“Show, not tell” strategy by the Swedish National Heritage Board

"Show, not tell" is an informal strategy recently adopted by the Swedish National Heritage Board , the agency of the Swedish government that is responsible for heritage and historic environment issues. The idea behind this approach is that, rather than looking for different ways of saying "heritage is important", they are now striving to show why it actually is important. In order to achieve this, they evaluate the effects of heritage practice both on the protection of the historical environment and on the sustainable development of society.

Last year, the Swedish National Heritage Board reorganised its ‘Department for Cultural Environment’, largely in accordance with this principle, so that half of the department (around 20 people) is now involved in looking closer at the consequences of heritage policy and practice in the country. More resources were therefore allocated to evaluation and follow-up activities. Furthermore, they adapted their public communication with clearer and more effective statements.

As part of this new strategy, they recently investigated how the annual cultural environment public grants (a total of 26 million Euros allocated for the conservation and management of historic buildings, landscapes and antiquities) could contribute to regional growth and the labour market. The following questions were investigated:

>        In what ways does the cultural environment grant provide conditions for different forms of active labour market measures?

>        In what ways does the cultural heritage grant promote visitor industry and tourism?

>        To what extent does the cultural environment grant contribute to the buying of goods and services?


The study was carried out through workshops with regional representatives from the County Administrative Board - responsible for distributing the grants - by means of a questionnaire to organisations and individuals who had applied for grants as well as by means of six case-studies. The results were clear: the cultural environment grant has a potentially important role in strengthening the labour market and contributing to sustainable (economic) growth. This effect was most evident within the field of visitor industries and tourism when the grant was used to fund initiatives to provide access to heritage sites. The grant added value to sites by being a “stamp of approval” that offered long-term credibility and helped to attract matched funding from European structural/Investment funds and other investors.

Lars Amréus, Head for Sweden and Director General of the Swedish National Heritage Board, used the results of this study to argue the case for local heritage and tourism in an article which has been republished in around 70 media during the summer 2015:



Another example of a “show-not-tell” evaluation is a recently initiated project investigating the effects of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Reform 2014-2020, particularly the removal of specific subsidies for the management of cultural elements in the arable landscape and for the preservation and management of arable cultural heritage.

The study will:

  1. Investigate how subsidies for the preservation of pasture and mowing fields contributed to the goals for the national environmental quality objectives between 2007 -2013. The environmental quality objectives express the quality and condition of the Swedish environment, including natural and cultural heritage resources that the Swedish Parliament considers environmentally sustainable in the long term.
  2. Investigate to what extent the subsidies affected the attitudes and interest of the farmers to manage the heritage and cultural environment.
  3. Illustrate the effects and consequences of a situation where the management of heritage and the arable cultural environment is not undertaken.

This strategy tackles the burning issue of evidence-based policy for public heritage administrations and is therefore linked with the objectives of the Economic Taskforce – standing committee of the EHHF – which aims at gathering data at European level in order to develop strong statements on the economic value of cultural heritage.


This article has been written thanks to the contribution of Karin Altenberg, EHHF delegate for Sweden and Senior Adviser at the Swedish National Heritage Board.

Website of the Swedish National Heritage Board: http://www.raa.se/