Applying social impact assessment (SIA) principles in assessing contribution of cultural heritage to social sustainability in rural landscapes

Eirini Gallou (University College London, London, UK)
Kalliopi Fouseki (University College London, London, UK)

Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development

ISSN: 2044-1266

Article publication date: 6 March 2019

Issue publication date: 8 July 2019



The purpose of this paper is to propose the use of social impact assessment (SIA) principles to evaluate the contribution of cultural heritage to social sustainability, supporting both a people-centered and socially responsible approach to heritage management.


Specifically, the paper explores SIA as a methodological tool for post-project evaluation, used to define projects’ contributions to aspects of social sustainability through analyzing impacts of participation in a rural context case study, that of the Scapa Flow landscape heritage scheme in Orkney Islands, Scotland, UK.


Based on research findings from the thematic analysis of 40 semi-structured interviews on impacts (with heritage managers, planners and participants in the scheme), the paper proposes a combination of heritage value assessment process with social impact identification to achieve a context-relevant assessment of social sustainability. Existing research around social capital and sense of place supports the analysis of relevant impacts and heritage values. Findings support overlaps between socio-environmental impacts, when looking at the role of heritage for community well-being in rural contexts.

Research limitations/implications

The qualitative approach allows for a context-relevant, bottom up impact assessment and allows for multiple stakeholders perceptions to be included.

Practical implications

The proposed methodological approach has greater implications for the work of institutions and professionals involved in project evaluations that can inform participatory heritage project planning, ensuring high social relevance.

Social implications

Application of SIA principles in heritage sector can increase social benefits of heritage projects and enable wider community participation in processes of heritage management.


Through this case study, the effectiveness of SIA principles when applied in cultural heritage project evaluation is discussed, reflecting on a novel methodology for impact assessment in heritage.



Gallou, E. and Fouseki, K. (2019), "Applying social impact assessment (SIA) principles in assessing contribution of cultural heritage to social sustainability in rural landscapes", Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development, Vol. 9 No. 3, pp. 352-375.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

1. Introduction

Social together with environmental impact assessment procedures (SIA and EIA, respectively) are one of the main policy tools and participatory methods that have been developed in order to satisfy the legitimacy qualifications concerning the environmental and social questions of planning (Saarinen, 2004). SIA methodologies have also been developed to function in project planning scale as used to identify potential/expected impacts before the start of a project, while the potential of the methodology in informing evaluation and post-project appraisal stages has not yet been fully explored, nor discussed in the field of heritage studies.

Moreover, recent research around the role of heritage for sustainable development, looking at rural contexts, identifies particularities for achieving sustainable development of historic rural settlements (Karvelyte-Balbieriene and Grazuleviciute-Vileniske, 2014) and varying priorities for local communities that affect the sustainable management of historic assets in rural contexts (Swensen and Sætren, 2014). At the same time, innovative tools for community-led heritage management, tourism planning and inclusive governance are on the rise. All these suggest that contextual needs and natural priorities need to be reflected in local practices in order to achieve effective, participatory approaches to management which in return could stimulate the sustainable development of cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible (Pereira Roders and Van Oers, 2014). In that light, the role of evaluation tools, like SIA, can be crucial not only to understand local social impacts but also to locate local needs, which can help describe the contribution of heritage, especially to social sustainability and local development, in a contextually relevant approach.

Pereira Roders and Van Oers (2014) also rightfully underlined that research in the field may have a low validation potential due to the lack of contextualization (within existing research, physical or social context) that would allow for the findings to be embedded in a broader discussion and thus be meaningful.

Aiming to respond to this call, we will discuss here SIA’s role in heritage, as a tool to support the socially sustainable management of heritage landscapes based on the grounded findings of an evaluation case study from a rural context, based in Northern Europe.

SIA principles have only lately been applied in culture through the proposed cultural heritage impact assessment model (Partal, 2013; Partal and Dunphy, 2016) to assist with planning cultural projects, but still not exploring its role in evaluating impacts nor extending in heritage projects involving the management of built heritage assets.

Keeping all these in mind, this paper proposes a methodological framework to integrate social impact evaluation with value assessment (VA), based on SIA principles, integrating it within existing heritage management processes. It does so by providing findings of the case study application: this offers empirical insights for the underexplored rural settings, while the discussion of SIA (a tool form planning) within the context of heritage projects evaluation aspires to contribute to research on improving planning and operational management processes. It can also significantly improve current practices via producing targeted recommendations for professionals working with communities in such contexts.

1.1 SIA’s role in heritage evaluation: toward facilitating social sustainability outcomes

Multiple voices in heritage studies during the last two decades have been debating on how much the field needs people-centered approaches to management (ICCROM, 2012) to respond to the desired social sustainability outcomes and achieve smooth operational processes, ensuring public consent. Public–private partnerships (Bevilacqua et al., 2012; Calabrò and Della Spina, 2014 amongst others) and involvement of heritage projects in the third sector activities are recognized as producing social value (Ragozino, 2016).

Latest approaches for the management of heritage in landscapes have emphasized the important role of communities in re-accepting responsibility for conservation initiatives (Veldpaus and Roders, 2014), enabling the preservation of local values through participatory approaches (Ragozino, 2016).

