How research can inform our understanding, protection and enjoyment of the historic environment.

Building bridges with the higher education sector

There is a long tradition of collaboration between researchers and others in the heritage sector. Recent years have seen further rapid growth in co-operative research and training initiatives. It is important to strengthen these links to enhance our ability to protect heritage and understand its cultural, social and economic value within our plural society.

The Heritage 2020 Discovery, Identification and Understanding working group has been scoping the nature of collaboration between organisations in the heritage and higher education sectors.

A scoping study, undertaken by Newcastle University, with support from AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) aimed to develop a picture of connectivity between the UK heritage sector and UL higher education sector as a first step towards understanding how to extend and strengthen collaboration. The research report, results of a subsequent survey to test the findings and engage people with the recommendations, a list of resources to support the development of collaborations, and a selection of case studies contributed by people who have first-hand experience of collaborations to illustrate both the range of possibilities but also share ‘lessons learnt’ can all be found on the ‘Links with Higher Education‘ page

Other work from across the heritage sector that is relevant to this theme includes:

HistBEKE– A project organised by the University of Liverpool and funded by Historic England, it aims to ‘provide a framework for knowledge exchange for the historic built environment’.

Museum- University Partnership Initiative (MUPI)- The project ran between 2016 and 2018 and brought together museums and universities to work towards mutually beneficial aims.

Guide to Collaboration for Archives and Higher Education (2018 Edition)

Developing a more strategic approach to risks and opportunities

Facing the Future: Foresight and the Historic Environment (2015) sets out Historic England’s approach to the process of research and evidence gathering that underpins its strategic long-term approach to heritage protection. From foresight work carried out in 2016, Historic England developed its strategic research agenda which was published in 2017: Historic England’s Research Agenda.  The agenda is not only used to guide research that is undertaken by Historic England but also to guide the research that it commissions and funds.

Research frameworks

Research frameworks are a tool to draw together information from a range of sources to assess and highlight gaps for potential future research. There are many that are in use by, or apply to, the historic environment sector. Guidance on the role of research frameworks in the historic environment sector and their benefit can be found on the Historic England website.

More recently (2020) Historic England has commissioned research into how the research agenda aligns to research being undertaken in Higher Education Institutions. The results of this work are not expected until later in 2020.

A ‘Heritage Observatory’?

A third initiative is the scoping of the need for, and form of a ‘Heritage Sector Observatory’. The potential value and benefits of an Observatory for the historic environment sector that would collate evidence and identify areas for future research was discussed at the 2019 Heritage 2020 Foresight workshop. In 2020, Historic England, on behalf of the Historic Environment Forum, commissioned research into what form such an Observatory might take and what role it could play.

Addressing undiscovered and under-appreciated heritage

In 2016, Historic England published a report ‘Assessing the value of community-generated historic environment research‘. The aims of the project behind the report were to assess:

  • The amount of historic environment research being undertaken by community groups.
  • The potential scholarly value that this research could offer to enhance research resources, in particular those used to support the planning system.

Key findings included the lack of knowledge amongst community groups of existing research frameworks and the prioritisation of ‘heritage outcomes’ in projects, resulting in a relatively small amount of published research outputs.

This group’s discussions have revealed that although there is a strong tradition of participatory research, there is a gap in guidance that will support communities to ensure a legacy for outputs from the projects, including digital resources and research data.

Securing maximum value from discoveries by the private sector

Heritage Information Access Strategy


The Heritage 2020 Framework document outlines the vision and priorities for collaboration for each working group.