The ICOMOS procedure for evaluating nominations to the World Heritage List

The ICOMOS procedure is described in Annex 6 of the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention. It is regulated by the Policy for the implementation of the ICOMOS World Heritage mandate (latest revision in October 2012). This policy makes public the existing procedure, and sets out the fair, transparent and credible approach ICOMOS adopts in fulfilling its world heritage remit, and the way it avoids conflicts of interest.

The evaluation of nominations is coordinated by the World Heritage Unit of the International Secretariat of ICOMOS, in collaboration with the ICOMOS World Heritage Working Group and the ICOMOS World Heritage Panel.

The ICOMOS World Heritage Working Group consists of officers of ICOMOS, the World Heritage Unit and ICOMOS advisers. It meets two or three times a year, and is responsible for the guidance and orientation of work relating to the World Heritage.

The ICOMOS World Heritage Panel, which brings together some thirty persons, is made up of members of the ICOMOS Executive Committee and of experts who are invited each year depending on the nature of the properties nominated (rock art, 20th century heritage, industrial heritage, etc.). TICCIH and DoCoMoMo are also invited to participate in discussions in which their expertise is relevant. The Panel represents the various professional, geographic and cultural sensibilities present at the international level. It prepares the ICOMOS recommendations for each nomination on a collegial basis.   

For each nominated property, ICOMOS assesses:

  • whether it bears testimony of an outstanding universal value:
  • whether it meets the criteria of the Operational Guidelines;
  • whether it meets the conditions of authenticity and integrity;whether legal protection is adequate;
  • whether the management processes are satisfactory.

All properties are given equal attention, and ICOMOS also makes every effort to be as objective, scientific and rigorous as possible.

In order to reinforce consistency of the evaluations and recommendations, and to check which additional information requests should be sent to State Parties, ICOMOS uses a check box tool. In addition, a specific session with the advisers is organised to ensure consistency of approach on all aspects throughout all evaluations.

An external review of the principles, methods and procedures used by ICOMOS in evaluating nominations was carried out in 2009. The final report and the ICOMOS response were made available to the World Heritage Committee at its 34th session.

1 Preparatory work

The preparatory work is done in several stages:

a. Initial study of dossiers: This first stage of the work consists of the creation of an inventory of the nomination dossier documents, a study of them to identify the various issues relating to the property and the choice of the various experts who will be called on to study the dossier (ICOMOS advisers, experts for mission, experts for consultations). A compilation of all relevant comparative material (Tentative Lists, properties already on the World Heritage List, nomination dossiers, “filling the gaps” ICOMOS study, etc.) is prepared in order to assist the work of the advisers on the specific item of comparative analysis.

b. Consultations: Experts are consulted to express their opinion about the comparative analysis and the outstanding universal value of the nominated properties with reference to the ten criteria set out in the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention (July 2012), § 77.

For this purpose, ICOMOS calls on the following:

  • ICOMOS International Scientific Committees;
  • Individual ICOMOS members with special expertise, identified after consultation with International and National Committees;
  •  Non-ICOMOS members with specific expertise, identified after consultation within the ICOMOS networks.

c. Technical evaluation missions: As a rule, ICOMOS calls on a person from the region in which the nominated property is located. In certain exceptional circumstances, often in cases in which the nature of the property is unusual, the expert may not originate from the region concerned. The objective of the missions is to study the authenticity, integrity, factors affecting the property, protection, conservation and management (Operational Guidelines, § 78).

Experts are sent a copy of the nomination (or all relevant parts of it, when the dossier is particularly extensive), a note with key questions based on a preliminary examination of the dossiers, documentation on the Convention and detailed guidelines for evaluation missions.

All experts have a duty of confidentiality. Their opinion about the nomination does not necessarily reflect that of the organisation; it is the ICOMOS World Heritage Panel which, after acquainting itself with all the information, analyses it and determines the organisation's position.

Missions are sent to all the nominated properties except in the case of nominations referred back for which the Operational Guidelines do not stipulate that a mission is necessary. (Note: The principle is that properties are referred back because additional information is necessary, and not because thorough or substantial modifications are needed; the deadlines set in the Operational Guidelines mean moreover that it is not possible to organise missions, desk reviews or consideration by the full ICOMOS World Heritage Panel for properties referred back).

For mixed property nominations, technical evaluation missions are carried out jointly with IUCN, and ICOMOS and IUCN exchange information about draft recommendations. Furthermore, ICOMOS consults IUCN on cultural landscape nominations, includes comments received in the evaluations and taken them into account in its recommendations.


2 Evaluations and recommendations

a. ICOMOS World Heritage Panel: Draft evaluations (in either English or French) are prepared on the basis of the information contained in the nomination dossiers, mission reports, consultations and research. They are examined by the ICOMOS World Heritage Panel when it meets in Paris in early December each year. The Panel defines the recommendations and identifies the additional information requests to be sent to the State Parties.

b. Additional information request: Additional information requests for some of the nominated properties are sent to the State Parties by 31 January, in accordance with the normal procedure. All documents received by 28 February are examined by the World Heritage Working Group at its meeting in March.

c. Finalisation of the evaluation volume and its presentation to the World Heritage Committee: Following these meetings, revised evaluations are prepared in both working languages, printed and dispatched to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre for distribution to members of the World Heritage Committee before its annual session.

Nominated properties and ICOMOS recommendations are presented to the World Heritage Committee by ICOMOS advisers in PowerPoint form.

As an advisory body, ICOMOS makes a recommendation based on an objective, rigorous and scientific analysis. However, decisions are the responsibility of the World Heritage Committee. The process relies on the Committee members and their knowledge of the nominations and the evaluations published by the advisory organisations.

3 Dialogue with State Parties

ICOMOS makes every effort to maintain dialogue with the State Parties throughout the nomination evaluation process, i.e. following receipt of the nominations, during and after the technical evaluation mission, and following the meeting of the ICOMOS World Heritage Panel. The information requested relates to precise details or clarifications, but does not invite a complete reformulation of the nomination dossier.

ICOMOS is in favour of this dialogue. The replies provided by the State Parties have often provided confirmation or assistance in the adoption of the final recommendations made by ICOMOS.

ICOMOS recommendations are made available to the members of the World Heritage Committee six weeks before the beginning of the session. ICOMOS is at the State Parties’ disposal for discussions and explanations about its recommendations. However, time constraints are a problem, and ICOMOS is in favour of fuller discussions about how this dialogue may be improved.

4 Referred back nominations and requests for minor modifications

On 1st February preceding the World Heritage Committee meeting, ICOMOS also receives supplementary information on nominations referred back during previous sessions of the Committee. As indicated above, ICOMOS does not organise technical evaluation missions for the evaluation of this supplementary information. Such supplementary information is examined by the World Heritage Working Group, at its March meeting.

ICOMOS also examines requests for "minor" modifications to boundaries or creation of buffer zones, and for changes of criteria or name for some properties already inscribed on the World Heritage List.

5 Conclusion

In reaching its recommendations to the World Heritage Committee, ICOMOS relies on the Operational Guidelines and the direction of the World Heritage Committee.

The opinion of ICOMOS is both independent and institutional. The opinion of one of its members is not binding on the organisation, and the evaluation texts are each the work of between 40-50 persons for each nomination, with several stages of in-depth peer review. ICOMOS represents cultural heritage experts throughout the five regions and is working to protect the entire cultural heritage of the world.

ICOMOS takes a professional view of the dossiers reviewed, and when appropriate makes recommendations for all the properties for which nominations have been submitted to it, independently of the outstanding regional or universal scope of their values.

Paris, April 2013

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