However, existing tools for heritage managers or experts (like community mapping or participatory VA guidelines) are not always clear about their integration within existing heritage management processes, making them thus useless or hard to apply in practice to enable participatory project delivery. Our paper will contribute to this discussion as well by specifically discussing the role of SIA in post-project evaluation stages and its ability to inform a socially reflective, heritage project planning, while facilitating positive social development. This enables a reflection on new challenges: those stemming from applying SIA for project evaluation, aiming ultimately to connect planning and evaluation within a circular, iterative approach to adaptive management cycles (Franks, 2011), as opposed to “linear” or step-by-step procedure prevailing in some of SIA methodologies (criticized also by Arce-Gomez et al., 2015). This is also concurrent with ICCROM’s suggestions on achieving a circular heritage management cycle, in the heritage sector, consistent with the nature of the management and planning process (Wijesuriya et al., 2013) (see Figure 1).

In such an approach, knowledge gained from projects, referred to usually as “legacy,” can be more efficiently incorporated in the institutional capital of heritage organizations and retrofitted into the successive project planning and design processes they undertake. The approach is consistent with the concept of a learning organization (Finger and Brand, 1999, p. 136) that can avoid and improve by avoiding existing pit falls while having a high level of social responsibility toward its audiences – a feature recently recognized as crucial for social sustainable heritage management that deals with common cultural resources (Babić, 2015).

Within this approach, we introduce practical steps to assist managers to locate project impacts, specifically focusing on a bottom-up approach for defining heritage values and indicators for social impact evaluation that can ensure a holistic understanding of impacts in relation to their recipients (in the context of rural landscape projects). We explicitly show how the defining variables for SIA and heritage values both crucial for heritage management project cycle can coexist as part of evaluations in heritage management.

Burra charter (ICOMOS Australia, 1999) suggests the constant process of participation during all phases of heritage management implying – but not stating – that a re-evaluation of values could be happening in the background of all the rest of operations that heritage institutions perform. Based on this realization, we specifically point out ways for integrating aspects of VA with SIA, performed at an evaluation stage, assuming that VA runs through all phases instead of being a static first stage of any heritage management process (Figure 2). We argue that this way it can feed back to the planning-level decision making, when institutions require public endorsement or common agreement to proceed – another “social license to operate” to translate this in the language of SIA practitioners – with project planning.

Hockings et al. (2008, p. 12) provide us with a graphic representation of stages and tools for assessing management effectiveness in their toolkit within the WCPA Management Effectiveness Framework. We have elaborated how SIA and VA fit within this framework: in the evaluation phase (after defining project outcomes), they both can inform heritage management toward adaptations needed. In Figure 2, we have also indicated the phases where other SIA-supported tools, like social needs analysis, can inform planning and inputs, and even redefine the implementation process itself.

2. Definitions and assumptions

Before starting developing the methodology for applying SIA in heritage projects’ evaluation, it is considered necessary first to establish the role of this SIA within practices of management and evaluation within heritage sector. To do this, we need first to define:

  1. What does heritage management processes involve and what is the interaction between operational and planning level? What does specifically management within landscapes and management of participatory projects signify? How does evaluation fit within heritage management processes?

  2. How can these processes contribute to social aspects of sustainability?

2.1 Management of cultural heritage within landscape and impacts assessment

Heritage processes have been widely studied from different perspectives. The stress in moving from an essentialized conception of heritage to a dynamic stance focusing on social change and on the uses of “heritage” that people put in place has led several authors to think of heritage as a process (Smith, 2006; Roigé and Frigolé 2010; among others in Del Mármol et al., 2016). This encourages a processual analysis rather than output analysis, thus differentiating our proposed SIA methodology from existing output/outcome-based evaluations that exist currently in the heritage sector.

A considerably huge body of recent literature on heritage management models deals with values-based approach to management (Demas, 2002; Mason and Avrami, 2002; Mason, 2002; de la Torre et al., 2005, Mason and Avrami, 2000) (see definition in de la Torre et al., 2005, p. 5). Through this approach, the identification of values is attributed through the involvement of stakeholders groups in the process, aiming to let aside self-evident heritage assets, bearing inherent values and opening the way to participatory processes.

Mason (2002, in de la Torre pp. 6-7) provides a diagrammatic view of VA as a process, with tasks including identification, elicitation and ending up with creating statements of significance that have then to be integrated by managers to establish relevant policies. This process suggests consultation as the basic starting tool with many methods suggested for managers to use for the phase of elaboration, which are not, however, clearly prescribed.

Mason (2002) also provides us with a wider framework that shows the role of VA within heritage planning processes that assisted us conceptualize this integration (as viewed in Figure 3).

Cultural significance or VA is one of three components necessary for analyzing the context of heritage planning (together with state of conservation and context analysis), whereas an assessment of the social context seems to be implied is not explicitly described within this framework and this is where an integration with SIA can benefit heritage planning processes.

Moreover, within VA as a process, it is suggested that the evaluation of information happens through a participatory process by bringing together all stakeholders’ opinions to formulate statements of significance. However, there is not a suggested method to realize that. Especially monitoring, reviewing and revising throughout the whole planning process seem hard to achieve in practice, considering the static character of other parts of the process, like the production of statements of significance for example.

We argue that SIA, entwined within VA at the stage of project evaluation, can actually not only assist in the wider monitoring of impacts but also inform VA itself and vice-versa. In fact, realizing SIA and VA together as part of project evaluation provides a good basis for the participatory extraction of values and impacts.

Management of heritage projects for the context of the paper involves complex socio-spatial interactions and thus multiple impacts emerging directly or indirectly from all those processes of interpretation, protection and celebration marketing. By focusing on participation, we view communities’ role in each of those. This enables our focus to leave aside “business as usual” processes of asset management realized predominantly by experts, but on projects that involve communities as part of their planning and execution.

