How do they do it? English Heritage's Duncan McCallum

Written by: Jez Abbot
Published on: 4 Jun 2014

D McCallum

English Heritage government advice director Duncan McCallum delivers policy advice to local and central government and external stakeholders about the role heritage plays in delivering sustainable development. He trained in planning at Newcastle University, did an MA conservation studies and worked for several councils in historic environment roles before joining English Heritage 18 years ago.

Q. What are your objectives in your current role and how are you measured against them?

A At a strategic level I look at implications of government proposals on heritage whether it's agriculture, wind farms or whatever, and am responsible for making sure the economic and social implications of heritage issues are better researched, understood and disseminated. In most policy work it's a challenge to work out how to measure performance, but so much of our advice and documents can be downloaded, which can be measured. Seeing our arguments used by other people, even if they don't credit us, is another measure our success in trying to help people understand.

Q. What key lessons have you learned during your career that help you to fulfil those objectives? 

A Live by the bullet. These days few people have time to read long documents; a few key bullet points are much more likely to have an impact than 100 pages of worthy prose. That's not say the bullet points shouldn't backed by relevant research but how you put across messages to people needs to be really succinct and clearly communicated.

Argument based on evidence rather than assertion is much more powerful. It's easy and sometimes lazy to rely on assertion, whereas simple logic and facts underlaid with research or evidence that can be backed up are far more likely to be win an argument.

Be positive. Heritage is very precious and fragile but the best way to act as an advocate is to be positive and show how it can deliver all sorts of benefits beyond the intrinsic one of being a piece of past. Putting a positive slant will give better results than being defensive and saying 'heritage is sacrosanct and shouldn't be touched' – we need to find positive ways of using our heritage.