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Once upon a Time in the West (Midlands) - HER Forum Winter Meeting 2015

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

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

The winter HER Forum meeting was held as last year in the lecture theatre at the Birmingham and Midland Institute with 64 attendees. The late withdrawal of one of the speakers caused the programme to be reshuffled slightly but also allowed for more discussion. The morning started with a presentation on the CITiZAN project, concentrating on the ways in which data would be made available to HER, but leading on to a discussion about the use of volunteers and the longevity of the project once the HLF funding ended. This was followed by a demonstration of how the HEROS system was being used for non-core HER activities, such as management recording for the National Botanic Garden of Wales and geo-rectification for the Know Your Place project.
In the afternoon, the potential role of heritage in neighbourhood plans was explored followed by an update on the work on the HER Outcomes Framework project. Finally, the latest progress report on the OASIS/HERALD project was reported. All three topics were followed by an enthusiastic discussion. After the close of formal business, there was a very good turn-out for post-meeting networking.

The CITiZAN Project – Alex Bellisario and Stephanie Ostrich (Museum of London Archaeology)

The Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network (CITiZAN) is a new project to record England’s coastal heritage. CITiZAN is a MOLA community archaeology project working with partners Council for British Archaeology and Nautical Archaeology Society and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Crown Estate and National Trust. Over the summer of 2015 the project has employed seven CITiZAN archaeologists, collected data for our website from HERs and the NRHE, launched, created the app and delivered a number of training and outreach sessions along the English coastline. Our volunteers will be feeding data back through our website which will include research, survey and monitoring information. This data will then be available via the Archaeological Data Service (ADS) in a CSV format for HERs to download and input into county records. This paper will look methodologies employed by the CITiZAN archaeologists to verify the data that is inputted into our website.

Question – HER Officer (1) – How much information is emerging from different areas?

Answer – At this early stage there are only about 10 examples to draw upon. It is to be hoped, however, that numbers will grow as confidence increases.
Question – HER Officer (2) – How are your volunteer groups structured?

Answer (SO) – There are some ‘lone wolves’. In the main, however, participants  belong to local groups. Current examples include community groups in Chichester and around the Thames Estuary.

(AB) Expressions of interest have also been received from groups in Cornwall, North Devon and elsewhere. It is hoped that the areas covered by individual groups will eventually expand and meet to form complete coverage.

Question – James Grimston (Orangeleaf)  – As an HLF funded project, presumably the data is open?

Answer (SO) – Yes it is.

Question – Conservation Officer – What plans are in place to secure the future of the database?

Answer (SO) – The data will continue to be hosted until 2023 and quality control procedures will remain in place at least until then. Discussions are presently in progress with a number of groups, including the National Trust and some universities, regarding how things will be managed post-2023.

Comment – Conservation Officer – The Lincolnshire Heritage at Risk Project might provide some illustration of the risks involved here. Their website recently had to be taken down and their data archived.

Response (AB) – MoLA seem keen at this stage to keep the project on and there would certainly be benefits to operating as an arm of a commercial unit.

Question – HER Officer (3) – How would I, as an HER officer, retrieve data in order to cross check it?

Answer (SO) – It is retrievable in a CSV tabular format with attached NRHE and HER event numbers.

Comment – HER Officer (3) - The RCZA material within the database tends to have very little cross-referencing to HERs.

Response (SO) – The intention is that the data will be ‘un-flattened’ and un-concatenated through restructuring.

(AB) CSV should allow partial referencing by location.

Question – Crispin Flower (exeGesIS) – Is it possible to distinguish the original data apart from the changes that have been made to it? Without this ability the HER’s job can be quite tricky.

Answer (SO) – CSV data is retained as core. Data updates are then held as a separate ‘instance’. These will include the date of visit, and feature number.  
(AB) – The plan is that HER’s will receive regular CITiZAN updates which will provide manageable blocks of data.

Question – Paul Driscoll (South Gloucestershire Council) – How is it possible to distinguish whether the field visit is making reference to the same site that is in the HER record? In the case of sites of this type (which are often very similar), the process of comparison is likely to be quite difficult and labour intensive.  
Answer (SO) – This will form part of the CITiZAN filtering and quality control process.

(AB) – Feature recording forms are built into the system and HER, NHRE and Local references are attached to the app. Any possible discrepancies can thus be checked.

Question – Paul Driscoll – And after the project closes this will become the responsibility of the HER?

