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Access All Areas: Devolution? Reconstitution? Revolution?: The HER Forum boldly goes to Brum -  HER Forum Winter Meeting 2014, 9th December 2014, Birmingham and Midland Institute

(Post presentation questions and comments - in italicised type following each abstract - based on notes taken at the meeting).

View from the Chair - Chris Webster (South West Heritage Trust)

The HER forum meeting returned to Birmingham, but with a slight change of venue within the Birmingham and Midland Institute. The morning heard three talks on initiatives to do with data sharing and coordination, each with an acronym: TACOS, SHED and HIAS. There was then a short panel discussion of the topics raised, with a general view that we could do things more efficiently, though with the usual concerns that financial constraints were increasing. This was followed by a presentation examining the practicalities of one way of reducing the duplication of effort in England. In the afternoon, three more talks followed the theme of collaboration and data sharing, discussing the Heritage Gateway, the Portable Antiquities Scheme data, and the new wiki to edit Informing the Future of the Past. At the end of the meeting views were sought on the venue with a preference being expressed for the lecture theatre style, before adjourning for refreshment.


The TACOS Project
– Sarah Howard (Council for British Archaeology)

Towards A COllaborative Strategy for sector information management (TACOS)

Presentation summarising the TACOS project funded by English Heritage comprising a one-day seminar hosted by the Council for British Archaeology in May 2014 and report published in December 2014 to inform future work to be taken forward to develop a collaboratively approach to historic environment information management. The seminar brought together 45 delegates from across the sector to discuss the integration of effort in the research, organisation, strategic planning, project appraisal and standards development and adoption in the fields of historic environment information capture and recording. Proceedings from the seminar collated in the report indicated that more needed to be done to encourage collaborative working as best practice within the sector focussing on the following themes of:

Enhancing communications: encourage partnership working as standard practice, review existing interest groups and networks to identify overlaps, gaps and opportunities for collaboration, better communication and engagement with wider historic environment sector, create opportunities for engagement with partners outside of the sector.

Maximising resources: by linking more datasets to avoid duplication of effort, improving availability and accessibility of information on new and existing projects, encouraging re-use wherever practicable through the a sector-wide commitment to sharing data and more investigation as to how Open Data initiatives and Creative Commons licensing and Open Source technologies might help us achieve this. 

Innovative funding models: evaluate the potential to crowdfund historic environment information projects drawing upon feedback from prototypes from the various funding models that exist.

Consistent application of existing standards: promotion and enforcement of existing standards, further investigation of Linked Data to improve sharing of historic environment standardised vocabularies.

Improving access to data and information: better audience research to inform future access strategies, monitoring and evaluating existing information, marketing and promotion of resources in a proactive way, learning from successful projects.

Developing skills: strive for a more structured approach to defining and recording core skills for the sector, using and developing knowledge transfer tools, provide online training support and continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities, encourage collaboration and responsibility across all areas of the sector for maintaining and improving information management skills for professionals, students and 3rd sector.

Delivering culture change: through skills training and development that focuses on new approaches and technologies, developing a common language that spans disciplines, more information on Open Source, Open Data and Open Access initiatives to help inform decisions regarding their implementation.

The issues discussed at the TACOS seminar and presented in the report will inform future work to be taken forward by representatives of the Forum on Information Standards in Heritage (FISH), the Historic Environment Information Resources Network (HEIRNET) and various historic environment sector working groups such as the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) Information Management Special Interest Group (IMSIG). For the TACOS full report and videos from the seminar presentations please see the IMSIG webpage http://fishforum.weebly.com/tacos.html .


The SHED Initiative – Robin Turner (Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland)

Scotland’s Historic Environment Data (SHED) is the key to recording and understanding the nation’s historic environment, and is recognised as a critical asset for managing change and for interpreting the physical remains. A series of events in 2010 led to the proposal for a radical change in the way we collectively create, curate and make available the totality of this resource, and led to the development of the SHED Strategy. This was a long and sometimes bumpy journey, but has led to an initiative, the SHED Programme, that promises to bring the main players together – plus others who can help – in a national collaboration in the spirit of the new Historic Environment Strategy for Scotland.

