Case study: Historic England / Landward heritage training for local authorities


Historic England were working on a programme of educational material for people in different roles in local authorities. The aim was to encourage them to address heritage issues in planning applications with expertise and consistently across English local authorities.

They wanted to make it more engaging. By using Action Mapping we were able to identify a series of behaviours which could be improved. We were then able to create a prototype scenario that would be credible and engaging to several local authority roles. I had worked with Historic England before on Action Mapping and scenarios.

Matt Faber, Instructional Designer in the Capability Building Team, asked me to facilitate the session.


Historic England have long experience of using scenario-based learning. Matt had seen scenario-based learning used effectively already and it had put him off the idea of creating an elearning module that had users turning the ‘pages’ of an online book. They were using an agency who already had the subject expertise, Landward, to develop the elearning . Landward had produced only educational content before, but both Historic England and Landward were happy to get involved in creating something performance-based.

Matt had knowledge of the kinds of heritage issues raised to Historic England; Landward had close knowledge of the audience, having worked with councils across England. I had neither but was able to facilitate the discussion.

The challenge

The problem was that they had lots of information to impart – enough to fill a book. They didn’t have one simple audience with one job role. They wanted to raise the level of awareness of heritage matters to a huge range of people working in local authorities, and they wanted decisions across the range of local authorities in England to be seen to be more consistent.

These people might be involved at any stage of the planning process and could have some awareness already, little or none. If Historic England were to slam a book down on their desk and say ‘read this’, they were unlikely to take in any of the information at all. In that case, the budget would be wasted and they would still see heritage sites blighted by inconsistent planning decisions. How to narrow it down to something that addressed a need they could see?

What we did

I put aside all the content and topics they’d brought and asked them to focus on the audience. Who are they? What kinds of jobs do they have? At what points are they involved in the planning process?

We sketched it out on a flipchart and found that, although the range of job titles were diverse, there was some consistency about where they might be involved – they all took part, directly or indirectly in the decision to accept or reject planning applications, or (in most cases) to send them back for revision and re-application. We mapped who they would be involved with, for consultation and for advice.

That allowed us to use the Action Mapping process to establish the learning need. Our success measure would be that heritage factors were brought into planning decisions earlier, in a consistent way, and the number complaints to Historic England would reduce. To achieve this inclusion of heritage factors, there were a number of actions people working in the planning process might have to take, culminating in the decision about whether a particular proposal should be given the go-ahead.

They had to:

• allocate Heritage factors equal weight to other considerations
• challenge applications on Heritage grounds
• make constructive suggestions about conservation, not just say ‘no’
• seek and make good use of advice from Heritage experts
• ask the right questions to the right people to assess the heritage significance of a proposal
• do this early in the planning process before issues become problems and involve rework

We then went on to identify what stops planning employees from including heritage factors. We were able to list ten factors, of which seven could be mitigated by learning – for example knowing how to apportion value using Historic England’s system of four values, would help them to balance heritage with other considerations and would overcome the criticism that ‘it’s all subjective’.

Although not everyone would be responsible for taking all these actions, the individuals were never too many steps removed from all the decisions, so we decided they would be able to enter imaginatively into a story we would set around a planning application and be able to identify with various views and demands they would know from their own experience.

The Result

At the end of the day Matt declared it a success: we had a clear analysis of the knowledge and skills Historic England should aim to boost for local authority staff involved in the planning process:

1. the most important areas of performance: what they do in the job
2. factors that had a direct impact on that performance
3. where learning could contribute to better performance

From this we spent the afternoon building a working template in Twine of a scenario-based learning approach with game elements, which could be populated with different story details to create several interactive scenarios. Both Historic England and Landward were confident this would produce learning material which local authority staff would see as relevant and enjoyable. The actual learning material is still under development at Landward.

Matt Faber (Historic England)’s view

It was important for Historic England to understand that each person, within this particular project, brought their own expertise to the mix. Historic England had the strategic training overview which informed the training topics and overall design, Landward ,who have expertise in heritage training and Norman, who brought with him a tacit knowledge of the action mapping process. The combination of these different skill sets proved invaluable to the success of the project.

(Thanks to The Story Edge for help developing this case study)


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