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Heritage is implicated in the complex social processes in which people – individuals or communities – identify those things that are of value to be passed over to future generations. These include practices and traditions, as well as the web of meanings that reinforce the ideas of belonging and communality and are part of place-making.

Previous experiences carried out by the Council of Europe (in particular through Intercultural Cities and the work of the Faro Convention) demonstrate that cultural and social activities – festivals, events or just day-to-day recreational experiences and practices – provide occasions for interactions with people with a different background and, not only enhance community pluralistic identity, but also reinforce the closely intertwined relationship of the community with the broader environment.

To test how cultural heritage could be mobilised to build and strengthen community cohesion, promoting trust, dialogue and mutual understanding across diverse societies, the European Commission and the Council of Europe partnered on a pilot project – STEPS.

STEPS promoted the idea of participatory mapping of cultural heritage, where members of the community were given the role to identify those material and immaterial cultural assets that are a reflection and expression of their constantly evolving values, beliefs, knowledge and traditions.

The project’s theoretical framework was based on the idea that sense of belonging is fostered by:

  • recognition and inclusive representation;
  • improved democratic participation and social inclusion of all participants in negotiating the meaning and making decision about the common cultural heritage;
  • negotiation of a shared vision for the future of the community accommodating pluralistic voices.

Through participatory mapping, community members collectively create visual inventories of their own community’s assets. They negotiate what can be listed in the inventory. This results in a map of those heritage assets that make up the pluralist identity of the community. Assets can include built, as well as intangible heritage features (traditions, practices, knowledge and expressions of human creativity), anything that people who live and work in the territories feel it is significant to them, in line with the Faro principles.

This process facilitates an understanding of what these features mean to individuals and how they impact each other. Moreover, the group gains insight into the specific value granted to community assets by different community members.

The cities of Rijeka (Croatia) and Lisbon (Portugal) were chosen in 2017 to pilot this methodology to map shared cultural heritage, and to demonstrate how a local intercultural approach to heritage sector focusing on the idea of place making can allow a city to actively open up the urban identity to all communities, thus increasing trust, mutual recognition, interaction and ultimately social cohesion through an identity inclusive to all.

As a result of the testing a step by step methodology has been developed and validated by all the partners.

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