2.2 Heritage processes and contribution to social sustainability: a conceptual framework for SIA

Multiple academic voices reflect on the role of heritage for sustainable development in various cultural contexts, with latest research reporting socio-economic benefits for communities not only from involvement in heritage tourism (Liu and Cheung, 2016; Mak et al., 2017) and integrative planning strategies but also an increased “sense of place” (Graham et al., 2009).

Understanding how heritage contributes to social sustainability aspects and developing a theoretical and conceptual framework is crucial before entering a process of establishing indicators for the evaluation of projects. Rossouw and Malan (2007) argued that, in the absence of an explicit theoretical framework, social impact monitoring can revert to an implicit and simplistic model of social sustainability. In our case, the adoption of a socio-spatial theoretical understanding of impacts combined with aspects of constraints[1] to participation and social life provided a robust base for the analysis of impacts. The approach based on the concepts of social capital and sense of place will be explained shortly after.

The review of previous literature on impacts of heritage projects included impact assessment studies in heritage and culture sector in the UK (Graham et al., 2009; Lehrer, 2010), and research papers and professional reports defining well-being related impacts from heritage activities, mostly focusing on urban heritage (Kinghorn and Willis, 2008; Taylor et al. 2009; Baker and Chitty, 2002; Murzyn-Kupisz and Działek, 2013; Dümcke and Gnedovsky, 2013; Atkins Heritage and Institute of Field Archaeologists, 2004; Ashworth and Tunbridge, 2000; Tweed and Sutherland, 2007). Literature on place attachment (and its relation with place identity and dependence as seen in Jorgensen and Stedman, 2001 and relevant body of work) was reviewed as well to uncover the effect of heritage places, suggesting that it may predict social well-being aspects (Moobela et al., 2009; Lewicka, 2011). What is more, empirical studies have showed that enhancing sense of place is in turn important for the socially sustainable development of revitalization projects (Yung and Chan, 2012; Liu and Cheung, 2016), making it key element for successful heritage projects with place-making elements.

The review shows that themes, such as equity, poverty alleviation and livelihoods support, are increasingly complemented by more intangible and less measurable concepts such as identity, sense of place, participation and access, social capital, social cohesion, the benefits of social networks, happiness and quality of life (Polse and Stren, 2000 as in Kwan Esther Yung and Wan Edwin Chan, 2012). As such, it shows a diverse perspective on social sustainability. Given all these, we argue that social sustainability for rural heritage projects concerns two major aspects: sense of place and quality of life. By viewing the quality of life through the angle of social well-being (NEF, 2012; Bognar, 2005), we can integrate both individual and communal perceptions of well-being in the overall assessment and focus on social and psychological rather than physical health aspects. Social capital has been used as an indicator of social well-being (NEF, 2012; Graham et al., 2009) accounting for social cohesion and sense of belonging to community.

Some research argues that the conservation of historic buildings and places contributes to a higher degree of creativity and economic development as well as a better quality of life (Ashworth and Tunbridge, 2000; Hall, 2002; Chan and Yung, 2004), suggesting that indirect impacts to well-being through impacts to livelihoods have to be considered in similar assessments.

A socio-spatial approach based on the concepts of social well-being and sense of place guided the interviews’ question design, enabling us to understand the role of pro-environmental (toward physical settings, landscape) and pro-cultural behaviors (toward tangible and intangible heritage) and their interactions to formatting perceived impacts to specific social groups.

Integrating the conceptualization of rural livelihoods enabled us to understand livelihoods dependencies with context: viewing the entirety of impacts both direct and indirect as aimed, as well as interrelations between impact areas. The categorization of impact variables from the assessment towards developing indicators was guided by the same conceptual framework (Table I).

In other words, indicators are based on the conceptualization of social well-being impacts as being interdependent with a sense of place-related impacts.

3. The socio-cultural context of analysis

The researcher is using the case of a landscape partnership heritage scheme – Scapa Flow landscape Partnership (2009–2013)[2] realized in rural UK (in the context of Orkney Islands, Scotland) and analyzing social impacts of participation in the scheme.

Orkney is an archipelago of 20 inhabited islands off the north-eastern coast of Scotland, featuring a rich rural landscape and a total population of 20,110 people (National Records of Scotland, 2017), with almost half of it residing in the mainland (Kirkwall and Stromness). The scheme was realized in the area of Scapa between the mainland and the smaller islands of Hoy, Gramsey, Flotta, South Ronaldsay and Burray, including disperse rural communities, organized around parishes, inhabiting the flat landscape (a maximum 1,000 people residing in the adjacent island of Hoy, in the island of Flotta and around 1,500 in the connected islands of Burray and South Ronaldsay).

A recent increase in population (OIC, 2017) is attributed to high in-migration, an important attribute altering local communities’ structure (by changing the percentage of locals or “born and bred” in comparison to incomers that relocate themselves).

The seasonality in most of the commercial activities and professional job offers combined with a certain lack of (physical) accessibility, especially the winter months, may escalate issues of physical and social isolation for the residents. Restricted resources and scale (a geographically bounded small area) also suggested restricted opportunities that encourage increased outward migration, especially from younger residents, and thus increasing numbers of aged population within the permanent residents (ageing data confirmed by 2011 Census (National Records of Scotland, 2017)).

3.1 The heritage projects-the landscape scheme

The case of Orkney Islands with its Scapa Flow Landscape partnership scheme, used here as a case study, includes a variety of heritage sites, sustaining people’s livelihoods and a rich biodiversity. At the same time, rich intangible heritage of the area includes traditional dialect, music and customs unique for the locality and the projects within the scheme focus on both tangible and intangible aspects of heritage.

