From 30 June to 6 July 2017, in Kraków, took place the first in history World Heritage Site Managers’ Forum, an event accompanying the 41st World Heritage Committee session. The initiator and organizer of the Forum was the National Heritage Board of Poland, with cooperation with ICCROM and support of World Heritage Centre, IUCN and ICOMOS. The meeting was hosted by the President of Kraków and Kraków Municipality.
The idea of the Forum was to unite representatives from WH properties with those at the heart of WH procedures as stronger bridges should be built between the procedural core of the WH system and WH site managers, whose ongoing work to safeguard OUV constitutes the real expression of the Convention.
Objectives of the Forum were: to understand the decision making process by the Committee and its role in safeguarding World Cultural Heritage, to expose the site managers to the State of Conservation (SoC) process, and to be able to assess site managers role in the SoC process and to understand its link to WH Committee decisions.
The Forum attended about 100 participants from 25 State-Parties from around the world. On the 30 June 2017 the Forum was opened during the dinner hosted by the Mayor of Kraków. Another three days were dedicated to presentations concerning WH system, key actors and their roles, monitoring of WH properties and special activities and tools, presented by World Heritage Centre, ICCROM, IUCN and ICOMOS. Also WH site managers from Syria, Ecuador, Poland, Indonesia, Lesotho, Republic of South Africa and Honduras shared their experience as case studies, while the National Heritage Board of Poland presented Polish perspective from the point of view of the site manager, WH Focal Point, as well as the member of WH Committee. For the three following days site managers participated at the Plenary item 7 (SoC Reports).
One of the outcomes of the Forum was a statement prepared by WH site managers containing their objectives and conclusions. During a short workshop site managers developed a document in which they recognized 3 groups of needs that refer to: WH (eco)system, WH processes and capacity building. The statement and final conclusions were presented during the closing of the WH Site Mangers’ Forum on the 6 June 2017.
Deep engagement of the participants as well as discussions accompanying the delivery of the statement during the official closing of the World Heritage Site Managers’ Forum leave no doubt as to the need for continuation of the site managers’ meetings to be held annually during the World Heritage Committee sessions. The conjunction with the Committee Session brings general attention to those who are directly responsible for the protection of the WH sites and gives an outstanding opportunity to have their voices heard at the level of the WH system. Annual meetings of site managers, Advisory Bodies and Committee Members on the problems concerning protection of the WH sites will definitely strengthen not only the sense of responsibility but also the sense of community and shared obligation towards World Heritage.
Background for organization
The World Heritage Convention sets out the responsibilities of the States Parties to identify, protect and manage natural and cultural heritage of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV). While appropriate conditions for proper protection are nearly always generated at State level, most of the obligations associated with World Heritage inscriptions are usually met at the level of specific sites and this is best achieved with the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders. Their knowledge of the Convention and their understanding of the World Heritage system has a significant impact on the protection of OUV.
Within each group of stakeholders, a single manager often emerges as the key responsibility holder who oversees and leads site-specific managerial decision-making and who, for the purposes of this background note, we will call World Heritage 'site managers'. Depending on the type of heritage at stake, they can come from very different realities – the public or private sector, heritage or non-heritage organisations, etc. It is often they who play the most crucial role in ensuring the Convention is implemented. They reconcile the expectations and requirements of the international heritage community with the needs and potential of the specific heritage with which they are involved.
The protection of OUV and its State of Conservation is monitored by the World Heritage Committee, supported by the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies (ICCROM, ICOMOS and IUCN), through processes known as 'Periodic Reporting' and 'Reactive Monitoring'. The Reactive Monitoring process involves the collection of data from State Parties, Reactive Monitoring Missions and the drafting of State of Conservation reports (SOC) by the World Heritage Centre and Advisory Bodies. These drafts are discussed at the annual meeting of the World Heritage Committee and the decisions which are adopted are then sent to State Parties for implementation. Responsibility for carrying out these requests lies primarily with the 'site managers' mentioned above. Too often these are managers who have worked without direct involvement in the designing of procedures and related recommendations. The recommendations then land on their desks and, in the absence of a consolidated understanding of the entire decision-making process, site managers are not empowered to act upon them effectively or help other stakeholders engage in the World Heritage processes to this same end.
Considering the World Heritage List includes over 1000 sites and a global territory of over 276 million hectares under its protection, increased understanding of the World Heritage decision-making process among site managers becomes crucial in order to achieve more effective protection of OUV. It allows the Convention to fulfil its potential as a tool and catalyst for World Heritage protection and heritage protection in general. At the same time, future improvements to the World Heritage decision-making procedures must build on and respond to greater engagement of those dealing with World Heritage on a day-to-day basis.
Stronger bridges should be built between the procedural core of the World Heritage system and its outer segments – those in the field whose ongoing work to safeguard OUV constitute the real expression of the Convention. It is in this context that the State Party of Poland, as a host of the 41st World Heritage Committee Session, proposed a World Heritage Site Managers Forum to unite representatives from World Heritage properties with those at the heart of World Heritage procedures.
The Forum attended about 100 participants from 25 State-Parties from around the world, selected from World Heritage Sites for which a State of Conservation (SOC) report has been prepared and presented for decision making at 41st Session of the World Heritage Committee. Participants from natural, cultural and mixed sites will be selected. For full representativeness, selected managers represented natural, cultural and mixed sites.