The process of developing the SHED Strategy was started quickly, and produced a document, known as the Carter Report, that seemed for the most part to draw logical conclusions, but was in some important respects not considered by key curators to be desirable or workable. To some extent views became polarised, with strongly-held differences of opinion around the ‘ownership’ of the records of individual sites, and regarding where the digital records themselves would sit. After a period of re-assessment, a ‘curators’ sub-group of the SMR Forum got together to thrash the differences out, and to propose and agree a mutually acceptable solution. Building on the Carter Report, work then proceeded to narrow down what needed to be done and what logistically could be done, and in drafting the SHED Strategy.

Drawing in the results of a Stakeholder’s Workshop, facilitated by Built Environment Forum Scotland, the Draft Strategy was then formally consulted upon, the responses considered, and a final version produced – launched in Glasgow at the 2014 IfA Conference by Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs.

The Strategy is being taken forward by the SHED Programme Board, guided by a Programme Initiation Document. The first 3 years of the 10-year Strategy are largely about developing plans, and an Implementation Plan is currently being refined and will be consulted upon. In the meantime we are building on already active initiatives, like PastMap – the national portal for historic environment data – and on the work on standards of the Technical Working Group of the SMR Forum. As a sector-owned strategy, it was agreed that it should come under the wing of the SMR Forum, with strong support from local and national government organisations, and from NGOs and those in allied sectors – museums, archives and libraries.

Through this process we have learned many lessons, some of which may be helpful in the context of TACOS in England. Perhaps most important is to create an initiative that is genuinely collaborative, and that breaks down barriers, especially between local and national agencies. Some parts of the process take time, especially when resources are squeezed to breaking point, so activities need to be planned, owned, and paced. And in some ways technology is both our friend and our enemy: it can help us make links that were not viable even a few years ago, and it opens up our data exponentially to the population at large. But the latter is double edged, and we need not just to keep up, but to anticipate this crowd-led explosion of new information, and to put pre-agreed arrangements in place to allow easier assimilation. But the most important message is that we’re all in this together, we all have a legitimate locus, and through positive collaboration and mutual respect, and with a bit of time and combined resources, we can transform the usefulness and accessibility of the data we value so much.


The Heritage Information Access Strategy – Keith May (English Heritage)

The Heritage Information Access Strategy (HIAS) is an initiative instigated by English Heritage. Its key aim is to secure the most cost-effective approach to the handling of digital heritage data by English Heritage (subsequently Historic England) and its partner organisations. Currently the project is at a very early stage and the process of identifying and fostering links with partners is still under way. There is thus much work to be done, including bidding for resources to deliver the strategy. 

HERs are enshrined in the government’s national planning policy network and underpinning the project is the aim (number 2.6, as outlined in the Historic England draft Forward Plan for 2015-18) that HE will work with partners to improve access to HERs. This is translated through into HIAS as a series of principals, all intended to serve the key purpose of improving decision making through the ready availability of good data. The first of these principles is that Local Authority HERs should be the first port of call and primary trusted source for historic environment information.

Expanding on this point there is an evident requirement to map existing data flows and to determine how these can be developed and rationalised. It is evident and generally well-known that systems and processes for capturing, maintaining and sharing such information already exist and have been developed over many years. The review envisaged will clearly need to take account of a range of potential possibilities: will OASIS (and subsequently HERALD) allow an extended role for HERs in initiating and updating records? How will national and inter-regional data-sets fit in?   

HIAS will be structured in two phases, the first of which, initiation and business process mapping, is now in progress. Working from this foundation and using information derived from the mapping process outlined above, Phase 2 will entail the structuring of work packages and the further development of an expanded business case.
        
TACOS, SHED and HIAS (Joint Discussion Q&A)

KM opened by conjecturing that each HER would have to work within individual timescale considerations when seeking to accommodate the concepts involved in the projects.

An HER officer replied that, since cuts within her authority were now in progress which would continue until 2017-18, it would be extremely difficult to make any predictions regarding timescales.

BW (Ben Wallace) felt that there was a need to think beyond this. The process was likely to be one of gradual adaption. Things would probably need to be done and then re-done and what would result would conform to the broad strategy rather than corresponding to every point of detail.

RT observed that, since a great deal of change was under way at the moment it was important to step back and consider what was needed.