The scheme under focus was realized between 2009 and 2012, thanks to a fund of £1,355,800 mainly by Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and also supported by European Rural Development fund. It included 44 small projects and involved local communities around the parishes of the realized projects in the course of the three years. The whole scheme had a special focus on achieving public engagement, expressed through specific objectives for including communities in projects. Management of projects was realized by the same local institutions that regularly deal with the specific heritage typologies in the area, including: local authority run-museums, local heritage trusts and associations, research centers working with archeology and Historic Environment Scotland.

3.2 Sampling and interviewing process

The analysis presented here is based on the thematic analysis of 40 semi-structured interviews of around 30–40 min each, with 47 adult participants. The participants represented community members/residents who volunteered or got involved in community-led projects (30 interviewees with 5 of them being local professionals who collaborated with them), heritage managers (10) who were involved in the delivery of the scheme as well as local authority representatives and professionals involved in planning the scheme (7). Interviews were realized in person in two phases in Spring 2016 and April 2017 and were accompanied with field visits to the project locations and observations by the researcher. The interviews followed a loose structure that enabled themes to appear inductively during conversation.

In the first phase adult, local residents in Scapa flow area were sampled using the snowball method (Biernacki and Waldorf, 1981), whereby local managers acted as starting contacts and assisted to locate a first set of volunteers.

Nine core projects were identified as participatory by interviewees, related to some core heritage assets and their surrounding landscape.

These are: first, Archeological excavations and documentation in the islands of Hoy and South Ronaldsay (Iron age/Neolithic); second, Battery Second World War site Restoration project in Stromness; third, a vernacular “crofter” house restoration and reuse as a museum Rackwick, Hoy; fourth, a parish church reuse (Hoy Kirk) into a community center and archive with local history, Hoy; a new interpretation wing for a family-run archeological visitor center (South Ronaldsay); intangible heritage festival in South Ronaldsay accompanied with exhibition; St Magnus festival celebrating history and heritage; interpretation of wartime heritage, films and archival data, Stromness; boat restoring and traditional boat making, Lyness, Hoy and Stromness.

The projects featured different typologies of participation ranging from volunteering and training activities (projects 1, 2, 8, 9, 7) to community-led projects facilitated by professionals (projects 3, 4, 6,) and even collaboration between family-managed visitor center with institutions (project 5).

Projects related with built heritage/archeology (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and projects related to collections management, exhibitions and interpretation were covered through the interviews (3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9).

A description of the sample with basic demographic characteristics like sex, age group and provenance (relation with location) is provided in Table II.

It is important to acknowledge that most of the community-led project participants (especially on Hoy Island) were over 50 years old, a sample representative not only of the majority of the participants in the projects there but also of the existing population on the island. It is also important to notice that the number of women interviewed was almost double of that of men (with a higher number of women being involved in community-led initiatives), but we cannot make generalization claims about the trends for participation per gender for the whole island population in the absence of further statistical data or a bigger sample.

4. Analytical process

Instead of locating potential impacts, SIA principles have been applied in understanding post-project, social impacts conceptualized as changes in societal structures and behaviors reflecting social well-being aspects and changes towards aspects of sense of place (reflected upon perceptions of place identity, dependency and attachment).

Despite the common use of SIA for detecting negative consequences of projects in this case, only positive impacts were identified, based on the hypothesis that engagement with cultural activities can support (rather than inhibit) individual and social well-being and connection with place (Moobela et al., 2009; Lewicka, 2011).

Our research suggests an approach that comprises of four stages, connecting data collection and analysis: identify project types, participation typologies and map stakeholders, community profiling and social needs analysis, identify heritage values and assess changes and analyze social impacts and assess significance. These form part of an iterative process, which means that returning to the previous stages is always necessary to corroborate information (Figure 4).

Desktop research assisted in creating an initial mapping of project content and typologies within the scheme, an initial stakeholder mapping, and establishing a sampling method for the interviews that followed. Thorough understanding of the multiplicity of heritage and community assets in the specific geographic area (Rowan, 2009) allows for the development of reliable assessment indicators later on.

Qualitative data were collected through the 40 semi-structured interviews realized during two phases – initially focusing more on baseline data collection in the first phase while focused more on identifying social impacts and their relationship with heritage values in the second.

Through thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2006) of the interview transcripts, using Nvivo software for qualitative analysis (QSR International Pty Ltd Version 10, 2012), the researcher identified themes that enabled:

  • identifying specific sub-groups consisting the local community and their related social needs, realizing at the same time community profiling analysis and a small-scale assessment of social needs;

  • identifying perceptions of heritage by the research participants and producing a VA (referring to the heritage assets involved in the projects); and

  • identifying perceptions of social impacts of participation at the individual and community level and related perception of heritage values/role for local sustainable development.

Regarding the identification of recipients and pathways of impact creation, the methodology followed focuses on systematically diversifying between:

  1. direct impacts for participants[3] at an individual level; and

  2. knock-on impacts on communities of place (referring to the parish-level dispersion of impacts through social networks) and communities of interest identified by participants.

4.1 Social and spatial needs for local communities: findings

Social needs and contextual issues were mainly revealed by asking participants to provide some background data about themselves and their life in Orkney Islands in the start of the interviews. Analysis revealed certain inherent vulnerabilities of the context expressing social needs (Figures 5–6), mapped at different levels:

  • at the community level related to social cohesion (participants referring not only to needs associated with non-integrated, migrant groups of “incomers,” coming mostly from UK but also to competing local parishes that deal with internal disputes);

  • at the individual level related to mental well-being (participants referred to needs associated to combatting loneliness, mostly regarding elderly) and few opportunities for personal development regarding young adults existing on the island (attributed also to lack of spatial infrastructure as well as due to shrinking population and the dispersed nature of local parishes, see e.g. Figure 7); and

  • at the individual level relating to social well-being (participants referred to needs associated to the effect of overlapping and tight social networks that can create social isolation for new members).