Answer (SO) – That’s true but it’s the nature of all projects of this type.
Question – HER Officer (1) – Would there be potential to trial the process of data access in conjunction with specific HERs?

Answer (SO) – This would certainly be possible if anyone would like to volunteer. Given that HIAS seems to be pointing towards Historic England taking responsibility for maritime data, they should perhaps also be involved.     

Question – Nick Boldrini(Durham County Council) – Do you know if HE is amenable to this idea?

Answer (SO) – We meet with their Maritime Committee quite regularly and we can gauge how this is likely to be received. We’ll be alerting, amongst others, both Historic England and the National Trust.

Question – How far inland will the project stretch?

Answer (SO) – In theory it covers all rivers and inlets up to the end of the tidal zone. In practical terms, however, a cut off line is being drawn with a buffer being set 200m inland.

Question – Jack Hanson (Locus Consulting) – In terms of the use and organisation of the participating groups, what do you find to be the most efficient model?

Answer (SO) – We are working through existing groups and other ‘coast users’. Local input is coming from sources as varied as bird watchers and dog walkers. There is also work being done in co-ordination with National Trust ‘Bio-Blitzes’.

Question – Jack Hanson – Are particular individuals within the NT being assigned to the project?

Answer (SO) – We have recently participated in a NT ‘train the trainers’ session.

Question – HER Officer (6) – Will all the data be passed to the relevant HERs?

Answer (SO) - There will be mechanisms in place to try to ensure that this happens.

Question – Nick Boldrini – How is the project developing in the north of England?

Answer (SO) – There is a team based in York to deal with the north east and north west. Local groups are active in (amongst other places) Cleethorpes and Morcambe Bay.

Question – Nick Boldrini) – Have you any contact with CBA in the north?
Answer (SO) – Not as yet but we can do so.

(AB) We produce blogs and newsletters which we can circulate more widely if required. These include lists of activities planned for the following month. They could easily be circulated to the HER Forum list if this would be useful.
Question – HER Officer (7) – Is CITiZAN co-ordinating its efforts with universities and academia?
Answer (AB) – Southampton, Bournemouth and other universities are on the mailing list as are Durham and Hull in the north. Some very positive responses have been received in this sphere with the possibility of some useful survey training. We are keen to develop a network of participation and the idea is to be as inclusive as possible.
Comment – HER Officer (7) – The RCZA proved rather disjointed and didn’t satisfactorily address these aspects.
Response (AB) – I would entirely agree, that would certainly correspond with my own experience at Hampshire HER.
(SO) We are very committed to publication and dissemination. This is definitely not to be seen as a ‘fluffy’ community project.
Comment – Chris Webster – It’s now evident that RCZA information is being taken round in a circle.
Comment – HER Officer (1) – It’s unfortunate that some projects have failed to engage with HERs soon enough. However, measures are being taken to try to ensure that these instances become rarer.

Comment - (AB) – The integration of HER data could be factored in as a long term goal of CITiZAN.

(SO) This might be a good option for volunteers who would prefer to work indoors. 

(AB) In the meantime, anyone who knows of a site under threat, please get in touch with CITiZAN, either through its headquarters at MoLA or by contacting one of the local teams.

The Historic Environment Records Open System (HEROS) – Paul Driscoll (South Gloucestershire Council)

South Gloucestershire Council have been using HEROS (Historic Environment Record Open System) to deliver its core HER function since 2013.  HEROS is a fully integrated (combining text and GIS in one), MIDAS compliant HER which makes use of INK as the GIS.  It is a modular system that enables users to adapt it to their own requirements and has within it an number of impressive processing, analysis and visualisation tools that enable us to make use of LiDAR, georeference historic maps or aerial photos, import WFS into the database and run complex spatial and data queries. 

HEROS will enable South Gloucestershire Council to deliver a range of outreach and strategic projects including enhancement of the Local List, Know Your Place West of England and A Forgotten Landscape and now has the added functionality of combining with ecological data.

The South Gloucestershire HER is now using HEROS which has proved a useful aid in facilitating the delivery of the council’s heritage strategy. It has created a more robust HER with no preliminary need for software installation on desktops as it is delivered via a web browser. HEROS is MIDAS compliant and readily configurable. For example, attention is currently being given to the creation of a Locally Listed Building module which can be quite rapidly achieved.

HEROS uses INK as its GIS platform, so there is no need for other forms of software such as ArcGIS, MapInfo or QGIS. Spatial data is integrated within the database and is automatically attached to each record.

