CREATING INFORMATION MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS FOR CULTURAL WORLD HERITAGE: Experiences from Central Asia

Introduction

The UNESCO Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape (HUL) requires taking into account the numerous attributes of the historic environments. It proposes six critical steps for its successful implementation. Surveys and mapping of the natural and cultural assets, as well as of human resources, are conceived as the first step in order to understand what needs to be protected or managed. To improve the efficiency of the management of cultural heritage and streamline the monitoring processes, several sources reiterate the importance of making available accurate and consistent information (ICOMOS 1964: Art. 16; Letellier 2007; UNESCO 1972a: Art. 27). However, problems start when the baseline information to be shared is not reliable or incomplete, or when there is a lack in local stakeholder expertise related to adequate information management strategies.

In addition, new challenges arise in the preparation of nomination dossiers and the management of large-scale or transnational World Heritage properties. For example, data made available is not always interoperable and its hannonization is necessary. In such cases it can be helpful to apply advanced yet easy-to-use information and content management systems that can handle large amounts of geospatial data (Vileikis 2018). Information Management Systems (IMS), as digital repositories, are an opportunity in cultural heritage inventories, they are changing the way stakeholders and the larger community is informed for the protection of the sites. IMS can aid in the collection, storage, analysis and dissemination of the gathered information (Longley et al. 2011). Although the HUL approach is a well-recognized instrument for managing change of cultural heritage, limited research has been undertaken in the scope of IMS to support its implementation.

This chapter focuses on the need, methods, and use of comprehensive IMS for documentation, nomination, and management of World Heritage properties towards a successful implementation of the HUL. It describes strategies for the development of IMS in cultural heritage illustrated with two case studies along the Central Asian Silk Roads. The first one is the design and development of the Silk Roads Cultural Heritage Resource Information System (CHRIS) supporting the serial transnational World Heritage nominations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and the second one is the development of a Geographic Information System (GIS) for mapping three World Heritage cities in Uzbekistan.

These ten years of experience in Central Asia (2008-2018) exemplify the benefits and challenges of such digital tools and aim to become a best practice for future initiatives with similar characteristics.

World Heritage management, the HUL and Central Asia

Heritage is valued in a variety of ways being the sum of multidimensional tangible or intangible qualities that a site has at different levels of significance. These qualities mostly tend to be attributed to positive characteristics of a site (De la Torre and Mason 2002; Mason 2002). They become the core of the conservation process and lead to the management of cultural heritage (Jokilehto 1999; Mason 2006; McClelland et al. 2013). However, in today’s dynamic and continuously changing environments, the challenge is to manage such values and attributes under a holistic and interdisciplinary approach and integrate them into a broader sustainable urban management framework, as advocated by the New Urban Agenda, the Hangzhou Declaration and the UNESCO HUL Recommendation (UNESCO 2011a, 2013; United Nations 2017).

The HUL approach puts forward the idea of culture as a fourth pillar of sustainable development. It aims to integrate development principles into conservation planning by considering other dimensions beyond socio-cultural values such as socio-economic values related to the local stakeholders. It intends to manage change rather than only preserve the past. It recognizes and identifies layering and interconnection of natural and cultural, tangible and intangible, international and local values, broadening the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) and including its context and geographical setting. It also outlines the involvement of stakeholders at all levels to embrace a wider range of perspectives and interests (UNESCO 2011a). As already stressed by the Nara Document, a heritage management system should recognize and be adaptable to cultural diversity (ICOMOS 1994). Thus, there is no recipe for its development.

Aside from the World Heritage Convention, there are other conventions and internationally-recognized charters and standards for cultural heritage and conservation that aim to guide stakeholders and site managers to improve the World Heritage implementation and interpretation. New legislation or integrated approaches with other management systems, together with financial measures, might be needed to comply with the international standards given by international and local charters, guidelines and resolutions (UNESCO 1972b). Also, as a component of the management planning process, management plans serve as the means for combining the OUV with a strategic framework for the protection and management of the properties. Management systems and plans aim at a long-term planning. They serve to document the process, to identify gaps in the existing system, and are flexible enough to develop when circumstances change (Clark 2010).

In the Central Asian context, the development of management systems and plans is recent, and the process has been challenging. However, experiences as innovators of the HUL are showing positive changes in the management approach. In 2007, the first Silk Roads sub-regional meetings were held in Central Asia and China as an initial step towards the development of a management heritage framework for the Silk Roads serial transnational World Heritage nomination,[1] including twelve States Parties in 2010. Later in 2008, the preparation for the management plans and inventory of resources started in the World Heritage Historic Centre of Bukhara in Uzbekistan and the workflow was replicated in the three other World Heritage cities.

The processes followed, to a certain extent, the seven key aspects that should be present for managing World Heritage stated by the Operational Guidelines:

These points were in agreement with the HUL as they aimed ‘to give the cultural and natural heritage a function in the life of the community and to integrate the protection of that heritage into comprehensive planning programmes’ (UNESCO 1972a: Art. 5a).

The conceptual framework of ‘values-based management’ of heritage was introduced in practice throughout the World Heritage nomination and management processes in Central Asia. In addition, changes in the national legislation and the approval of degrees on cultural heritage took place such as the appointment of the UNESCO National Focal point for cultural World Heritage in Uzbekistan in 2014 and the creation of the National World Heritage Committee of the Republic of Kazakhstan in 2014.

  • [1] a shared understanding of values by all stakeholders; (2) a management cycle that includes planning, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and feedback; (3) assessment of the vulnerabilities and change; (4) development of mechanisms for the involvement and coordination of the activities between partners and stakeholders; (5) allocation of resources; (6) capacitybuilding; and (7) clear description of the functionality of the system. (UNESCO 2017: Para. 111)
 
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