4.2 Identifying heritage values

It is crucial at this stage to understand that while evaluating the impacts of heritage participation within landscape we need to trace:

  1. Perception of intrinsic values towards heritage places or intangible heritage that signify roles of heritage for the lives of community and may affect perceived impacts of participation.

  2. Values ascribed as a result of the activity/process of participation or as a result of use of outputs of this process. These are conceptualized and understood as direct impacts of the process and indirect impacts of interacting with the outputs, respectively.

The open character of interviews and the multiplicity of heritage assets that are relevant with the scheme suggested choosing a rather open approach to identifying heritage values, not based solely on a predefined framework for mapping values[4], but instead aimed at covering perceptions relevant to the context (see Table III).

Intrinsic values were mapped here as perceptions of heritage by the different participants, using questions to elicit discussion, like for example “What is the most important heritage aspects in (area) for you? Why?”. Participants also provided information on perceptions by referring to the specific projects they participated in, offering more anchored views about specific heritage sites (type of activities, learning outcomes and further engagement with the projects).

4.2.1 Perception of heritage

Local people (see Table III) mostly saw heritage as part of their identity, emphasizing on the responsibility to bequest to younger generations and as part of their life experiences as memories, interlinked with experiences of place. Part of the aspects that they aspire to bequest are traditional skills of practicing communities:

[…] older folks […] only have that sensibility and then perhaps repercussions down to the generations, back to the younger folks […].

(I3/M3 manager)

[…] to get traineeships so that someone, a younger person can work alongside. (name of only left traditional boat builder in that area). So that they can gain the knowledge and skills […].

(I15,C24 community member, volunteer)

Managers and planners (Table III) interviewed, on the other hand, instead underlined: educational value as a predominant tool for change, followed by ancient traditions and skills that define local (and global) identity. They referred repeatedly to heritage as an inspiration for creativity, relating it to the rich cultural context of Orkney and heritage as a secondary public good, pointing out issues of inclusion and accessibility to everyone to benefit in terms of knowledge and personal development.

One of the most important aspects that both groups of participants agreed upon (Table III) was viewing heritage as a connection between history and place, reinforcing a sense of place and distinctiveness of the location and understanding it as tangible and intangible elements in landscape:

[…] things were worth keeping […] Ness battery is special example, cause its still on the world map, its unique […].

(I10/ C1 community member-volunteer)

[…] was about getting people out to appreciate heritage and then telling the story of the cultural heritage they’ d see when they are looking at the landscape, when they experience it […] because that’s what landscapes are I guess […] natural/cultural influences that make that landscape […].

(I5/ P1 local planning authority officer)

4.2.2 Perceptions of heritage’s role for local sustainable development

Aim of the questions was not only to locate heritage values, but also understand that heritage potential assists sustainable development locally and specifically affects community’s well-being. Well-being was in fact broadly defined by most of the research participants (both managers and locals) by socio-economic parameters and not only related to contextualized socio-spatial needs (i.e. lack of provisions for socializing, affected by seasonality, lack of spatial infrastructure on the islands) but also urgent need for supporting livelihoods (through job creation to sustain young population on the islands and reverse trends of ageing communities). These findings are simply represented in the list “Perceptions of the role and contribution of heritage for socially sustainable development”, identifying three major ways in which heritage assists local well-being:

  1. Heritage supporting economic development:

    […] from council perspective is about enabling communities to do projects […] economic development, so, improving visitor offer […] visiting different parts of Orkney […].

    (I5/ P1, local authority officer)

  2. Heritage as supporting liveliness and sustaining place (either through attracting tourism or sustaining small communities in their place):

    […] there is real buzz in that island […] in that community […] they are really working hard to make added value to everything they do […] they are utilizing their agricultural heritage […] all of that to attract people to come to their island […] and their heritage and culture are key things to bring people here.

    (I9/M9 manager)

  3. Heritage as counter acting for the lack of social infrastructure, especially in shrinking localities. This was an important function recognized especially by the smaller communities (outside of Kirkwall and Stromness).

Perceptions of the role and contribution of heritage for socially sustainable development:

  1. Heritage to support economic development:

    • heritage to support economy based on services and tourism; and

    • heritage to tackle issue of seasonality in interests.

  2. Heritage that can sustain place (intersects both with social and economic aspects):

    • heritage promotion as place branding as a destination;

    • heritage interpretation rediscovered personal history and connection with place that sustains population; and

    • heritage protection as natural environment and landscape protection.

  3. Heritage to support social development and well-being:

    • skills and educational opportunities for development;

    • recreational opportunities and socialization; and

    • integration opportunities for incomers and isolated individuals.

4.2.3 Integrating value assessment with the identification of variables for SIA in heritage

What makes heritage-related social impacts challenging to map (and even more to identify their significance for various community groups) is the fact that the understanding of heritage elements within landscape varies for various respondents and this subsequently affects the way impacts are perceived.

By using values to guide us towards potential and perceived impact identification, we managed to create a baseline understanding of the potentials of the projects under evaluation and the relationship communities have with the heritage assets involved.