Question (HER Officer) – Isn’t it likely that things that are not statutory will not be pursued? Have circumstances shaped SHED in this way?

Answer (RT) – Within Scotland the definitions being worked with have been agreed at Cabinet level. There is, however, a continuing trend for local authorities to operate with increased autonomy and thus go different ways. Whilst overarching Scottish Governmental principles are damping down any prospect of statutory status for HERs it is evident that the continuity of local authority records is still paramount and this seems unlikely to be reversed.   
 
Comment (HER Officer) – Cuts are pushing IT departments towards open source data (Quantum GIS being one example). However, this doesn’t necessarily constitute a move towards open data.

Comment (SH) – SH was impressed by both SHED and the Portable Antiquities Scheme and thought that if data was made freely available its usage would increase. Also, since the G8 Open Data Charter requires that data should be made ‘freely and openly available’ the UK will be expected to conform with this.

Comment (HER Officer) – It is important that OASIS should include the relevant HER number as a mandatory requirement.

KM - If general agreement can be reached on this, yes.
 
Comment (HER Officer) – Where EH material is concerned, designation data is difficult to upload and it would be better for an HER to link to this rather than trying to manage it more comprehensively. Links to OASIS and BIAB would be useful in the same way. The initial IT arrangements need not be a major concern so long as the essential infrastructure was put in place. 

KM - The sharing of identifiers would be a good step forward.

Question (HER Officer) – The problem regarding OASIS validation is what happens if contractors haven’t completed the record? HER officers can’t find the time to return to them. 

Chris Webster replied that he understood that this problem was to be addressed in the new version - HERALD. This is an acknowledged problem which has been regularly flagged up for some years.   
  
RT observed that OASIS had originally been designed as a ‘stepping stone’. Twenty years ago the case had been made and agreed that data should not be deleted after validation. Some funders may stipulate that data remains on line for a given period and then linked, not deleted.
New systems should also embrace community generated material and other investigations outside the planning process. Given that an explosion in community initiatives and data could be about to begin it was important to establish how this material might be linked.     


The Data Supply and Reconciliation Project
- Graham Tait (Devon County Council)

The first principle of the emerging Heritage Information Access Strategy (“Local Authority HERs should be the first point of call for and primary trusted source of investigative research data and knowledge”) suggests that HERs hold and manage the non-designated (terrestrial) heritage data that is currently contained within the English Heritage ‘National Record of the Historic Environment’ (NRHE). This project is investigating methods of how HERs could incorporate this data, and reconcile it with existing data within each HER.

The NRHE (available online at www.pastscape.org.uk) was developed from OS Archaeology Record Cards, the National Buildings Record, RCHME surveys (buildings and archaeology) and other data sources from the 1940’s onwards. It contains details of monuments, events and sources.

Some sample comparisons between NRHE and HERs has been carried-out. This showed variability in number of HER and NRHE records across the samples, variability as to whether HERs had already cross-referenced their HER records to NRHE records and a variability whether records could be linked. However, it also showed that there are only a few new-to-the-HER sites in the NRHE.

During a project workshop and an e-conference there was a broadly positive response to this idea, though some issues to resolve were also identified.
Positives identified were:

• Saving contractor/research time reconciling the data anew for each project
• All the data is in one place
• Promotes status of HERs
• Improved data quality
• Reduces duplication of effort
• Data is better integrated in the planning process
• Better opportunity for local knowledge
• This is ongoing issue and needs resolving once and for all
 Negatives identified were:
• Resources needed to reconcile data
• Access to information for regional/national projects (especially when all HER’s are not online)
• Possible variability in accessibility of data – what happens in areas where there is no proper HER coverage?

Criteria have been suggested if this project goes ahead. These have included:
 
• HERs become ‘primary trusted source of investigative research data and knowledge’
• EH stops updating NRHE for non-designated (terrestrial) heritage data
• National overview needs to still be accessible (via Heritage Gateway?)

Other criteria suggested have been:

• Agreement on maritime records?
• New data should be readily uploaded, validated and accessed online?
• For principles to carry weight, HERs would need to be statutory?

