibition tour from 28.6% to 43.3%. Also, 78% of students said that they had learned something new at the exhibition, and 43.4% of students said that the exhibition raised their interested in the history and heritage of their community. The results of the research have also proved positive contribution of the project to the quality of life, health and well-being of young people. In the context of encouraging young people to spend quality and active leisure time, after visiting the exhibition 8% more of a students agreed that exhibitions could be fun, and 4% more of a students said they plan to visit cultural events in Zaprešić in the future. The number of young people who would like to organize cultural events in the future has increased from 12.8% to 28.5%, and the percentage of young people who feel the need to express themselves creatively has increased from 40.5% to 53%. 64.7% of young people stated that their visit to the exhibition was interesting and 16.6% of students would like to be involved in similar projects. The project's impact on social development of young people is statistically weaker than its effect on personal development. This is in line with findings of other researchers who argued that social impacts, unlike personal ones, are more difficult to achieve because they are more likely to be long-term and cumulative, and occur as a result of continuous action in longer time period. However, the research has shown some positive results achieved also in this segment. The implemented project had a significant impact on young people's feeling of local belonging and connection to the community. The feeling of belonging to the place they live increased by 7% after the implementation of the project, while the feeling of connection with other residents of Zaprešić increased by 4%. 70% of students said they were proud of their friends-authors of the exhibition. These are all indicators of strengthening positive relations within social groups, which is one of the main elements of social cohesion. The participatory heritage interpretation project also had a positive impact on the development of local image, identity and sense of place. The percentage of students who said they were proud of their city increased from 59.7% to 68.1%, and the percentage of students who thought that Zaprešić was a good place to live increased from 81.7% to 86%. From all the above, we can conclude that the first hypothesis of the research, "The interpretation of heritage can have positive effects on the individual and social development of young people in the local community" has been proven. Another research hypothesis was that greater social impacts of heritage interpretation are achieved by actively involving young people in the process of heritage interpretation. The statistical test measured the difference in the responses on the social impact scores between the active participants of the project and the other respondents in the first and second surveys. The results showed that in the first measurement there was no statistically significant difference between these two groups of respondents. In the second measurement, statistically significant difference in the responses of the two groups was determined in 19 out of 26 observed variables. At 19 variables a better result was achieved by a group of active participants, while at 7 variables there was no statistically significant difference between one and the other. These results are supported by the data obtained from the focus group with the project participants. The focus group results indicated specific types of effects of participative heritage interpretation that could only be achieved on students who were actively working on creating the exhibition. Here are some of the findings: The project raised interest in heritage for students who were otherwise not interested. Students gained knowledge on the specific features of local heritage that are not taught within the school system. Participants acquired skills and experience that will help them in future life and work, including creative thinking, teamwork, social, organizational and communication skills, specific project-related skills (creative writing, photography and video recording, interviews conducting, graphic design, etc.). Young people enjoyed working on the project, they tried something new and the project helped them to develop their creativity and to explore their talents and desires. Participants developed self-confidence through a sense of pride in what they accomplished. They felt that their proposals were taken into account and that they personally contributed to the project. Participants stated that they had acquired new friends with similar interests to whom they would otherwise have no opportunity to socialize. Young people find it valuable to have family support during the project implementation and to have opportunities to reach out to older people. This is an indicator that the project had a positive impact on intergenerational relations within the community. Participants improved their opinions about the place they live in. They are more aware of the value of local heritage, which they considered to be an important factor of local image and an important touristic and economic resource.

Item Type: PhD Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: participatory heritage interpretation, social value of heritage, social impacts of heritage, young people and heritage, action research
Subjects: Information sciences > Museology and heritage management
Departments: Department of Information Science
Supervisor: Babić, Darko
Additional Information: Poslijediplomski doktorski studij informacijskih i komunikacijskih znanosti
Date Deposited: 04 Jun 2018 12:01
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2018 12:01

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