Tuesday 8 April 2014

Karaoke FLOs in a People's PAS?

does PAS need trained typing monkeys?
Although I am not a metal detectorist, and after a year of waiting, on asking again, I got a one-line explanation from Clare Costin of the Portable Antiquities Scheme of the proposed People's PAS volunteer recording scheme.

She was not very effusive on the topic of the origins of the volunteers that will be "fully trained in finds recording by the PAS through the project". They are reportedly going to be unspecified "members of the local community". I take that to mean people like my Mum, amateurs with time on their hands, not people with an archaeological background. Karaoke FLOs.

This all-too-scant information leads me to wonder just what it is the PAS don't really want to discuss openly. Where are they going with this? What is the future for a professional PAS? I wonder just how "fully" people (like my Mum) can be "trained" to do the job of an FLO. So far the Scheme has employed professionals to do a professional job, now are they contemplating employing unpaid amateurs to do an amateur job? What use is that (the ghettoised "county pages" - why)?

It strikes me that to record a find, first of all surely they have to know what it is, and why its Tetricus II and not Tetricus I. Quite apart from the issue of the correct archaeological interpretation by inexperienced amateurs of finders' finds, I do not see either how these volunteer "members of the community" will be taking over the task of "outreach" currently done by professionals.

From what little I have been told, this sounds to me like a disturbing 'quantity as opposed to quality' step backwards in a search merely to boost "database numbers".  I wonder how the professional staff feel about all their hard work done in the past potentially being undercut by these new proposals.

The question of why this shift in PAS policy is being kept away from the public eye is all the more interesting since the whole Leverhulme grant proposal was preceded by a survey on 'Audience participation in the PAS'. Yet when there is an issue in which audience participation in a discussion of proposals, problems and solutions is certainly very much desirable, it is next to impossible to get any useful information out of the Scheme on which to base any discussion involving the PAS' audience - the people who will have to use a database cobbled together by unpaid trained monkeys. Where has all the public money gone if it now turns out that for the past seventeen years the same work could have been carried out by "full trained' unpaid volunteers, saving the public purse millions of pounds?

'What is a Karaoke FLO to do?


Detectorbloke said...

Its a bit like legal aid, a field I used to work in. It was slashed to smithereens and with some funding given to charities to train volunteers to mitigate the effects of the cuts.

Why have paid specialists when you can have volunteers instead. It's the big society don't you know.

When it comes to funding I wouldn't want to criticise my paymasters for fear of oblivion. Sad I know.

P2Pinvested said...

I really struggle to see any benefit of this proposed new system. Are they using unpaid volunteers to cut back on costs ? If so surely they are going to spend a heck of a lot of dosh to pay professionals to train them. Wouldn't it be a wiser move to instead take on more professional staff in part time roles if cost saving is a priority, rather than spending money training possibly total amateurs who may still end up being, well, amateur

Paul Barford said...

If so, it's the beginning of an end for a professional PAS and the beginning of an end to its legitimisation of artefact hunting and collecting. Good riddance if so. Let artefact hunting stand on its own two feet, without the nanny-state-subsidised prop.

Detectorbloke said...

My cynicism aside it will all be in training / retention and quality of the volunteers me thinks.

Anonymous said...

"My cynicism aside it will all be in training / retention and quality of the volunteers me thinks."

Well that's what Big Society advocates in every field always say, but the reality is that unpaid amateurs can't perform as well as full time professionals even if the excuse is trotted out (as here) that they'll be well trained and supervised. You know that in your area of expertise, I know it in mine, nurses know it in theirs and no doubt FLOs know it in theirs. I expect EH are about to launch amateur Ancient Monument Inspectors, controlled by a Master Inspector in London - not.

The other problem is, the more PAS defend the use of unpaid staff the more the Treasury is likely to say fine, let's slash the funding. It all seems like a bit of a suicide note.

Paul Barford said...

Absolutely, it sends out totally the wrong message, that the highest professional standards do not need to be upheld, amateur recording on the cheap "is nearly as good as" what we've had up to now. That's why I ask what the FLOs think about the idea that their expertise is dispensable.

Paul Barford said...

But above all, why is there NO public discussion of any of this? Why are Britain's dozy jobsworth archaeologists and heritage professionals (as always) not engaged in any discussion of what the PAS is up to behind closed doors and what it means for them?

Anonymous said...

I actually think PAS is intellectually out of control.

Supervision of Fred Public to outreach to Joe Public was NOT what they were set up to do. So who gave them the authority to plan exactly that? And why have they planned such a thing without widely consulting with the profession which would undoubtedly kick it into touch, as would any profession that feared it's expertise was being made a mockery of.

And finally: PAS has failed to reach a large number of detectorists with it's message. The implication of this plan is that they reckon having more people (of whatever calibre or status) will increase the number of detectorists that behave. WHY? It's a childish proposition. "We archaeologists can't persuade them so let's send hundreds of non-archaeologists out to do it. That'll work!"

Detectorbloke said...

I don't believe they would ever think their expertise is dispensable but as they probably aren't going to get anymore money for more specialist paid recorders then what are they to do?

They could either all turn round and say we need a lot of money or do what they are doing at the moment, something which may not be as bad as feared.

If it's kicked into touch, what then?

Anonymous said...

"If it's kicked into touch, what then?"

I wouldn't worry about that, bringing in such a massive and fundamental change without wide prior consultation is pretty obviously to prevent it being successfully opposed.

They don't even have a funding excuse, they've been treated better than the whole of the rest of the heritage sector.

It's a bit of a hoot really, they're the only organisation that has actually volunteered for the Government's Big Society con! The Treasury must be amazed.

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