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Icon gives evidence to House of Lords Select Committee Science and Technology Science and Heritage Follow Up

The House of Lords Select Committee Science and Technology held a series of evidence sessions in February and March 2012 to find out what had happened since their report was published in 2006 and 2007. [links to Icon website] Icon was one of the witnesses called to give evidence at the original enquiry and was invited back to submit evidence to the Follow Up session. Written evidence was provided by Icon’s Science Group and the Chair of the Board of Trustees, Amber Xavier-Rowe. Icon’s Chief Executive, Alison Richmond, gave oral evidence to the enquiry on 6th March, alongside Dr. David Saunders, Keeper of Conservation and Scientific Research, The British Museum, and Nancy Bell, Head of Collection Care, The National Archives. See here for more information


The main points that arose were:

• Disappointment in lack of action on part of DCMS to effectively promote science and seek better integration of science in other heritage areas, and regret that the post left empty by Dr Anita Charlesworth, Chief Scientific Adviser to DCMS, had not been replaced. Icon recommended the appointment of a DCMS Chief Scientific Advisor to the vacant post and DCMS actively support the Science and Research Advisory Committee and its role in encouraging coordination across the built, archaeology, museum, galleries, archives and libraries domains. The sector was described by Michael Dixon, Director of the Natural History Museum as disaggregated, the demise of the MLA was regretted for its cross-sector overview and the National Heritage Science Strategy welcomed as an effort to co-ordinate.

• The jointly funded AHRC/EPSRC Science and Heritage Research Programme emerged directly from the enquiry and has been a success, has achieved a huge amount in a short time, and is especially valued for its cross-disciplinary research projects and collaborations between scientists and end users, although full impact could not be assessed for some years. Heritage organisations achieving academic analogue status (IRO) was another outcome that was welcomed.

• Dissemination of research to end users was a concern, and there was more that Icon among others could do by offering guided literature reviews etc Dissemination generally worked best through conservators having access to live scientists, and ways were suggested that might increase this interaction. Knowledge exchange programmes with industry was one of these.

• While the Committee had rejected the concept of a National Conservation Centre in 2006, some panellists thought that it might be time to revisit the idea.

• There had been no positive effect on the job market which in general was in decline. Icon’s view was that unless a funding stream for heritage science can be secured both in terms of grant funding and permanent posts for scientists to work alongside practitioners we risk loosing the new scientists introduced to the field through the Heritage and Science Programme. There were gaps in provision, among others modern materials and preventive conservation were flagged up, although hard data is needed and Icon is aiming to undertake workforce research. Another kind of gap existed, gaps in career path between older scientists with long term knowledge of collections who were nearing retirement and fewer, younger scientists on short term contracts, making transfer of knowledge difficult.

• While there had been notable examples, e.g. CSI Sittingbourne and Conservation in Focus exhibition at The British Museum, building awareness amongst the public was still an issue and it was hoped that there would be a more concerted strategy going forward via the Heritage Science Forum. Icon’s Science Group was flagged up as having a role in future as was Icon’s National Conservation Education & Skills Strategy.
• The National Heritage Science Strategy was recognised as a positive outcome of the Lords’ Report. It was forward looking and fit for purpose road map for future development.

• The appointment of Dr Rowena Banerjea, Coordinator of the Heritage Science Forum, was welcomed. The Committee expressed concern that the momentum of the Forum should not be lost, that it should be more than a “talking shop”. It should be leading advocacy for heritage science in the UK and Europe, and seek financial support from the industries that will benefit from scientific research. Icon advocated wide membership of the National Heritage Science Forum as essential for taking forward the National Heritage Science Strategy and developing a long-term Heritage Science plan for the UK.

See also:
Lords Committee questions Ministers David Willetts and John Penrose on science and heritage

House of Lords Science and Technology Committee’s Report on the role and functions of departmental Chief Scientific Advisers

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