Managing a heritage site today involves much more than just conservation. It's also about site protection, enhancement and the arrangements for hosting and managing visitor flows, as well as commitment to developing the area, respect for the environment, participation in local economic development, etc. The role of the site manager for properties inscribed on the World Heritage List has developed over the past few years; this can also be seen in France, for examples for sites listed as "Grands Sites de France"(emblematic sites in France protected under French law). However, we see throughout the world that training and capacity building still are still failing to meet the needs of effective conservation and enhancement of heritage of all kinds.
Since 2007, the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement has supported training and capacity building initiatives for heritage management.
The World Heritage Centre has encouraged France to organise training for Francophone heritage site managers, to improve the skills of these professionals, and even to promote the development of this role and the protection of sites which are poorly protected or not protected at all. As a result, the Institut Universitaire Professionnalisé Denis Diderot (University of Burgundy, France), the Cluny campus of the École Nationale Supérieure d'Arts et Métiers, France and the archeological site of Bibracte (France), with the support of the French Ministry of Culture, decided to establish an international training cycle, in close collaboration with the World Heritage Centre, for Francophone heritage professionals. The heritage department of the French Ministry of Culture (then called the "Direction de l'architecture et du patrimoine"), the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement, several World Heritage sites, as well as the Réseau des Grands Sites de France (RGSF), a French network of Sites and the archaeological site of Bibracte contributed to the preparation and implementation of the first training session in 2007 at the Cluny Campus of the École nationales supérieure des Arts et Métiers. It brought together twenty-seven participants from twelve countries, mostly high-level practising professionals, selected from over sixty applicants.
The second training session was held from 22 to 28 March 2009. Thereafter, new partners became involved in support of the training project: the French National Commission for UNESCO, the Réseau des Grands Sites de France (RGSF), ICOMOS France, the French Ministry of Ecology and the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Finally, the third training session took place in 2011 and was organised by the Réseau des Grands Sites de France. For the coordination and provision of training, the Pôle international francophone de formation et d'échanges des gestionnaires de sites patrimoniaux (PIF) was created in 2010 under the auspices of the RGSF, and designed, organised and implemented a series of training sessions in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015, as well as other thematic workshops.
The France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement, thanks to financial support from the French Ministry of Culture and the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs, contributed to the training organisation by co-financing the participation costs of several participants and hosting the closing sessions at the World Heritage Centre.
The intensive training held every two years is an opportunity to share experience, work in groups and hold expert discussions, as well as making site visits, followed by several days of immersion in one specific site chosen to suit the needs and profile of each trainee. The closing session bringing all the participants and PIF partners together is an opportunity to take stock and discuss what has been learned from the training.
PIF/RGSF, with the support of the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement, has also created and uploaded an online discussion platform, an important tool for communication between the managers who participated in the training and a network of heritage professionals. The development, update and management of the discussion and training platform is intended as an extension and enhancement of the training activities led by the Pole. It should allow the site managers who participated in training sessions to have ongoing access to up-to-date documentary resources in French, an exchange platform for members, examples of good practice, and a question-and-answer tool allowing direct exchange of experiences between managers. This highly dynamic platform has met with great success since its creation for the training participants and has become an international network.