Dorset Historic Environment Record Forward Plan 2020-2025
8.1 Ways of working
More use will be made of tools and guidance on the website to steer HER users to make enquiries and provide information in ways that can be processed quickly. Online forms will be revised and enhanced so that financial and other procedures underlying the enquiry process are more automated or become redundant. The provision of a wider range of HER data online and customised to the needs of internal and external users will be explored. We will make more use of volunteers to record HER information, and actively seek partnerships and funding for larger thematic enhancement projects.
8.1.1 Streamlined processes
Several actions have been identified to streamline processing of HER enquiries and collection of user statistics and feedback. For example, everyone making an HER enquiry will be encouraged to use the online enquiry form which will be revised to incorporate data licensing, online payment (where a charge is made) and prompts to complete the HER user satisfaction survey form. Use of the online enquiry form will be made mandatory for commercial enquiries, and it will be extended to internal users.
To further reduce time spent dealing with enquiries, more information will be provided to help HER users make enquiries quickly and in an informed way and to understand the information provided. For example, a statement of HER mapping conventions, and explanation of technical terms in common use.
More effective and speedy assimilation of information into the HER will be achieved by providing more structured information for team members and contributors. To support data entry a more detailed HER manual will be produced, alongside guidance for volunteers and the general public. More specific requirements for contractors will be introduced, for example in relation to use of OASIS and provision of data in GIS format. This will be supplemented by simple mechanisms for the submission of information by amateur practitioners, volunteers, and the general public. The online HER report form will be developed to provide ‘channels’ for reporting information on common monument types, with guidance on basic recording and reporting of finds and monuments to minimise re-working of data before it can be entered into the HER database.
8.1.2 Online offer
Regular updates of HER data on the Heritage Gateway website will be initiated, and more use made of images. More HER information will be presented on the Dorset Explorer website, starting with existing data such as the Dorset Historic Towns Survey. The provision of a more extensive range of data for Dorset Council and BCP Council colleagues and creation of customised data sets for groups such as planners and conservation officers will be investigated.
We will make more use of online forms to target known gaps in the HER using volunteer recorders, with map-based recording if feasible. These will be linked to larger community recording project where appropriate. To support this, background information, manuals and training materials will be put on the website.
Website questionnaires will be used to assess in-house needs relating to the HER and for regular consultation with groups such as parish liaison officers and metal detectorists, and with the general public.
In the longer term, options for publication of HER data through a dedicated website will be considered, proposals developed, and funding sought. We will build on this to stimulate use of and engagement with the HER by more people and a wider cross-section of society.
There will be a move from occasional swapping of HER data to more formal data exchange agreements with neighbouring HERs and organisations such as the National Trust and Church of England. We will continue and build upon good relationships with local museums, the two AONBs in Dorset, and Bournemouth University and seek to develop more formal collaborations with them on specific projects. We will pursue partnerships and project working with other academic institutions, local interest groups, businesses and communities.
The most important enhancements of the HER in recent years have been achieved through Archaeological Investigation and Mapping projects initiated and funded by Historic England. The HER has helped to identify and prioritise areas for AIM projects and supported remote working to deliver them; this partnership is crucial to HER development and we will do everything possible to secure and deliver further projects.
Some HER enhancement tasks listed in this plan require resources beyond those which can be provided as part of day-to-day working. Some lend themselves wholly or partly to recording by volunteers but require support. Others are highly technical and call for specialist input and/or long periods of officer time, and it will be necessary to develop project proposals and seek funding for each of these.
Our most rewarding partnership is with the people who volunteer to work with the HER, and we will increase the number of regular volunteers and occasional participants in recording projects. More information and training will be provided, through the website at first, and in person as circumstances allow. We will develop a more structured volunteer experience so that volunteers can progress through different stages of training if they want to, and we will provide more frequent rewards for volunteers. Experienced volunteers will be encouraged to take on the role of mentor for others.
8.2 Planning for protection, quality, enhancement
Local Government Reorganisation also provides an opportunity for more integrated working within Dorset Council and with BCP Council. As a first step, stronger guidance will be provided to ensure that requests for HER data from council colleagues or consultants employed by them can be incorporated into HER workstreams in a timely way and with the best possible results.
Attention will be given to the development and publication of HER data sets suitable for officer and public use to inform the planning process and for general information. These include current data sets such as the Dorset Historic Towns Survey, and others requiring further development such as alert and constraint mapping. Condition information such as Buildings at Risk! data will be incorporated into the HER in more detail and more regular local condition survey introduced, making it possible to monitor trends at local level and identify buildings and monuments at risk at an early stage.
The results of landscape and urban characterisation projects provide seamless information on which planning decisions and management can be based, even in areas where the recorded archaeology is patchy or absent. They have proved useful and accessible to a wide range of people, and a ‘hook’ for engagement with local communities. Urban characterisations of Bournemouth, Dorchester, and Poole, and farmstead characterisation are high priorities to increase understanding of the historic environment and provide more robust evidence for local planning in these areas.
We will seek to achieve a high standard in the recording of heritage assets and land owned or managed by local councils and demonstrate best practice in how HER data feeds back into understanding their significance and informs their management.
8.3 Exploring, understanding, engaging
This plan sets out tasks to make progress against national benchmarks and consolidate the core HER to support the work of the two local authorities it serves. Alongside these are tasks that will prepare the HER for engagement with a wider range of people. User feedback will be encouraged more strongly. We will make frequent use of consultation to understand the needs of potential HER users and identify groups with whom we need to have more active dialogue. Information will be presented in different ways and packaged to meet specific needs, to stimulate a wider cross-section of society to engage with the historic environment.
Early steps will be to provide more HER information online and to create information packs on ‘flagship’ and accessible monuments to encourage local people and communities to take their first steps in exploring their historic environment. General information and guidance will be provided to help them do this legally and safely, and in a way that brings good quality information back into the HER. We will encourage this further by stating priorities for thematic enhancement of the HER clearly, and seek to engage with individual researchers, local and national groups, schools and universities and academic bodies to achieve these priorities. Where possible, we will make thematic enhancement projects the subject of volunteer recording exercises.
Elements of this plan are directed towards creating an identity for the HER which is strong and self-perpetuating. The infrastructure and processes of the HER will be strengthened, and a supportive environment created, putting it in a position to continue to identify and take advantage of new and renewable ways of presenting the county’s historic environment.
8.4 People and communities
We will continue to use volunteers and provide them with more varied ways of working. At a time when we need to offer volunteers ‘out of office’ work, condition survey projects provide ready-made activities for current volunteers, and a basis for further volunteer recruitment and wider public engagement. Further developing online report forms and guidance for reporting and recording monuments and condition survey would meet this need.
We are creating a pool of local volunteer expertise with potential for long term engagement, and new links will be forged with local groups and communities. Some of our volunteers will be able to build on their experience with us and the skills they have learnt on into employment and formal education.
The parish liaison officer scheme gives an opportunity to establish and strengthen links with local government at parish level and is a means of spreading information on matters of concern such as heritage crime. It is a point of contact in an informal way with local landowners and businesses, to whom we can provide advice and information.
The next part of the forward plan