4.2.4 Heritage participation: from values to impact variables and developing indicators

Perceived impacts of heritage to social sustainability via participation were obtained through questions focusing on: specific changes in social behavior, use of social (infra) structures and civic participation (observed or experienced) realized as a result of participants activity in the project as well as changes in appreciation of heritage places evidenced through interactions with those (engagement in protection processes including conservation interpretation documentation, touristic and social use of heritage sites/use of outputs, etc.).

To capture indirect impacts to livelihoods, questions captured also perceptions of the role and contribution of heritage for socially sustainable development (referring to interaction of heritage values with sustainable livelihoods), covering social sustainability and extending to values stemming from use of heritage outputs.

The thematic analysis performed on the interview data suggested a primary body of variables/nodes, grouped at a next stage to a list indicators (refined and merged), after considering relevant literature review and reflecting our conceptual framework (see Table IV).

The impact nodes were grouped into three core categories, reflecting different levels of social impacts:

  1. Individual-level social well-being:

    Volunteering in heritage was pictured by interviewees as providing self-esteem and sense of duty or life orientation to individuals. For example, one participants’ experience was described as:

    […] he says people see him as the minister, they do not see him as the volunteer so when he volunteers he is not just some guy who turned up to work with young people […].

    (I9/M9, volunteering ranger)

    Participation in more informal, group activities was viewed as connecting individuals and their local community:

    [Do you think it has changed anything for the lives of people here?]

    Its made people get out and about, sure yes! We used to meet in the old hall and, play darts.. but now people met up there lately[ …] , well, if not a committee meeting, the lecture, […] or something […] and everybody meets now […] its when we are getting together.

    (I17/ C6 community-led participant)

  2. Community-level well-being, referring to social cohesion:

    The core benefit mentioned by many participants refers to participation acting as social glue and supporting cohesion in mixed communities, where “born and bred” and “incomers” can build a new collective identity:

    Although there’s something distinctive about Orcadians, that they’re proud of […] and which they’re changing because a lot of population rise and people start coming in as incomers […] which perhaps makes these kind of heritage projects […] More important because […] its valuating […] they take what is original in the area.!. but often new people coming in are excited in that new area and taking interest […] and it comes as bringing people together […].

    (I4/M4, Scheme manager)

  3. Heritage sustaining wider community in place:

Finally, participating in community-led projects was connected to the function of heritage centers by local trusts and associations as community centers, supporting community needs and in the long run potentially assisting in sustaining population in place:

[…] there was all very well having a heritage center […]. it might bring people together a bit, by having heritage events and is good to record the past […] but how is it actually going […] to do anything to reverse the trend of ageing population. And of closing schools, is a bigger story […] but […] well, arguably if you like where you live, makes you more comfortable there […].

(I11/M11, project manager)

The resulting set of nodes/quality indicators developed here through this bottom-up analytical process (Table IV) can be categorized as both descriptive and evaluating, in the sense that they look at quality outputs, providing a way for considering social impacts of projects in contrast to output analysis and quantitative methodologies for assessing impacts that tend to be the only criteria for accounting on projects success.

5. Considerations on methodology and implications

Developing fully the difference between bottom-up and top-down indicator creation process is outside the scope of this paper. Further research should be realized to corroborate findings in similar rural or even urban contexts to validate the indicators suggested here. However, we would like to underline that qualitative analysis holds the strength of locating multiple variables while allowing for corroboration of information by different groups of stakeholders involved in heritage projects that may “speak different languages.” The inductive nature of our process, following a bottom-up approach for identifying indicators, has offered the flexibility for a genuinely context-relevant framework to analyze impacts through change in variables identified, avoiding “a myopic focus on predetermined themes” (Rossouw and Malan, 2007, p. 291).

The qualitative approach we suggest holds potential benefits for informing local-level, heritage micro-policy: asking participants to elicit heritage values and project impacts combined with realizing a community profile in the start of the projects allows mapping impacts on specific target groups with greater certainty, instead of simply listing cumulative impacts, generalizing for the whole of local population. Rowan (2009, p. 185) claims for delineating “the key social receptors and community resources” that may be affected by an intervention. Matching community profiling, social needs analysis with impact recipients allows for in-depth and project-specific conclusions for the heritage sector that can lead to institutional-level improvements (both in managerial processes and in negotiating translation of planning suggestions into actions).

Looking at the institutional and policy level, even despite the declarations of Burra charter (ICOMOS Australia, 1999), today there are few policies to ensure participatory VAs and fewer recommendations on how participatory/bottom-up inputs can inform policy formation on how heritage is managed and planned. Our paper suggested a methodological tool that can be integrated in existing processes (Figure 3), policies and recommendations for institutions to assist participatory value and impact assessments and enhance collaboration with communities.

We contain that since heritage management on a landscape scale suggests managing not only properties of mixed typologies and values (comprising of natural and cultural elements) but also their interactions with people, evaluation processes should focus more on processes of participation. The approach and tools suggested here can assist towards this direction.

Looking at implications of our findings for practitioners and planners, we consider that SIA when realized by (relying on the participation of) the same organizations that undertake the initiatives can enable organizations to reflect on the impact of their practices for the communities they serve and achieve an authentically iterative circle between project planning and project evaluation (Figure 2) that can link better decision making in higher levels (policy) and practice (project planning and delivery) in the heritage sector.

SIA can provide the themes and variables for a sound, community supported and supportive planning and thus successful long-term gains by recognizing aspects that existing assessment methodologies within the heritage sector do not cover. Finally, the benefits of new entrepreneurial and innovative management models used in heritage like social enterprise or cooperative management (see Ragozino, 2016) for local development can be proved and their further application in the sector can be encouraged through the use of SIA.

