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New guidance will help councils deal with contested statues

Press release issued: 9 November 2021

A new report published this week will give councils across the country guidance on processes to use when deciding the future of contested monuments and street names.

Written by a team of experts at University of Bristol, the report focuses on democratic process and transparency. It recommends Citizen Panels as just one of several methods that can be used to come to fair and inclusive decisions.

 The report is published a fortnight after Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced the London launch of city-wide participatory learning project Bridging Histories, and a £1 million Untold Stories fund championing diversity in the capital’s public spaces.

 At least 150 councils across the UK have committed to reviewing the balance of heritage in their landscapes. However, in many places, reviews have been carried out without examples of best practice, and with limited public communication.

 The report recommends step-by-step processes for transparent, inclusive, and democratic reviews. It identifies 11 factors for reviewing bodies to consider, including a figures’ principal legacies, the mission and values of the responsible body, appropriateness of location, art-historical value, and duties of non-erasure. It also identifies 6 legal considerations, including planning consent.

 Review formats can include descriptive audits; evaluative reviews; and holistic approaches such as Bridging Histories, designed by the Bristol History Commission to help communities everywhere nest decision-making about contested heritage within wider programmes for learning and social cohesion.

Author Dr Marie-Annick Gournet from Bristol's Department of English said: “All too often some communities are not involved in decision-making that affects them directly, and the ‘hard to reach’ label is used as a justification for these absent voices.  This guidance provides the framework for a truly inclusive process with early engagement and steps to secure participation of diverse communities.”

Author Dr Joanna Burch-Brown, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Bristol and co-chair of the Bristol History Commission said: “The messaging around a review should be positive and conciliatory, rather than partisan and political. Prepare simple, positive messages and broadcast these early and widely. With the right processes, this history can bring people together, open minds and shape positive change for the future.”

Author Ben Stephenson (Institute for Place Management) said: “We would like all reviews to meet MosaicLab six principles of engagement: they should have a clear remit; access to neutral, balanced information; a representative selection process; enough time to deliberate; high level of influence over outcome; and start from a ‘blank page’ to detail thinking and recommendations.”

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, said: “When the statue of Edward Colston was hauled down, there was no playbook. That's what makes this report so important. I was fortunate, as I had great people around me who knew the city well, the authors of this report among them. Other leaders may not be so fortunate and this work will be an invaluable aid. 

“Working with our histories in all their fullness is at the same time essential and difficult. We must know who we are, and yet in the process of finding that out we might end up facing things that challenge the very essence of who we are.

“We must find a way through these journeys that enable us to hold ourselves together across our different perspectives. This work lays out ways to approach this leadership challenge: engaging with people, hearing their voices, their hopes and concerns. It gives leaders advice on an approach that will enable emotional intelligence and sensitivity without shying away from difficult stuff.  

“I have known Dr Marie-Annick Gournet for nearly two decades. Dr Joanna Burch-Brown has been an invaluable member of our Bristol History Commission. I see this work as making the contribution they have made to Bristol available to the rest of the country.”

Further information

  • The report “Reviewing Contested Heritage: Guidance for public bodies” by Ben Stephenson, Marie-Annick Gournet and Joanna Burch-Brown is available here: (and is published as part of University of Bristol Faculty of Arts Impact and Engagement).
  • A 2-page Policy-Maker’s briefing “Undertaking reviews of monuments and street names: Processes to guide public bodies” is available from PolicyBristol:
  • Citizen Panels bring together a random and representative group of delegates, assembled using the same methods as a jury, to hear evidence, deliberate and come to a recommendation. Citizen Panel methods originated at the Jefferson Centre and have been used to create consensus around sensitive political topics such as the permissibility of abortion in Ireland. Details of a Citizen Panel method applied to street renaming can be found in Appendix 2 of the report (pp. 38-40).
  • For more information on Bridging Histories, please visit:
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