As HLF’s new Strategic Framework 2013 to 2018 kicks into gear and applications begin this year under the revised programmes, it is interesting to consider what impacts HLF will make on the sector in the next 5 years.

Will the new outcome-focused assessment do for evaluation what audience development and activity planning guidance has done for attitudes and approaches to learning, education and participation? Can the increased focus on sustainability – expressed in the outcomes, in the guidance and the new requirements for carbon footprint monitoring for larger projects – embed environmental and financial sustainability into project planning and delivery?

Impacts of the past?

At PLB we have seen the gradual changes which HLF’s guidance and processes have effected in the way we all think about audiences, learning and participation. Early on we were involved with research into audiences for heritage which informed HLF’s original audience development planning guidance. As a consultant I recall being excited by the impact this planning process could have. At the same time we faced the cynicism of many clients that audience development was ‘just about hard-to-reach groups and minorities – why do we need to do it’?

And yet now, 10 or so years later, when we undertake evaluation on HLF’s behalf to test the impact of thinking about the people and how they engage with the heritage, we hear time and again from applicants who acknowledge that activity planning (the next generation audience development plans!) was a benefit to their project. It has changed how they thought as an organisation and also their ability to deliver what they promised in their application.

‘We would have done less volunteering work and outreach but are glad we did as it opened our eyes to how the project was perceived, provided great ideas for the project and changed the outlook of our organisation through increased working with the local community.’ – First time applicant, Museum organisation consulted 2011

Despite the criticism of the original activity planning guidance, which some felt was repetitious, as a sector we do now think about and plan for our audiences much more. This can be seen in the 2011 Accreditation Standards for museums which has increased emphasis on understanding users and meeting their needs. And HLF has heard applicants concerns and sought to address them in this new Strategic Framework with revised, shorter Activity Planning guidance.

Impacts of evaluation?

And so to the new applications process. If bids are to be considered on the contributions they make to outcomes for the heritage, for people and for communities, then evaluation – building the evidence for those outcomes – must become increasingly of importance in how we plan and deliver projects. Recent research into the evaluation of museum galleries supported by HLF and the Wellcome Collection has suggested that there are problems with the methodology of evaluation currently, how evaluation is being used and also the sharing of findings from evaluation. Organisations shy away from evaluation which is not overwhelmingly positive and don’t wish to risk future funding through sharing a ‘warts and all’ assessment.

Through a focus on outcomes, collecting baseline data should become more a way of life than an inconvenient funding requirement. HLF’s guidance requires collecting data at the development phase to then be able to assess the impacts during delivery. It is to be hoped that everyone will go one step further and begin to collect evidence (and analyse and use it) as a matter of course, enabling easy evaluation of the ‘before’ and ‘after’ as well as using the lessons learnt to plan for the future.

Impact of sustainability?

The new outcomes driven approach also places sustainability – financial, environmental and social – firmly on the agenda. Environmental considerations aren’t new for HLF – the previous applications system included guidance and questions about a project’s ‘green’ aspects. So will the new process bring a more holistic approach to sustainability and have the potential to help the sector embed sustainable thinking and doing into their day-to-day working?

The reduction of environmental impacts is a weighted outcome for larger projects which should in itself focus applicants’ attention. Combined with outcomes such as ‘Your organisation will be more resilient’, ‘ The local economy will be boosted’, ‘Your area will be a better place to live, work or visit’ then there is the potential that applicants will begin to consciously consider all aspects of sustainability in their heritage projects.

In addition, the good practice guidance introduces the idea of whole life costing, reflecting social, financial and environmental impacts across a longer term and not just focusing on the initial capital cost and the short term. However, the guidance seems focused largely on buildings and construction. With our interest in sustainable exhibition design at PLB, we’d hope that applicants would also be encouraged to think about the sustainability of what they put in the buildings too.

The Strategic Framework and new applications processes and guidance are currently ‘untested’ with the first decisions under this system due to be made in April this year. Time will tell if they will have the same impact on our thinking about evaluation and sustainability as HLF has achieved, perhaps without our realisation, on our thinking about audiences and engagement. Roll on the next 19 years of Heritage Lottery Funding!

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