Three main options to do this have been suggested. They are:

Option 1 - Full import. Some basic matching. Data sent to HER. Widget imports NRHE data into the HER. Some Pros – quick transfer time (done in one go); all data is accounted for (everything is imported). Some Cons – the data will be dirty and post import cleaning will be needed; there will likely be created many duplicate records; there would need to be a number of import widgets made for HBSMR plus each bespoke HER; tracking of progress would be difficult.

Option 2 - Supervised Import. Similar to method 1, except more flexibility in import process e.g. more tools to help try and match up records. Some Pros – still relatively quick transfer time (in batches); data matching means more able to control/limit duplication of records. Some Cons – still post import cleaning needed; there would need to be a number of import widgets made for HBSMR plus each bespoke HER, and these would be more complex to design; tracking of progress would be difficult

Option 3 - Manual Accessioning. NRHE data published online. HERs visit website and manually match records between HER and NRHE. Relevant data copied and pasted from NRHE to HER. As this is done the NRHE record is “ticked off” and is no longer displayed on the website. As this is done the NRHE record is “ticked off” and is no longer displayed on the website. Some Pros – Much more control of data transfer, limiting duplication; records are cleaned as you go; easier to track progress; only one ICT solution needed – the website – which is platform independent. Some Cons – Slower  transfer time; more possibility of data not being transferred due to HERO decisions.

During workshop and e-conference Option 3 began to emerge as the favourite.

Other options (such as a single national database or to continue the status quo) have been suggested.

What’s next? - Further discussion with other projects (e.g. EngLaID). One more meeting of the Project Team. Report to be written by February/March 2015 – will be circulated on HER Forum email list.

Question (HER Officer) – Has the project sample included any areas covered by NMP?

Answer – Some of the Somerset sample area had also been covered by NMP.

Comment (Ben Wallace - BW) – A 10km square for Warwickshire was examined and the findings suggested that sites entirely new to the HER would be in a small minority. The majority of additional evidence had to be teased out of records concerning sites that were already known. It had taken about 4 days to accomplish this. Making a crude extrapolation from this figure the total time requirement for the whole of England would be in the region of four to five thousand person days. On the whole it appeared to be a good and worthwhile enhancement exercise and was potentially ‘do-able’. The principal question was, however, where would the necessary resources come from?

Comment (HER Officer) – There are gaps in HER coverage within England which will cause problems. Without statutory status someone will need to take a lead on these gaps. Who will this be?

GT There might also be a danger to HERs if heritage data was available elsewhere.

Comment (HER Officer) – There will need to be a definite, specified timescale for the exercise, something which will be imposed by project funding.

Comment (HER Officer) – Many positives emerged from the Archaeological Investigations Project (AIP). The cessation of the project has left a definite gap.

BW  was of the opinion that the type of national database represented by AIP was something that the HE should be moving away from. The focus of data supply and reconciliation should, he felt, be helping out authorities that were unable to manage and accommodate the material offered.
 
Comment (HER Officer) – Perhaps there might be a possibility of setting up a ‘roving team’ to provide assistance and support.

GT – Option 3 (the suggestion that data should be manually integrated by HERs) would be sufficiently flexible to allow elements to be put ‘on hold’.
 
CW – Areas of gapped coverage might serve as a prompt for action by English Heritage.

Comment (HER Officer) – Where local authorities are facing the dilemma of funding social workers or an HER, the HER is likely to lose out. Consequently there will be a threat in this area too. Perhaps it would be possible for EH to fund the reconciliation system centrally following the Heritage Gateway model.     
   
Comment (HER Officer) – It is essential to address the issue of longer term resourcing for HERs to ensure the security of the data. Where were these resources to come from: English Heritage? Charging?

GT – Licensing, creative commons and open access are all topics that need to be addressed by the Heritage Information Access Strategy. Standards needed to be set in advance and clearly outlined to the heritage sector.

Comment (HER Officer) – There seems to be a general push within authorities towards HERs being income generating and commercially viable. There is a definite need to sort out this aspect of things now. This should be a ‘top down’ exercise supported by accompanying advice.

Comment (Robin Turner) - SURE (the Specialist User Recording Environment) might provide useful comparisons here. The first stage in developing this had been a concordance exercise. The system does have the potential to serve as a fall-back. Participating councils don’t have to pay to be a member of SURE and can withdraw at any stage. The process doesn’t involve any loss of control on the part of the local authority.

