Contributing Research to Enrich the National Heritage List for England
Enriching the List is an initiative where we invite you the public to share your knowledge and pictures of listed places with us, so that we can record important facts and even unlock the secrets of some places. As this article shows, a bi-product of this crowdsourcing project is that it’s also a great practical way for our staff to easily contribute our research into these historic places for the benefit of people searching the list.
Pooling our knowledge
Enriching The List went live in June 2016. The initiative has proved to be a great success with over 95,000 contributions so far and 142,000 published photos with just over 54,000 different list entries enriched.
The Research Reports Series includes research carried out by Historic England as well as work which was carried out by other organisations on behalf of, and funded by, Historic England. The Research Reports are available separately from the List on the Historic England website. Although the scope of the series is wider than just protected heritage, many reports are about Listed historic places.
In 2017 we set up a pilot project to identify more recent relevant reports that would add value to relevant List entries, using the straightforward Enriching the List mechanism. The project was very similar to the one which was already being carried out by Historic England Archives, where a dedicated member of the team was using Enriching The List to add archive images to list entries. This project began in May 2016 and during that time over 6,600 images have been added to 4,700 sites. A workflow was also established which would encourage staff to continue to add futher future enrichments based on research.
Choosing reports for the pilot
I worked back from 2016 to 2000 to make sure the most up to date information was made available first. The main criteria for adding a report was that it must add more information than is available in the list entry. The older list entries are often very sparse and lack detail, therefore this project was very useful as it provided a good deal of extra information. Once I had found the relevant list entry (often the research report would contain a grid reference, or in newer research reports a List Entry Number) I would add a brief summary of the report and a link to the report PDF.
Below is an example of what the ETL contribution looks like:
What we've achieved so far
- In total 1650 contributions were made. The most used report type was Dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) with 654 list entries being enriched.
- More than half of the contributions made in the project were the first ETL contributions.
- The most popular type of designation was a Listed structure, 1119 list entries have had a research report added.
- By analysing the user statistics of the research reports database, we can already begin to see positive progress in people downloading research reports as a result of viewing these enrichments.
This shows that in addition to its main focus as a way for the public to make their contributions ETL can be an effective way of highlighting the research resource work that we produce to the public.
The research reports with their fuller format can often contain more information than the statutory list entry does. For example, members of the public often want the wider history and detailed development of a building; and our research into particular places or desk-based analysis of a certain type of site or structure, be it a pre-war pub, Drill Hall or a Signal Box, does exactly that.
Thoughts for the future
This has been a good example of Historic England staff with different specialisms working together to give the public better information. The pilot project concentrated on the Research Reports Series but the same principle could potentially be applied to other elements of additional information coming from Historic England work.