Cultural Heritage, Sustainable Development Goals, and International Organizations

By Donovan Rypkema, President of Heritage Strategies International and Principal of PlaceEconomics
Earlier this year Heritage Strategies International and its companion company, PlaceEconomics, began our PresPolls. These are once a month surveys using our Facebook pages. While the response rate varies, we’ve invariably received interesting and often surprising responses.
In anticipation of Habitat III and in the collaboration with US/ICOMOS and their Knowledge Platform, our September survey asked about the Sustainable Development Goals. For the first time Cultural Heritage has been included as a target area for UN Habitat’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs establish benchmarks for the nations of the world over the next 15 years.
In addition to asking respondents if they were aware of the inclusion of Cultural Heritage in the SDGs, we also asked whether they thought they would influence policy at various levels of government. In addition we asked about the perceived effectiveness of various international organizations that deal with heritage conservation.
Around a third of all respondents were from countries other than the United States and included survey takers from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, India, Italy, Latvia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Romania, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey.
The awareness of cultural heritage being included in the SDGs was nearly the same between US and International respondents.
But international respondents had much greater confidence that the goals would influence governmental policy at all three levels than did those from the United States. Although the SDGs are usually seen as national targets, international survey takers thought it would be at the local government level where influencing public policy would be most likely.
Our final two questions asked about how effective various organizations are in advocacy for and in implementation of heritage conservation. In every instance international respondents rated as more effective all of the organizations for both advocacy and implementation.
These generally low “effectiveness” ratings by US respondents are not, however because of a high “Not Effective” response, but rather simply not knowing about the organizations. Other than the UNESCO World Heritage Center and the World Monuments Fund, over half of US respondents said they didn’t know the effectiveness of the organizations.
So what are the major takeaways from PresPoll 6?

  1. International respondents are more confident that the cultural heritage SDG targets will influence public policy.
  2. US respondents are generally not familiar with most of the international organizations working on heritage conservation.
  3. This suggests that those of us in the US who are involved in international heritage conservation need to do a better job of communicating what’s happening beyond our national borders

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