Research methodology

The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Research methodology

 

Aims

The primary aim of the Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts 2016–17 was to assess the current viability of traditional heritage crafts in the UK and identify those crafts which are most at risk of disappearing (i.e. no longer practised). A secondary aim of the project was to create a comprehensive list of heritage crafts in the UK, accompanied by a page of information about each craft on the Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts website.

 

What is a heritage craft?

For the purposes of this research, a heritage craft is defined as ‘a practice which employs manual dexterity and skill and an understanding of traditional materials, design and techniques, and which has been practised for two or more successive generations’.

The research focuses on craft practices which are taking place in the UK at the present time, including those crafts which have originated outside the UK.

 

List of heritage crafts

A basic listing of crafts featured in this research was drawn from the list of crafts identified in the preliminary stages of the research used in Mapping Heritage Craft (Creative & Cultural Skills: 2012), with further additions from the HCA and members of the public. Further crafts which meet the above definition may be added to the list in future iterations of research. The full list of crafts can be found here…

 

Categories of risk

Drawing on the conservation status system used by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust Watchlist, the HCA is using a system of four categories of risk to assess the viability of heritage crafts. A heritage craft is considered to be viable if there are sufficient craftspeople to transmit the craft skills to the next generation. The four categories of risk are: currently viable, endangered, critically endangered and extinct. There is an additional category, data deficient, for crafts for which there is insufficient information to make a classification. Find out more about the categories here.

 

Phase 1: Establishing the methodology and creating the wiki

The 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, in which traditional craftsmanship is identified as one of the five domains of intangible heritage, stresses that knowledge about a heritage practice lies with the communities that practise it, and takes a grassroots-led bottom-up approach to safeguarding heritage practices. It was therefore decided to follow this approach, rather than a more traditional expert-led top-down research methodology, to gather knowledge about crafts via a ‘wiki’.

A wiki is a website to which anyone can contribute. It was intended that craftspeople, craft organisations, heritage professionals, funding bodies and members of the public would populate the wiki directly with information about each craft. In order to conduct a structured piece of research, a template was provided within the wiki for each entry. This template included headings outlining the information to be recorded, with guidelines to help participants complete the entry. The headings included background information about the craft, such as its history, techniques and local forms, and current information about the craft, such as number of trainees and skilled craftspeople, support organisations, and issues affecting the viability of the craft. Click here for a full list of fields and their definitions.

 

Phase 2: Populating the wiki

A basic entry within the wiki was created for each craft listed, following the template described above, and the entries were initially populated through desk-based research conducted by the HCA. The wiki was then opened up to the public to identify any crafts not listed, and to contribute further information about each craft – especially in relation to the number of skilled craftspeople and trainees, how endangered they thought the craft is as a whole, any particularly endangered skills within the craft, and any issues affecting the viability of the craft.

Approximately 700 organisations and individuals were contacted directly by email and telephone and invited to contribute to the research. Participants were identified from lists of organisations and funding bodies, from internet searches for the craft, and by following up recommendations from other participants. For those who didn’t feel comfortable updating the wiki themselves, there was also be the option to share information via email and telephone. Find out how to contribute to the Red List here.

 

Phase 3: Compiling the Red List of Endangered Crafts

The data-gathering began in May 2016 and was completed in January 2017, following which the HCA has classified each craft as either extinct, critically endangered, endangered, currently viable or data deficient.

This assessment has been made on both objective terms (for example, if there is only one person practising the craft then it is almost certainly critically endangered) and subjective terms (consensus on how endangered practitioners believe their craft to be, combined with other factors such as the average age of practitioners, training opportunities available, and issues affecting the future viability of the craft). The trajectory of the craft – whether the situation is getting better or worse – was also taken into account.

It must be noted that certain crafts may need to be reclassified as a result of new information coming to light following the publication of the Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts. This is to be expected and encouraged, and will help refine the understanding of the current state of crafts today, and pave the way for future iterations of the research.

 

Phase 4: Action

The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts was launched at the House of Lords on 3 May 2017. It is our hope that this research will act as a call to action to those who have it within their power to resolve or alleviate these issues, and that this project will mark the start of long-term monitoring of heritage craft viability and a shared will to avoid the cultural loss that is borne each time a craft dies.

To read more about the research methodology, download the full report here.