Practitioner-Researcher Model – An answer to solve the issues of digital systems in Cultural Heritage

In Cultural Heritage circles there is a concern that funding in digital humanities is not resulting in progressive improvements to institutional digital systems and processes. At the National Archives (UK), the Conservation Care Department has a published strategy which employs an approach based on the practitioner-researcher model. This means that the department as a whole, its conservators and scientists, is committed to a unity of research and practice which continually improves their approach to conservation, preservation and historical context. It is implemented by Lora Angelova, Head of Conservation Research and Audience Development and Sonja Schwoll, Head of Conservation and Treatment Development. They are committed to sharing new methods and techniques with other organisations, particularly smaller community groups without the same resources, helping to improve the methods and techniques of heritage conservation generally.

However, this strategy could not be incorporated into their traditional database information system. To support the strategy they have implemented ResearchSpace – a relational and contextual knowledge base system that supports the union of research and dynamic professional practice. It uses a flexible, expandable graph based structure and a semantically rich contextual and relational form of data narrative which is both human and computer readable. Professional conservators necessarily ask questions about the nature and context of the objects they assess and apply treatments to, using judgement, experience and historical understanding – this is research that can be represented as knowledge but can also underpin more institutional processes.

  • ResearchSpace enhances the quality (semantic, precision and context) of professional data making it ideal for ongoing qualitative and contextually validated quantitative research.
  • The outputs of research data will already be part of a knowledge base that serves professional processes, through the architecture of the ResearchSpace model and its flexible set of processual tools.
  • Using ResearchSpace, projects can guarantee that research outputs will be used in practice.
  • Researcher-practitioner processes mean that projects have department and organisational commitment, not simply project commitment.
  • This ends the situation where cultural heritage organisations are simple content providers in projects with no practical outcomes.

It works with models of information that are continually changing and expanding and was designed for the “open ended nature of research”. However, professional knowledge processes are also dynamic and open ended and knowledge professionals should not be confronted with traditional boiler-plates. Unlike static database systems new categories of information can be continually added enhancing the system, and embracing interdisciplinary questions. The qualities of the data are far above those provided by standard database abstractions creating data narratives suitable for a wide range of reuse. These qualities make it highly beneficial for new types of institutional systems making them dynamic and able to evolve with new processes, strategies and policies. This also reduces computing costs!
By using the same rich data format, ResearchSpace bridges the gap between “research” and “practice” – removing the artificial chicken and egg paradigm and making them part of the same process. By seamlessly adding new categories of information the issues of omissions of historical context, data discrimination and inclusion of community knowledge can be addressed.
For more information about this approach contact:

Sonja Schwoll –

Lora Angelova –

Dominic Oldman –

Kartography – info@kartography –

About the Author