Indicators of an ecomuseum: examples by Gerard Corsane and Peter Davis

In recent years, a few trends have emerged in the research practices and methods of those working with ecomuseums. The first trend is the use of 21 indicators identified by Gerard Corsane in 2006 as an evaluative instrument. These indicators are signifiers for the specific characterization of an ecomuseum. Below is the full list as provided in Corsane’s 2006 article, “Using ecomuseum indicators to evaluate the Robben Island Museum and World heritage Site” (article here)

The indicators

“An ecomuseum will often:

  1. Be steered by local communities
  2. Allow for public participation from all the stakeholder and interest groups in all the decision-making processes and activities in a democratic manner
  3. Stimulate joint ownership and management, with input from local communities, academic advisors, local businesses, local authorities and government structures
  4. Place an emphasis on the processes of heritage management, rather than on heritage products for consumption
  5. Encourage collaboration with local craftspeople, artists, writers, actors and musicians
  6. Depend on substantial active voluntary efforts by local stakeholders
  7. Focus on local identity and a ‘sense of place’
  8. Encompass a ‘geographical’ territory, which can be determined by different shared characteristics
  9. Cover both spatial and temporal aspects, where, in relation to the temporal, it looks at continuity and change over time rather than simply trying to freeze things in time
  10. Takes the form of a ‘fragmented museum,’ consisting of a network with a hub and antennae of different buildings and sites
  11. Promotes preservation, conservation, and safeguarding of heritage resources in situ
  12. Gives equal attention to immovable and movable tangible material culture, and to intangible heritage resources
  13. Stimulates sustainable development and use of resources
  14. Allows for change and development for a better future
  15. Encourages an ongoing programme of documentation of past and present life and people’s interactions with all environmental factors (including physical, economic, social, cultural and political)
  16. Promotes research at a number of levels—from the research and understanding of local ‘specialists’ to research by academics
  17. Promotes multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches to research
  18. Encourages a holistic approach to the interpretation of culture/nature relationships
  19. Attempts to illustrate connections between: technology/individual, nature/culture, and past/present
  20. Provide for an intersection between heritage and responsible tourism
  21. Bring benefits to local communities, for example, a sense of pride, regeneration and/or economic income.”

Peter Davis’ indicators

In his 1999 work Ecomuseums: a sense of place, Peter Davis provides five indicators that can broadly be applied to ecomuseums. “First, the adoption of a territory that is not necessarily defined by conventional boundaries. Second, the adoption of a ‘fragmented-site’ policy which is linked to in-situ conservation and interpretation. Third, conventional views of site ownership are abandoned; conservation and interpretation of sites via liaison and cooperation. Fourth, the empowerment of local communities; the involvement of local people in museum activities and in the creation of their cultural identity. Fifth and final, the potential for interdisciplinary and holistic interpretation” (p. 92). 

Both sets of indicators, especially Corsane’s 21, have been used by other research groups to create questionnaires and to measure to what extent the particular examples meet the expectations of the ecomuseum concept. These indicators can be very helpful when researching a specific ecomuseum case. Not every ecomuseum will fully meet every indicator. The application of these indicators typically provides a nice overview and starting point from which an ecomuseum may be further analyzed. Every ecomuseum is unique and will answer to these indicators in a unique fashion. 

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