6. Conclusion: SIA as a social-centered evaluation tool to inform heritage management

Recapitulating, the scope of the paper was double: delineating the role of SIA as a tool to support socially sustainable management of heritage landscapes in rural context but also establishing a methodological framework to integrate social impact evaluation with VA, based on SIA principles, within HM process. In that sense, the paper contributes to an underexplored area (that of rural heritage and community-led management), while brings together empirical data and the state-of-the-art in research of heritage processes and methodological tools for heritage practitioners (VA, social needs and impact analysis).

By linking values and community groups that represent the bearers of those heritage values, such an approach opens the way for achieving socially relevant project planning and project design in the heritage sector. Further work should focus on incorporating SIA principles and methods within more stages of projects life, like mitigation and social impacts management plans (see Franks and Vanclay 2013) establishment, following recommendations like the innovative framework proposed by Arce-Gomez et al. (2015).

Based on findings from the thematic analysis of semi structured interviews, the paper indicated how a bottom up approach to developing indicators can be realized effectively, ensuring a contextually relevant assessment of social sustainability for rural heritage projects when combined with heritage VA. The paper thus responds to the imminent need for contextually relevant research based on empirical evidence; the importance of which in interdisciplinary research around heritage for sustainable development has been emphasized by Pereira Roders and Van Oers (2014).

The application of SIA principles here has outlined its great potential to capture impacts falling under an enlarged conceptualization of community well-being (Tables I and IV): this goes beyond assessments of impacts on physical health of individuals (perceived as the medical and physical assessment of quantifiable individual attributes) to consider mental health and social life of communities’ aspects relevant heritage projects, while reflecting also spatial aspects of social life in rural community contexts.

The openness of the process enables “softer” social impacts to be considered, such as any detrimental impacts on the culture of the community, which tend to be overlooked due to existing processes focusing on prescribed easy to “count” data sets (Lockie, 2001; Rowan, 2009), while it allowed for capturing unintended (Esteves and Vanclay, 2009), but still positive social, consequences (not expected as part of projects planning), usually missing from outcome-based methods for evaluations used in the sector.

The recent recognition of rights of autochthonous populations as “heritage rightful owners/safe guarders” is suggesting a rather promising role for SIA within heritage practice in the near future. Especially for collaborations between communities and institutions, the latter-through equally integrating the social needs assessments part – can recognize distinguished social groups and their possibly conflicting needs related to land use to support equitable and efficient management of resources. Further methods on evaluating potentially uneven spatial distribution of project impacts or negative social impacts like social segregation/disturbed cohesion at the community level should be embedded in the evaluation practices and tools currently used (Cervelló-Royo et al., 2012).

In conclusion, the paper advocates for applying SIA in the evaluation of different typologies of participatory projects, where the role and agency of experts differ, as it can enable heritage managers and planners to showcase the social impacts of participation in a structured, contextually relevant and evidence-based way while responding to the increasing responsibilities of community groups in heritage management and enabling a truly people-centered approach to management.


Circular heritage management cycle: linking planning, implementation and monitoring phases

Figure 1

Circular heritage management cycle: linking planning, implementation and monitoring phases

How SIA and VA in evaluation phase can inform heritage management through an adaptive loop

Figure 2

How SIA and VA in evaluation phase can inform heritage management through an adaptive loop

Value assessment as part of planning process in heritage (Author’s suggestions, based on Mason (2002, p. 6), original figure caption: planning process methodology) and proposed integration of SIA by the author (on the right and arrows)

Figure 3

Value assessment as part of planning process in heritage (Author’s suggestions, based on Mason (2002, p. 6), original figure caption: planning process methodology) and proposed integration of SIA by the author (on the right and arrows)

Interlinked stages of the proposed analytical process

Figure 4

Interlinked stages of the proposed analytical process

Nvivo Nodes and their relationships: perceptions of social needs and subthemes in coding

Figure 5

Nvivo Nodes and their relationships: perceptions of social needs and subthemes in coding

List of same nodes in Nvivo, categorized in groups that produced the final hierarchical relationship shown in Figure 5

Figure 6

List of same nodes in Nvivo, categorized in groups that produced the final hierarchical relationship shown in Figure 5

Example of coding stripes in one of the transcripts of participants C3 and C4-color codes used to identify nodes, merged in themes and subthemes

Figure 7

Example of coding stripes in one of the transcripts of participants C3 and C4-color codes used to identify nodes, merged in themes and subthemes

Aspects of social well-being (in individual and community level) and relevant measures of indicators, applied in developing interviews questions for the qualitative assessment and creating impact categories in the analysis phase

Main subject/scale Central concepts/attributes/indicators Measures of indicators
Community social impact assessment (direct) Individual well-being Behaviors: level of socializing, civic participation. Perceptions of well-being
Community social well-being Perceptions: sense of belonging to community, trust and supportive relationships with other communities and institutions, social cohesion, social inclusion
Sense of place -place identity, dependency and attachment Behaviors: access to resources, responsibility for caring for place perceptions: sense of pride, sense of belonging to place
Rural livelihoods (indirect) Economic well-being Employment, income, touristic development and their beneficiaries
Demographic balance Balance between ages in one location, balance between incomers/existing residents

Source: Author, based on synthesis of frameworks by Branch et al. (1984), Reeder (1990), Ramsey and Smit (2002), NEF (2009)

Demographic characteristics of the sample (age, sex, provenance and occupation and type of participation)

