Evaluation and legacy
The impact of the Our Past, Our Future scheme has been assessed by looking at what was achieved alongside the strengths, weaknesses and lessons learnt.
The evaluation drew on the quarterly reporting, but also gathered additional information with the intention of providing qualitative depth to ‘tell the story’ behind the quantitative report. This included in depth interviews with project leads and interviews with key stakeholders involved in the individual projects (e.g. volunteers, trainees etc.).
Individual project achievement are covered elsewhere but the final evaluation also found the following:
- The Scheme achieved its targets and aspirations. Considerable improvements have been made to heritage assets in the New Forest, volunteering, learning, training and enjoyment opportunities have been provided for a wider range of people and communities report that engagement in heritage has brought them together and encouraged collaborative work with their neighbours.
- The behaviour change elements of OPOF, largely linked to the way people behave around livestock has provided a different way of looking at and thinking about the issues. A Behaviour Change Toolkit has been produced to capture the learning and provide it back to heritage practitioners in the New Forest as part of the OPOF legacy.
- Various individual project legacies are in place e.g., management and maintenance plans for restored heritage assets, host organisation taking on the ongoing maintenance responsibility etc.
- Two key audiences were identified at the outset of the Scheme, New Forest residents with various levels of engagement with heritage and New Forest Neighbours, from the surrounding towns and cities. Engagement with the first group has been particularly successful, providing many with new heritage experiences and opportunities and has increased the depth of engagement (rather than necessarily the breadth) i.e., a greater understanding and respect for the New Forest heritage which can be reflected in their more appropriate behaviours. The Neighbours was always going to be more challenging but in the second half of the Scheme there was an increase in this audience’s engagement.
- There have been significant rewards in terms of volunteer hours contributed, the work carried out and the range of benefits for volunteers, including making a difference to the Forest, increased wellbeing from being active and having increased social contact. Successes are the central coordination function, range of opportunities and the way the volunteers have been trained, supported, and managed.
- OPOF has created a culture of landscape-scale collaboration across the New Forest through successful partnership working i.e., the trust, joint commitment, and communication which has developed between key organisations working in the Forest through OPOF. It is recognised that the value of the partnership has been to get everyone aligned, focussing on what is best for the Forest. There are 5 key factors that provide a recipe for creating a culture of collaborative working i.e.: commitment, coordination, communication, connectivity, and continuity.
- Considerable improvement in relationships between organisations. Working relationships with the commoning community have improved through the life of OPOF. This is a view that has come from both commoners and other partnership members, both of whom recognise that there is now a greater understanding of the role of commoning and all are seeing the benefit of being more open and working with others.
- Leadership – NFNPA have done a good job in leading this scheme and leading it in a way that fostered collaboration and a strong partnership. The result is that the NFNPA is more trusted than it was at the start of the Scheme, and if this continues it will be very beneficial for the New Forest.
The evaluation outlines some key strategic legacy challenges for the future as follows:
- Maintaining the holistic approach to heritage; linking natural, historic, and cultural/social heritage.
- Reaching out to audiences beyond the Forest boundary i.e., the New Forest neighbours and hard to reach audiences i.e., young people, ethnic backgrounds or those with ‘special needs.
- Continuation of the range and level of volunteering across the Forest. Whilst there are some opportunities within individual organisations, it will be important not to lose the value of the centrally coordinated approach, providing support to partners and the many people who increasingly see themselves as New Forest volunteers.
- Continued partnership working, more can be achieved through collaboration than can be achieved separately. Effective partnership working can provide a structure through which complexity can be managed, relationships improved, and priorities aligned.
- Nurture collaborative culture and ensure that people and organisations don’t revert to ‘old ways’. This will require leadership and continued cooperation of a wider range of organisations across the Forest. Creating a culture of collaboration so it becomes ‘the way we do things in the New Forest’.
- Build on successful relationships between commoners and key Forest organisations including the NFNPA and building a wide variety of stakeholders’ awareness and understanding about commoning.
A Legacy Report has been produced which outlines the plans for the individual project’s legacies and the wider strategic legacy of the Scheme.
Project legacy will be achieved by the projects in several ways. In many cases, these are being maintained and continued through the lead bodies or project partners for example where work has been undertaken on private land, management plans have been prepared to guide the ongoing maintenance of the work by the landowner. The bigger challenge is how to maintain the ‘ways of working’ that have created the positive results but rely on funding and the skills, knowledge, and working relationships of those involved.
Organisational legacy is planned for as follows:
- Partnership working to focus on what is best for the Forest. As partnership working is now successfully established, it will continue even if the OPOF partnership does not continue it its current form. It is important that all the organisations continue to nurture this culture, ensuring that people and organisations continue to consider the following factors in their future working relationships:
- communicating proactively
- Partners will continue to work together under the Memorandum of Understanding. This is intended to:
- Support the partners in continuing to work together beyond the life of the Scheme.
- Provide a framework for the Scheme’s ongoing legacy.
- Define the functions of the Partnership and how it will be governed and administered.
Landscape scale legacy planning will build on the positivity around the organisational collaborations engendered by OPOF, and the positive differences the work has brought about for the Forest. The key next steps are:
- Continue to bring together natural and cultural heritage through shared ideals of landscape.
- Reaching out to audiences beyond the Forest boundary, the New Forest neighbours. Audience engagement has been very successful at increasing the depth of engagement in heritage with a wide range of people who live in the Forest but has been less successful at increasing the breadth of engagement from ‘harder to reach’ communities in the towns and cities surrounding the Forest. This should be widened in the future.
- Provide a central ‘organising function’ for volunteering. This is seen as a key element to take forward, allowing for shared promotion of opportunities, the sharing of volunteers across projects and sites, and access to a wider range of opportunities for the volunteers themselves. Work is being progressed to help achieve this.