Comment (Gill Grayson (EH)) – This is a potentially tricky area and there is much to be learned from an initiative like SHED which provides a good illustration of collective thinking. The principles involved within the Data Supply initiative have major implications at both the local and national level. However, it is also promoting dialogue and there is certainly a need to underpin the process with open discussion. Conclusions need to be both considered and reached in partnership, certainly not dictated, either from the top down or from the bottom up. This also represents an opportunity to influence the shape and course of the Heritage Information Access Strategy.


The Heritage Gateway
- Alison Bennett (Essex County Council)

This talk views the situation from the perspective of the Essex HER and our decision to put our HER data onto the Heritage Gateway.

A brief background of the reasons why we took that decision to go online to start with: The primary reason was to extend access to the HER, in such a way that alongside the raw data, there were interpretive summaries of the different periods and topics about archaeology in Essex. This was aimed at members of the public, students, and researchers, and as a first port of call for consultants. There was a dedicated section of the website for kids. Sites were also viewable on a mapping base.

Moving on to why we also went onto the Heritage Gateway, and what that has meant for us: Here the intention was to extend the availability the HER data further, to facilitate cross-boundary or regional searches, and comparisons with national datasets. We were also able to view sites on a map. We have been able to compare web statistics from both Heritage Gateway and our own website, and have been very encouraged by the numbers visiting our data on the Heritage Gateway. What surprised us was that the numbers of visitors to our original web site increased following our move onto Heritage Gateway.

Concluding with our hopes for the future: What, if anything, should happen to our original, now aged, website, especially now in austerity driven local government? Options include, closing it down, just ditching the mapping, or transferring it to a more up-to-date platform.

Question (HER Officer) – What additional information is available on Essex’s own website?

Answer – This also includes Extensive Urban Survey, thematic and period information and also material aimed primarily at children (although the latter is hardly ever accessed and the thematic material only very occasionally used).  
   
Question (Chris Webster) – Are there any costs associated with putting the material onto the Gateway?

Answer – There are some costs to use the HBSMR system.

Comment (Ben Wallace) – Funding is available from English Heritage to cover start-up costs. Solutions to other, longer term funding barriers are being investigated.

Comment (CW) – It might be worth looking into alternative modes of access, for example ADS.      
      

HER use of Portable Antiquities Scheme Data - Isobel Thompson, (Hertfordshire County Council) and Heather Hamilton (Norfolk County Council)

PAS Data in the Hertfordshire HER:

Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) data was imported into the Hertfordshire HER during 2013. (In the annual statistics this gave rise to a remarkable increase of eleven thousand records in a single quarter). An HER assistant has now processed around seven thousand of these (excluding late Roman coins) to amend locational data and the period fields (since the PAS parameters don’t match those used by the HER).

The data is now viewable using GIS, none displayed with any more precise accuracy than that provided by the PAS website. Some 136 records have been found to lie outside of the county. Some of these can be accounted for through a confusion of the TQ and TL NGR prefixes or other errors. There is a residue however, which are never likely to be satisfactorily dealt with.  
     
When looking at the picture that has been revealed, Saxon find spots have proved particularly interesting. It is probably not overstating the case to say that Saxon Hertfordshire is now beginning to be ‘found’. In artefact clusters encountered at Prae Wood near Gorhambury, for instance Saxon objects were intermixed with Roman material. Notable Saxon find spots were also apparent north-west of Verulamium, although their significance presently remains uncertain. At total of 143 Saxon records have now been added to the HER database which have significantly changed perceptions of the county during that period. As a direct result of these finds other discoveries are now being made (for example a ditch at Watton-at-Stone).

Also interesting are some biases in the nature of the process of collection. Detailed and comprehensive research into constraints shaping the PAS data has been recently published in draft form by Katherine Robbins. The data is predominantly drawn from rural areas. 90% of the finds come from cultivated land and 85% have been recovered by metal detectorists. This suggests that high ground tends to receive little attention from detector users and that the constraints associated with council owned land also results in limited investigation of these areas. Furthermore very little activity takes place more than 200m from a road, as detectorists are reluctant to stray too far from their cars. This study of constraints is based partly on pilot projects, but could be applied to any particular area in more detail.