Heritage managers Planners Volunteering participants Community-led participants Local collaborators Total
Males 4 5 4 4 2 16
Females 6 2 6 11 3 31
Total 10 7 10 15 5 47
Age groups (in years)
25–34 0 1 3 0 0 4
35–44 3 2 1 1 0 7
45–54 4 3 1 1 3 12
55–65 2 1 1 3 2 9
65+ 1 0 4 10 0 15
Total 10 7 10 15 5 47
Orcadians 2 2 5 8 3 20
Non Orcadian >5y in 8 5 4 6 2 25
Non Orcadian <5y in 1 1 2

Perceptions of heritage-intrinsic values and potential roles of heritage as defined by managers and project participants and common perceptions (baseline value assessment, as coded in Nvivo)

By managers By participants
Heritage as ancient traditions and skills Heritage (spec. archaeology) as experiential memory “woven in childhood experiences”
Heritage as a secondary public good Heritage as responsibility to bequest to younger generations
Heritage as an inspiration for creativity
Heritage as education, heritage in education
Common perceptions
1. Heritage as authenticity in fabric
Musealisation and institutionalized protection of artifacts – superficial
Understanding of heritage as preservation of old only
2. Heritage as history
Commemoration of history as heritage at risk
Different local priorities in promoting heritage types
3. Heritage as connection between history and place
Heritage as natural and cultural references in landscape
Sense of place existing strong
Heritage as tangible and intangible elements in landscape
4. Heritage as social benefit -heritage centers as community centers
Heritage activities as opportunities to deal with mental health
Cultural institutions as supporting groups for events

Perceived impacts of heritage to social sustainability, via participation, per level

Nvivo inductive list of impact variables related with participation in heritage Regrouping of variables into thematic groups of indicators
(a) Direct impacts individual level: social well-being Direct impacts: individual level social well-being
 Become part of a social group, belonging Social capital (bridging and bonding)
 Make new friends and socialize
 Fight isolation and increase mental health Mental health
 Skills for daily use-recreation
 Increase sense of ownership of place and heritage Sense of belonging to place/ Sense of identity
 Skills for job market Knowledge, education and personal development
 Create new professional networks
 Awareness about historic evolution development
 Learn more about heritage-increase excitement
 Self-motivation/self-direction abilities won Self-empowerment and confidence
 Find life orientation-goals
 Personal satisfaction and pride for service offered
(b) Direct impacts community level social well-being: social cohesion Direct impacts: Community level social well-being
 Increase inclusion of newcomers in community roles Social capital (Bridging)/Inclusion
 Increase bonding and empowerment via team work Social capital (Bonding)/Social cohesion
 Intra-generation links
 Mingle with other island residents Social capital (linking)
 Sense of belonging to community Collective empowerment
 Unlock potentials for self-enclosed groups
(c) Indirect impacts for wider community of place via use of outputs Indirect impacts
 Heritage centers utilized as community centers and poles of interest Enhanced sense of belonging to group
 Sustained population by supporting access to place Enhanced community and place bonds
 Heritage protection projects accountable to community, providing further spatial development opportunities
 Increase sense of ownership through recognition of uniqueness of place/identity

Note: Suggested impact areas and indicator development on the right column



Reflecting some of Moser’s (1998) model aspects on constraints to sustainable livelihoods.


A review of the projects within the scheme was available until November 2017 through this site:


This division between direct, in direct impacts (that could be understood as both: difference between attitudes and behaviors at individual level that led indirectly to group/community level impacts) can be supported by the recent work of Slootweg et al. (2001).


An in-depth analysis of heritage value frameworks prevalent in recent heritage research is offered by Fredheim and Khalaf (2016), which cite value categories depending on heritage typologies/categories, for example, archaeological and historic objects (Muños-Viñas, 2005, urban and rural landscapes by Massey (2006), Stephenson (2008) and Swanwick (2002) or even the framework developed by Holden.


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Further reading

Avrami, E., Mason, R. and de la Torre, M. (2000), “Report on research”, in Avrami, E., Mason, R. and de la Torre, M. (Eds), Values and Heritage Conservation: Research Report, The Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles, CA, pp. 3-12.

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Dempsey, N. (2008), “Quality of the built environment in urban neighbourhoods”, Planning, Practice & Research, Vol. 23 No. 2, pp. 249-264.

Esteves, A.M. (2008), “Evaluating community investments in the mining sector using multi-criteria decision analysis to integrate SIA with business planning”, Environmental Impact Assessment Review, Vol. 28 Nos 4-5, pp. 338-348.

Gibson, G., O’Faircheallaigh, C. and MacDonald, A. (2008), “Integrating cultural impact assessments into development planning”, International Association for Impact Assessment, International Conference-Workshop Material Presented, Perth, May 4.

HLF (2003), “Landscape partnerships”, available at: (accessed February 10, 2018).

Pendlebury, J., Townshend, T. and Gilroy, R. (2004), “The conservation of English cultural built heritage: a force for social inclusion?”, International Journal of Heritage Studies, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 11-31.

Townshend, T. and Pendlebury, J. (1999), “Public participation in the conservation of historic areas: case-studies from north-east England”, Journal of Urban Design, Vol. 4 No. 30, pp. 313-331.

Tunbridge, J.E. and Ashworth, G.J. (1996), Dissonant Heritage: The Management of the Past as a Resource in Conflict, Wiley, New York, NY.

Vanclay, F. (2003), Social Impact Assessment – International Principles, Special Publications Series No. 2, International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA), Fargo, ND.

Corresponding author

Eirini Gallou can be contacted at: