Norwegian Heritage Policy: Heritage within Landscape and Environment

Hanneke Booij, PhD researcher at the University of Stirling, provides insights on Norway’s approach to heritage policy.

Hanneke Booij is a second year PhD student at the Centre of Environment, Heritage and Policy, University of Stirling, in collaboration with the Glasgow Building Preservation Trust. This PhD is funded by the Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities.

During the State of Heritage meeting organised by The BEFS on 4 February 2021, it was clear that many organisations are struggling with the economic and social consequences of the pandemic and are looking to explore new heritage futures. However, it can be difficult to think outside the proverbial box in a time of crisis. This prompted me to share a reflection on the recent Norwegian white paper on heritage (Meld. St. 16, 2020) to provide an insight into the Norwegian environmental perspective on heritage policy in the context of current societal challenges.

Scotland and Norway have experienced similar recent developments in the democratisation of heritage and an increase in community-based heritage policies. An increased awareness of social inequalities has led to a reconsideration of issues of representation, diversity, and social justice with both governments increasingly focusing on sustainability of heritage and society. Public funding in both countries has become more directly linked to societal benefits such as the current call by NLHF which prioritises wellbeing, inclusion, environmental sustainability, community activism, connection to place, and improvement of resilience in heritage organisations.

Norwegian heritage has been managed by Norway’s Ministry of Environment since 1972, along with nature management and physical planning, placing heritage firmly within landscape. Their physical community planning process includes a separately designed participation tool to give children and young people a voice in their local landscape. Responsibilities for heritage management have been in a process of decentralisation to county level since 2016 – 2017. The aim of decentralisation is to provide long term management of heritage within community and place to strengthen national policy and values. The heritage white paper 2020 introduces the term cultural environment as a new collective term, which includes cultural monuments, cultural environments, and landscapes. It emphasizes the importance of a holistic approach, aiming to make the connection to other climate and environmental policies clearer while also setting out to develop tools to measure how the cultural environment contributes to achieving the sustainable development goals. The paper presents three new national goals within the cultural environment policy: commitment, sustainability, and diversity. The white paper defines heritage as a common good and a societal resource.

Norway ratified the Faro Convention in 2008, emphasising the importance of people’s right to participate and the right to interpret the heritage of their choice. However, not only are heritage and culture participation defined as rights and heritage as a common good, they are also defined as a common responsibility for both the state and citizens, aiming for a high level of both inclusion and participation. Interestingly, another aim of decentralisation of heritage management is to improve collaboration with museums and the arts which are managed separately by the Ministry of Culture. The white paper stresses that collaboration between the cultural environment and museums and arts needs strengthening. In addition, it highlights that decentralisation needs better resourcing to carry out their relatively new duties relating to the cultural environment.

Norway’s cultural environment policy presents heritage as a positive resource and an active tool for development which could be beneficial from a perspective of societal and community needs, place-based identities, and participation. It will be interesting to see how the policy division between the natural and physical cultural environment on the one hand, and intangible heritage and culture, including “stories, objects and action-based knowledge” (Meld. St. 16, 2020, p. 2) on the other hand, impacts on heritage, communities, heritage organisations, and the societal challenges they intend to address.

My PhD investigates resilient and sustainable futures for small heritage organisations. I aim to explore the Norwegian approach to heritage policy (subject to funding) by making use of the University of Stirling’s partnership with the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU). This will enable me to place resilience and sustainability in small heritage organisations in an international context and explore any mutual benefit.

For those who would like to read the Norwegian Heritage White Paper 2020 here are the links to the summary report, or the full version.