Marc Jacobs
Director, FARO. Flemish Interface for Cultural Heritage

Edward Freeman defined a stakeholder as any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of an organization’s objectives. In business management literature, stakeholders are people or groups who have the power to directly affect an organization’s future. Others stress that it is necessary to consider a very broad range of individuals, groups, communities, and organizations, including the less powerful: the affected that can also affect, when taken into consideration. Thinking in terms of stakeholders and using mapping techniques, grids, and tools to identify relevant stakeholders have become crucial steps in strategic planning in the twenty-first century, not only in business contexts but also in culture management. In contexts of consensus building, the central process of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage, it is an important technique not only for bringing together as much potentially relevant information and experience as possible but also for trying to act in an ethical way and cultivate sustainable development.

Between 2003 and 2016, a strategy of the organs of the 2003 UNESCO Convention was to reduce the vocabulary to a limited set of appropriate words, primarily those used in the authoritative French or English versions of the Convention. The organs tried to be careful and restrictive when expanding that set of words in the subsequent operational directives, in the official nomination and request forms that were used, and in the decisions taken by the Intergovernmental Committee and the General Assembly of the States Party of the 2003 Convention. However, as time progresses, it will be useful or even necessary to introduce new terms like, for instance, “cultural brokerage,” “mediation,” “access and benefit sharing,” or “stakeholders.” A number of problems related to commercialization, commodification, market mechanisms, the range of actors having a stake, and sustainable development were put on the agenda in the 1999 Washington Assessment and analysis of why the 1989 UNESCO Recommendation on the Safeguarding of Traditional Culture and Folklore had failed. These issues have been put in the fridge between 2001 and 2003 to reach consensus about the Convention text and later about the subsequent operational directives. But in 2016 they are back, with a vengeance. This is why we need to explicitly activate the aforementioned new words.

While the marathon of expert meetings in UNESCO Headquarters in Paris was going on in 2001, 2002, and 2003, dedicated working groups were working on a glossary. The word “stakeholder” is not mentioned in the final document. The word stakeholder is also not used in the authoritative text of the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. For a participatory agenda, the core article of the Convention and the 2003 safeguarding paradigm is article 15.

Within the framework of its safeguarding activities of the intangible cultural heritage, each State Party shall endeavor to ensure the widest possible participation of communities, groups and, where appropriate, individuals that create, maintain and transmit such heritage, and to involve them actively in its management.

This is what the concept of “stakeholder” is all about, but the concept itself is not used, neither in the section about national implementation, neither in the section about international cooperation. Until 2015, the word “stakeholders” was not used in any of the four versions of the operational directives (2008; 2010; 2012; 2014). In several of those directives, there is, for instance, an extra specification about prior and informed consent, which implies a process for which stakeholder analysis is needed.

But in the Evaluation of UNESCO’s Standard‐setting Work of the Culture Sector Part I—2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Final Report (2013), the concept of “stakeholder” is manifestly pushed forward. The Internal Oversight Service of UNESCO underlines that safeguarding should be done in

a participatory manner and through negotiation within the relevant community and between all stakeholders concerned. In the discussion of the growing need for the culture sector to cooperate with other sectors on policy/legislative development and implementation.

The conclusion of IOS was that it was high time to address these challenges and chances.

Luckily, from 2015 onwards, there is a real chance to write a new chapter in the history of the 2003 Convention. During the meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee in Windhoek in December 2015, the notion of updating unexpectedly turned out to be the central theme. Updating the urgent safeguarding plans by changing the report forms, transferring an item from one international list to another, devoting specific attention to periodic country reports and the role of stakeholders in that process, and supporting closer collaboration between the Secretariat and States Party to fine tune international assistance requests by revising the form ICH-04—these were all addressed during the Windhoek meeting and resulted in decisions.

For all these updating activities, thinking in terms of stakeholders is crucial. In the decisions of the Windhoek meeting, the word “stakeholders” is used many times, including in the new draft chapter of the operational directives and in the decisions about the codes and tools of ethics that should be updated “through a participatory process involving communities, groups and relevant stakeholders.” Henceforth, “stakeholders” is officially part of the appropriate language of the 2003 safeguarding paradigm—just like the sleeping beauty, “updating” has finally been awakened and activated.