“Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory”

Archy time

Heritage (ˈhɛrɪtɪdʒ/)

Adjective. Noting or relating to a product, place, etc., that evokes a nostalgic sense of tradition or history.

As you may be aware, York is steeped in history.

From having early settlers 6,000 years ago, becoming a Roman Colonia named Eboracum, turning into the Viking capital called Jorvik, and briefly becoming capital of England, quite a lot has happened in this great city.

There’s simply so much historically relevant here it’s astounding.

So with this vast wealth of information at our fingertips, surely we, City Of York Council, would have a beautiful system to capture and share it all?

Well, that’s a good question, and the reason this project has come about.

You’ll be reassured to know that everything is indeed captured and recorded. We, like all other local authorities, currently have an extensive database affectionately referred to as a Historical Environment Record, or HER for short.

Our current HER does indeed contain a wealth of comprehensive information on this great city’s archaeological heritage (Superb!) but as access is limited to a handful of staff and there is a charge for anyone seeking the information for commercial use, it seems a rather underutilised historical resource. Hmmm.

The remit of the HER system seems to have expanded over the last few years. From simply using the system as a planning control tool, identifying where historic remains are likely to be affected by development, to now also include land-use planning and conservation initiatives, as well as research, tourism, education, and local history projects.


So a project has been formed to not only investigate how we can release and use this information better within the authority, but ultimately how we could offer it out to the general public as open source.

Now I’m not going to pretend the world of historical monuments, artefacts and findings is an area I know a great deal about. I visit the occasional museum, appreciate old images and maps, and own the Indiana Jones boxset on DVD. But as you can imagine none of that really qualifies me to pass judgement on what and how information is captured, stored, and shared, or how the team operates.

So after a handful of introductory meetings with the Heritage Team, who manage the HER, we scheduled a full day workshop for the 7th of July. (Intense, I know, but that’s just how I roll.)

My intention was to frontload the project with a bit of user research. If we’ve learnt nothing else from collaborating with FutureGov over the past few months, it’s the value of actually talking to and understanding your users.

Workshop One

The 7th July arrived and the below agenda was drawn up:20160707-workshop-1-agenda


We opened the day with a check-in (one of the many cool rituals we’ve adopted from FutureGov). Essentially, we all stand in a circle and share a feeling, an attitude, or a reflection. It seems to go some way towards setting the tone of the workshop and is a chance to get everyone engaged without diving straight into things.

For this workshop we introduced ourselves (this was largely for my own benefit as well as Rob, a fellow Project Manager’s, seeing as John, Claire, and Martin all knew each other) and shared our aspirations for this project.

I then gave a brief explanation as to how we’ll be going about researching the team and the current process for requesting information from the HER, as well as ultimately what we are trying to achieve.

Following on from the thoughts shared during the check-in, we then composed a vision of the project. We each wrote what we thought we were trying to achieve, how, and why. Then we shared these with the room, merging the main sentiments (better access, less technical, more resource efficient, and to modernise the system/process) together into one vision that we all agreed on.

This process was redone later in the afternoon, where the vision was tweaked slightly to the below:

“To enable exemplary access to, and understanding of, historic environment information held by City Of York Council and other organisations within York. So as to modernise, simplify, and rationalise staff resource and demand on ICT support.”

Admittedly still not perfect, but it successfully got everyone’s focus on our overall goal rather than the particulars we’ll be facing. Plus I dare say we’ll revisit it post workshop.

Once we’d agreed on an idea of the destination with the vision, I then explained what tools we were going to use to capture where we are now.

During the morning I shared the benefits of drawing up a persona, carried out an empathy map exercise with the team about their role (think/feel – hear – see – say/do – pain – gain), and we all started to flesh out together a persona of a HER Officer.


In the afternoon we began to document the current process of how and why a customer requests information from the HER so we could visualise this as a journey map.

To close the day we once again formed a circle for a check-out, where we each spent a minute or so sharing how we’d found the day.

The response was encouragingly positive with each of them commenting how refreshing it was to have an opportunity to both evaluate their own role and share their opinions on how they’d like the HER to be used and why.

What’s next?

First of all, documenting and making sense of the wealth of insights we’ve garnered.

We’ve a second workshop with the Heritage team, plus others from the wider Planning team, already booked in for August.

So in the meantime, we’ll be keeping the team informed with what we’re doing, getting clarification on some of the points raised during the workshop, plus obtaining further information on how requests are generated, the reports that are produced, plus what of this information is indeed available outside the HER.

It’s an exciting project to be a part of and I look forward to sharing with you all how it develops.

Matt Stroud, Technical Project Manager, @matticusstroud

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