The system has a modular format employing a monuments/events/sources framework. A recent development has been the creation of an NMP module which is able to integrate the shape-files and spread sheet information provided into the HER database.  This is currently in use at the South Downs National Park Authority and now at South Gloucestershire Council.

Another example of HEROS’ applications can be seen in its use by the National Botanic Garden of Wales. Here heritage and ecology are accommodated within an integrated system. Historic and archaeological features are recorded using the same system employed by the HER. However, these are integrated with data on plants, trees and animal habitats to define management areas and generate conservation ‘actions’. (South Gloucestershire doesn’t attempt to interface the HER with ecology to any great extent but this will be of great value to those services that do).
LIDAR data can also be handled within the system and visualisations, such as hillshade modelling, section drawing or 3D views can be processed through the Digital Terrain Investigator.

Web Features Services (WFS) and Web Map Services (WMS) can both be received and published through HEROS and this has enabled South Gloucestershire Council to deliver its HER data to the Know Your Place Project. 

At the Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust HEROS is being used to underpin a volunteer enhancement initiative. It allows the scanning of site visit records, pro-forma accounts and sketches. South Gloucestershire HER is also keen to provide remote volunteer access to the database. This will involve providing user names and passwords to individuals, some of whom will be able to edit data, others just view. This has begun with the South Gloucestershire Mines Research Group, a very active society whose wealth of knowledge is proving enormously useful in developing this component of the record.

Finally, other projects now employing the system include:

*The ‘Secrets of the High Woods’ NMP -An HLF funded initiative in the South Downs National Park integrating LIDAR survey with subsequent ‘ground truthing’. Here volunteers undertake fieldwork using a uploaded app which is linked directly to the HER. 
*‘A Forgotten Landscape’ – A South Gloucestershire project covering the lower Severn vale. This will encompass a lot of archaeology and will also involve LIDAR, folklore and fieldwork (including excavation). 
*Links are being forged with ‘Know Your Place’ which is now being successfully implemented by the Bristol City HER with plans in train for it to be extended into Somerset and Wiltshire. 

Question – James Grimster (Orangeleaf) – What do you see as the main barriers to taking up HEROS?

Answer – It’s all quite new at present. People are joining, however, and what might be needed is an expanded user support network.

Comment – Chris Webster(South West Heritage Trust) – Much will depend on the IT team of your host authority. It appears that the majority don’t worry if you want to ‘move out’.

Response (PD) – Moving to open source software does seem to be becoming increasingly acceptable.

Comment – James Grimster – Is it really necessary to push the open source aspect? Microsoft SQL can also be used. The emphasis should be on freeing from constraints. 

Question – James Grimster – Does the lack of a commercial service level agreement constitute a problem?

Answer – Issues of support probably do form part of the reasons for hesitancy amongst potential users. It is hoped that an expanded support group will help to overcome this.

Question – HER Officer (8) – What support does presently exist for the system? Could you get help in initial configuration for example?

Answer – Yes, Steve Smith or Rebecca Bennett can help HERs in setting things up but they will make a charge for this.

Comment – HER Officer (8) – My own concern would be that the system might be left unsupported.

Response – Once again this points to a need to expand the user support base.

Comment – Chris Webster – Once the system has been set up, tinkering with it isn’t such a formidable thing as might be imagined. HEROS may not be at that stage yet but they are developing.

Question – HER Officer (7) – How do volunteers cope with the usability of the system?

Answer – Our volunteers seem to be fine with it so far. It is possible for the HER to alter the interface to accord with a user’s requirements.

Question – HER Officer (7) – Are there any user guides?

Answer – There are none for volunteers at present. They are essentially still testing the system. This is, however, on the ‘to do’ list.

Charina Jones (Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust) – Glamorgan Gwent (a HEROS user) do have volunteers working with the system. Navigation seems quite intuitive, even to those who weren’t particularly confident initially. There are continuing efforts to make it still more flexible, however, for example by making only specific projects visible or weeding out under-used fields.

Question – HER Officer (9) – Is the development of the system dependent on individual enthusiasts?

Answer – There is a development group which shares any advances made by individual users collectively. Thus everything that every user develops becomes available to the group as a whole.

Question- Nick Boldrini – Regarding volunteers, how do you handle contributions from volunteers that are unconventional or eccentric?
Answer – We use temporary tables to hold contributions until they can be verified. In the case of two conflicting opinions both will be made available and those consulting the site will be left to make their own decision as to which is the more likely.
Question – Nick Boldrini – What about ley lines and dubious legend? How do you moderate this without alienating people?
Answer – It’s reassuring to note that ‘Know your Place’ has had very few problems of this type so far. However, my own recent experience does include a theory regarding the putative site of an Arthurian battle which has still to be resolved.
Comment – Alex Bellisario – There might be scope in cases such as (for example) the discovery of an extremely unlikely ‘amphitheatre’ to make a request to the contributor for additional supporting evidence and put matters on hold until something more conclusive is received.
Comment – HER Officer (7) – It has to be acknowledged that there are those who have significantly different perceptions of what constitutes ‘heritage’.
Response (PD) – This is part of the reason why I want to be able to be more flexible about what I can include. However, we still have to be sensible as the process of inclusion and supporting evidence needs to be robust.
Comment – Chris Webster – Possibly this calls for different categories of data with community based material being held in parallel with other elements of the HER.

Comment – HER Officer (8) – I’ve been interested in both of the ‘takes’ on community data that I’ve heard so far (see also CITiZAN above). My hope would be that the Heritage Gateway would be able to take some of these possibilities forward. Possibly Historic England should take a more active role in this.  

Neighbourhood Plans – Jack Hanson (Locus Consulting) 

In October, the one-hundredth Neighbourhood Plan passed its referendum. With more than a thousand (and counting) in development, it remains a growing concern for the heritage sector.

This presentation will provide a broad overview of the issues and opportunities that have arisen in respect of heritage and Neighbourhood Planning to date. It will highlight how an innovative partnership project being undertaken in the West Midlands is addressing these factors, developing means of supporting local communities in championing heritage in pragmatic and constructive ways.
This work has been funded by an Historic England West Midlands regional capacity grant. It has been undertaken in partnership between Historic England, Warwickshire County Council, Worcestershire County Council, Staffordshire County Council and Locus Consulting. The Historic England Regional Capacity Budget puts emphasis on training provision. 
Comment –HER Officer (1) – This particular grant came from the HE West Midlands office. Each HE office spends its own budget differently.
In Warwickshire the process of developing Neighbourhood Plans has involved workshops facilitated by the HER. The HER makes a charge for this but, when the local groups see this to be a worthwhile ‘product’, they are quite willing to pay.

Comment – Peter Boland (Historic England) – Capacity building should be seen as spreading expertise. The object of this exercise is to enhance the impact of Neighbourhood Plans by fostering skills at the local level.
Response – The project’s outputs are already available. This includes the application documents, for replication. The aim now is to encourage take up in the regions. We are keen to hear from anyone interested.

Question – HER Officer (8) – Is a Neighbourhood Planning toolkit available?

Answer – Guidelines of this nature have been written (e.g. the Locality roadmap), however these are to date somewhat fragmented and highly variable in respect of heritage.  In the longer term it is mooted that a bespoke Historic England edition will be produced, however there is no indication as to when this may be, and no initiative has begun to date. Project team are continuing to work in collaboration with Historic England to see what we can get off the ground in the near future.

Question – Louisa Matthews (Archaeology Data Service) – Would the project be seen as applicable to highly urbanised areas?

Answer – The methodology can be adapted to townscapes. The core objectives and principles are highlighting issues and opportunities in respect of heritage – so, for instance, while one may undertake an exercise on historic landscape character in respect of countryside management in a rural area; this could be substituted for an exercise on historic townscape character in respect of high-street management for an urban area. There are however difficulties in urban areas in respect of Neighbourhood Planning, as it is often difficult to define the required ‘Neighbourhood Areas’, therefore there is a lack of a clearly unified & identifiable community group (unlike e.g. parish councils) to take a project on. Urban areas are also very much the minority of applications. This project’s applications have, up to now, been employed in predominantly rural areas, with exception of the small towns of Bewdley and Shipston-on-Stour. This is mostly due to the largely rural nature of the Local Authorities that have been involved. We would be very interested to collaborate with an urban authority in future.  

HER Outcomes Framework Workshop Update – Nick Boldrini (Durham County Council)

(A full version of the abstract below is available on the HER Forum file store under HER_Outcomes_Framework).
The project background

The project has been run by ALGAO, funded by Historic England, and involved gathering various HER Officers together to help work up a draft HER Outcomes Framework Model. The HER Officers were recruited to try and cover most types of HER – Rural, Urban, Coastal, Unitary, National Park etc. The HER Officers also considered aspects of the framework from the point of view of certain customer groups – namely the Public, Education, Contractors and Local Government. The project involved them gathering data to populate the model, and this was further developed at a Workshop in November 2015.
What is an Outcomes Framework?

An Outcomes Framework links what you do with what you want to achieve. It’s a way of showing how you are helping to meet your host organisations goals as well as national targets and standards

The HER Outcomes framework (HEROF)

The HER Outcomes Framework (HEROF) is a generic model for HER’s to use to produce a locally specific HEROF. This will be part of the system which will replace the 2002 Benchmarks. The HEROF will act as a link between the standards as set out in Informing the Future of the Past, and the HER Audits, which will be the mechanism for measuring an HER against those standards. However, the HEROF flexibility means it a can also have a more local use, to simply demonstrate how you are helping to achieve Corporate Priorities.

There are four key levels in the model

HER Activity Level: these are HER tasks ie What you do.

HER Outputs Level: these are the direct product or result of carrying out activities.

HER Service Outcome Level: this is the benefit you are trying to achieve. These will be based on IFP and some will be considered “Core” outcomes that all HERs should be striving to achieve

Corporate Priority Level: these are the high – level aims your host organisation wants to achieve, and will usually reflect the overall responsibilities of the organisation. These could be defined at a number of levels – team, Service, Directorate, or Organisational.

Question – HER Officer – How will this impact on HER audits?
Answer – The intention is to focus the audit process primarily on service HER outcomes and performance indicators.
Comment – Chris Webster – In general terms the structure of the Outcomes Framework seems to involve two categories of HER activities – ‘essential’ and ‘optional’.    

OASIS and HERALD – Louisa Matthews (Archaeology Data Service)

The update and review of the OASIS system, known as the HERALD project, has been in the planning and design stages for the majority of 2015. The project has now reached the stage at which a full project design has been written and the draft circulated for comments. It is therefore timely to review the project to date, and feedback to the HER Community how their input to the project and feedback on the draft project design has been incorporated.  The talk will briefly cover the principal aspects of the proposed system and discuss some of the decisions that led to these. There will also be a brief reflection on how HERALD feeds into the broader aims and objectives of the Heritage Information Access Strategy.
Question – HER Officer – Will training be made available for contractors dealing with historic buildings?

Answer – It is intended that the system will be supported by workshops and training videos. (Historic England are very keen to ensure that there is a good uptake of the system amongst those who undertake historic building recording).
Comment – HER Officer – There tends to be quite a high staff turnover rate amongst contractors. This should be kept in mind when planning for the future.

Comment – HER Officer (10) - The fact that contractors deposit reports with HERs is a significant feature which doesn’t seem to be acknowledged in any of the presentation diagrams. This is a key point and is a good idea when trying to encourage flexibility within the system.

Response – This point should have been covered within the analysis (I think it does appear elsewhere within another flow diagram). The process of peer-review is an important aspect of validation. If a record hasn’t been checked by an HER this needs to be made clear.

Comment – Nick Boldrini – I check the NGRs provided in OASIS reports against the parish map which regularly reveals inaccuracies. Also there are records for which reports are never loading and in these cases progress stalls completely.
Comment – Crispin Flower (exeGesIS) – It would be a good idea to design workflows around the tooling. This shouldn’t be too complicated to do.

Response – This would be seen as a separate exercise and much would be dependent on resources in this area. The intention would be to look for partners to participate in this process as part of the stage 3 work.

Question – Crispin Flower – In the interim, will the current export format continue to work for users?

Answer – MIDAS XML and OASIS XML will continue to work.
Comment – HER Officer (11) – The model proposed seems to indicate that buildings will become split from archaeological recording. This wouldn’t be a good thing.
Response – in response to the user needs survey and feedback we’ve had from Historic Buildings Professionals and Historic England we took the decision to propose a ‘separate’ module for historic buildings recording, reducing the complexity in terms of pick-lists etc. for those who only deal with the above-ground historic environment. However, the underlying data from both above and below ground recording will be held in the same place and not treated any differently. In terms of level-2 users (i.e. HERs) they won’t see this divide – it will only be for level 1 users – i.e. contractors. Essentially, the module is a ‘skin’ over the data – when a contractor picks ‘historic building’ survey as an event type it will narrow down the options for recording to make it easier for non-archaeologists to use.