By Marta de la Torre

In recent times, the heritage field has seen the introduction of new values-based management approaches. Typically, heritage sites have been managed by a focus on individual issues—visitor control, interpretation, presentation, or conservation, for example.

In contrast, values-based management takes a holistic view of a site, and its objective is always the conservation and communication of those values that make the site significant. The management process begins with an examination of the values attributed to the site and is carried out through consultations with the stakeholders at the site. Once the values are identified—and thus the significance of the site is established—the aim of management becomes their conservation through policy and action.

The flexibility afforded by this form of management—which accommodates many different heritage types, the range of threats to which heritage may be exposed, the diversity of interest groups with a stake in its protection, and a longer-term view of site management—surely accounts for its wide acceptance by organizations and individuals around the world in a relatively short time.

As a fairly new management approach, values-based conservation has elements that still challenge practitioners. These challenges include identifying, assessing, and prioritizing values; establishing management policies consistent with the values identified; and monitoring the conservation of the values.

Over the last four years, the Getty Conservation Institute has conducted research on the values of heritage, with a special emphasis on the relationship between the economic and cultural values of heritage. Two reports growing out of this research have already been published: Economics and Heritage Conservation and Values and Heritage Conservation. Both reports are available in the Conservation section of the Getty Web site:
. A third report, Assessing Cultural Significance, is currently being prepared. It covers the assessment of values and consultations with the stakeholders, and it explores methods already used in ethnography, geography, economics, and environmental conservation.

A new phase of the research is now beginning. This summer—in collaboration with the Australian Heritage Commission, English Heritage, Parks Canada, and the U.S. National Park Service—the GCI initiated development of a series of case studies that can serve as examples of how values-driven site management has been interpreted, employed, and evaluated by these organizations.

These case studies are intended to illustrate how the protection of the values and significance of specific sites is reflected in management and conservation policies and actions. In producing the studies, the Institute seeks to contribute to the literature on site conservation management planning, with an emphasis on the critical place cultural values and significance should hold in such work.

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The written results of this project are intended for individuals and organizations engaged in the study and/or practice of site management, conservation planning, and historic preservation. Each study will focus on a site with a management plan that has been in place for some time—a plan whose purpose is to control and coordinate decisions to protect the physical integrity of the place and the values that make the site significant. These studies will not present a set of rules for writing management plans. Nor will they attempt to measure the success of the management planning process using some "objective" standard. Rather, they will offer detailed descriptions and analyses of the process, providing readers with examples of solutions found in the real world.

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The first case study in the series—on the site of Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site in Canada—was launched with a meeting in Quebec in June. The site, an island on the St. Lawrence River, served as a quarantine station for the port of Quebec from 1832 to 1937, the century-long period that witnessed the great immigrations to Canada. In 1847 more than 3,000 immigrants, mainly from Ireland, died on the island, victims of typhus. Subsequently, the island hosted a biological research center, and, in more recent times, it has served as an animal quarantine station. In 1974 it was designated a site of national historic significance.

This first case study—to be developed in collaboration with Parks Canada—will explore how stakeholder communities were identified and consulted, how conflicting interests were reconciled, how the values were understood and articulated in the process of writing the plan, and how the values are now integrated and monitored in the ongoing management of the site.

Subsequent case studies will focus on sites in England, Australia, and the United States. All of the studies will concentrate on sites where values play a significant role in the site's management. It is anticipated that work will begin on these studies in the next six to nine months.

Marta de la Torre, who recently served as head of GCI's Information & Communications, is now principal project specialist in the office of the GCI director.