28 Jun 2005

Significance - standard methodology for assessing the significance of cultural heritage objects and collections

In 1998 the Heritage Collections Council Collections Managment and Conservation Working Party is addressed the objective to 'develop criteria for determining significance and identifying items and collections of significance and to strengthen the infrastructure for their conservation and preservation'. This section reports on stage 1 of this project.

"Significance" refers to an assessment of an object's value in a context, whether historic, aesthetic, scientific, cultural or monetary. Assessment of significance provides part of the context for appropriate conservation and preservation. That is, conservators and others will be better able to determine priorities and levels of conservation and preservation treatments if they understand the item's significance

Developing an agreed standard methodology and criteria for assessing significance, for use by all museums, is fundamental to effective management of Australia's heritage collections. Use of the methodology and criteria will enable museums and collecting institutions to make decisions about conservation and preservation priorities. The criteria will enable assessment of significance in any context but will not be prescriptive in terms of national, regional or local classifications.


The Heritage Collections Council's (HCC) National Strategy for the Conservation And Preservation of Australia's Cultural Heritage Collections, includes an objective relating to significance, which is "To develop criteria for determining significance and identifying items and collections of significance and to strengthen the infrastructure for their conservation and preservation."


The HCC Collections Managment and Conservation Working Party of the HCC is addressing this Objective through a two stage process.


As a first step the Working Party engaged consultants to research and document existing criteria for assessing significance relevant to movable heritage collections and objects, including those used by local, State and Federal Government agencies and organisations both in Australia and overseas, and to recommend a set of criteria either from existing practice or developed from existing practice.


The consultants, Australian Heritage Projects in consortium with Ms Kylie Winkworth, have provided the Working Party with a final report on this project, including a recommended methodology and set of criteria for assessing significance.


Based upon this work, the Working Party now wishes to develop, trial and publish a user manual for the significance methodology/criteria, for use by owners, managers and collectors of heritage objects and collections across Australia.


In the second stage, the Working Party has engaged Australian Heritage Projects and Ms Kylie Winkworth now in consortium with Dr Linda Young, to subject the proposed methodology/criteria to further trialing, testing and refinement within the sector, particularly in regional, local, rural, remote and specialised museums, and within specialised collections such as Indigenous collections, natural science collections and art collections.


The consultants role will include the development, to publication stage, of a user manual to assist owners, managers and collectors of heritage objects and collections across Australia (including, but not limited to, heritage professionals) apply the refined criteria/methodology. The manual is to be developed as both a hard copy document for publication and distribution to museums, and as on online version for publication through AMOL.


Whilst the development of the recommended methodology/criteria included limited consultation within the museums and heritage sector, the Working Party is interested in ensuring that the proposed approach has maximum acceptance to the sector prior to publication of the proposed user manual. Consultation with professional and other bodies to gain endorsement of the final product will also be undertaken.


Report on Stage 1 and Recommended Methodology/Criteria

The report from the first stage of the Significance project, undertaken by Australian Heritage Projects and Ms Kylie Winkworth, is in three volumes and three appendices, each of which can be fully downloaded in .pdf format. Volume 1 includes the recommended methodology/criteria.

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