PAS Data in the Norfolk HER:

The Norfolk Historic Environment Service has a long history of liaising with metal-detectorists and other finders which has enabled us to compile a rich dataset with enormous potential for aiding research and planning within the county. The foundations of this liaison were laid in the 1950’s, with the work of Roy Rainbrid Clarke (curator of the Norwich Castle Museum) to popularize archaeology and encourage members of the public to bring in their finds to be recorded in his Archaeological Index. By 1974, when the Norfolk Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) was created, the Archaeological Index was already rich with finds and these records formed the core of the SMR. Liaison with metal-detectorists was first taken up by the staff of the newly formed Norfolk Archaeological Unit in 1977, and staff began attending meetings of metal-detecting clubs in 1980. Close ties to the Norfolk Museums Service were nurtured, and this has allowed us to create and maintain a wide network for finds identification across the county despite official separation from the Museums Service in 2010.

The Norfolk HER currently contains over 60,000 Monument records. Approximately one third of these are Findspots and the vast majority of these Findspots record objects found by metal-detectorists and other members of the public. There are currently 4.5 FTE undertaking finds identification and recording within the Historic Environment Service, 1.5 posts funded by the PAS and 3.0 by Norfolk County Council. Between 2003 and 2012 they recorded between 17,500 and >27,300 finds per year.

Norfolk Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs) began recording finds on the PAS database in 2000. However, between 2000 and 2012 only a small portion of the finds received were entered on the PAS system. The vast majority of information was still only reported to the HER as there was not sufficient staff time to enter all finds on both systems. This changed in 2012, with the development of the PAS data import feature by exeGesIS. Since January 2012 all coins recorded by Norfolk FLOs have been directly entered on the PAS database and subsequently downloaded into the HER and as of October 2012 this has occured for ALL finds. There are now over 56,000 PAS records for the county. 20,030 of these have been imported into the Norfolk HER database and these have been incorporated into just under 2,500 Monument records.

Validated and published PAS records are downloaded from the website monthly using the standard HER export function and .csv export. The latter includes the date of creation and the date of import, which are both useful components. This produces on average 1000 records per month to input into the HER. Data cleansing is carried out before import. This is essential for identifying and weeding out problems such as missing or erroneous grid references, missing finders’ names, and  issues with dates (the PAS uses absolute dating which doesn’t always match the broad periods specified in the HER), all of which are much more difficult to identify once the information has been imported into the HER.

The Norfolk finds recording system retains much of the practices that developed from the 1970’s onwards. Finds Liaison Officers (FLO) work directly with the HER, allowing HER Monument numbers to be assigned immediately and included in the PAS database entries. In most circumstances, all finds recovered from a given field are recorded under a single Monument record. This is largely a legacy from earlier processes, but it also allows patterns within the data to be more easily identified. One side-effect of retaining this practice of grouping finds is that productive sites may have hundreds of individual Find records attached. Whilst extremely useful for quantification and interpretation for an area, the amount of data can be overwhelming. In order to help make sense of this information, event records are created (generally one for each finder for each month, which is the way data is received from metal-detecting clubs) and all finds area linked to their respective event records. ExeGesIS have developed a bespoke tool to quickly link the finds as well as aid in filtering and sorting these records within a given Monument.

In order to comply with the PAS data transfer agreement, the NGR output precision for all Monuments containing PAS data is set at four figures. In addition, no grid references are made available for “productive” sites, hoards, areas containing Iron Age, Middle to Late Saxon, or a large quantity of Roman coinage, and sites of possible or known Early Saxon cemeteries. These restrictions also apply to the on-line version of the Norfolk HER, known as the Norfolk Heritage Explorer. Measures are in place to safeguard sensitive and personal data. All finders are made aware of which data will appear on-line and are required to complete an entry form, whist HER users sign an access form before any data is issued.
 
As with any process that involves importing data from an external source, there are a few issues we’ve encountered. The majority of these issues are due to the structure of the PAS data and the export and import processes. One particular example is the use of British Summer time in the PAS data which gives rise to a phenomenon in which items which are ‘on the cusp’ of the transition between BST and GMT jump back to the day before when the hour changes. More wide-ranging issues include inconsistencies in the content of the PAS records themselves and resulting incongruities in Find records in the HER itself. FLOs within other counties and metal-detectorists who record their own finds may not include the same level of information recorded by Norfolk FLOs. Equally, since 2012 HER records for finds from any source other than the PAS (particularly excavations) have much less digital data recorded.

There have, however, been resulting benefits in site interpretation. For example, of the 68 Anglo-Saxon cemeteries within Norfolk, only 10-15 have been excavated, the rest are known from finds alone. The general ‘rule of thumb’ employed is that 6 Saxon brooches (or finds of similar status) within a particular area indicate the presence of a cemetery. This, used in conjunction with other data, for example drawn from the National Mapping Programme, can transform understanding in rural areas where finds can often provide the only archaeological evidence.

Comment (Representative of exeGsIS) – exeGesIS has worked with Lincolnshire and Essex to automate the entry of PAS data into HERs as monument records. There is still work to be done and a great deal of pre-processing of data is still required but a start has been made on speeding up the work.

Question  (Graham Tait) – The presentations do seem to demonstrate areas in which PAS data can add value. However, there are some HEROs who are less convinced of the benefits and others who simply don’t have the resources to enter this material fully. Would there be any merits in importing the data only as a GIS?     

Comment (Alison Bennett) -Prior to exeGesIS facilitating a full import Essex did use the data as a GIS layer which seemed to work satisfactorily.

Answer (IT) – It seems evident that this is a dataset which we should be using. There is also a drive to bring related datasets together. It would seem appropriate to look for easier ways to do this.

Comment (HER Officer) – We would still regard PAS information as a separate dataset due to the limitations imposed by its content.

Comment (IT) – The accuracy of the data seems to be better now, although it is fair to acknowledge a degree of non-precision that HERs are not used to.

Comment (HER Officer) – The PAS point based NGRs seem to include examples which are precise only to a very broad ‘parish’ level. We would not want to include this in the main HER.  

Comment (exeGesIS representative) – There are certainly data standards issues, particularly in relation to periods.

Comment (HER Officer) – We have imported PAS data onto the HER as it is something we want to supply to enquirers. To have held it on a separate database would have complicated matters.

Comment (HER Officer) – Rather than providing PAS data ourselves we would simply direct contractors to the PAS website.

Question (GT) – Would there be any possibility of talking to the PAS about making the material available through more relevant formats, for example using web-mapping?

Answer (HER Officer) – In past discussions Dan Pett (of the PAS) has expressed a preference for linked data rather than HER downloads.    


Informing the Future of the Past
- Ben Wallace (Warwickshire County Council)

Work is now beginning to update the Informing the Future of the Past (IFP) guidelines and to transform the way they are managed and maintained. Preliminary consideration has concluded that revision should from now on be an on-going process rather than a comprehensive, bulk update as it has been in the past. To permit this the guidelines have now been moved onto a Wiki format which is seen as being more user friendly and will allow freer updating. The finished product will be linked into exemplars and relevant case studies.  
   
Those elements of the document which are to receive priority in the first phase of updating have already been identified and participants found to undertake this work. Updates from Scotland and Wales will be solicited in due course.

Steps are also being taken to develop an effective management mechanism for the process of revision within the HER community. It has been decided that IFP will form a standing agenda item at ALGAO HER Committee meetings. These meetings will work to keep the updating process in motion by identifying objectives and seeking out volunteer contributors. Some significant changes are now under way which should be completed by the end of January 2015. Then, from April, the ALGAO committee will be reviewing further developments.      
 
Question (exeGesIS representative) – What search options are available?

Answer – A search tool for contributors is to be made available to users. Easier search mechanisms are being investigated.

Question (exeGesIS representative) – Is it intended that there will be book-marked headings within pages?

Answer (Sarah MacLean, English Heritage) – This has already been done. This is all part of the move away from a paper-based product.

Question (HER Officer) – Can this be accessed now?

Answer – Yes, the system is now available.

Question (HER Officer) – How is consensus regarding the guidance to be achieved? Will inputters be vetted?

Answer – All contributors will be professionals in the field of HERs and the historic environment and contributions will be by invitation only. Any problems should be directed to the ALGAO HER Committee.