Heritage 2020 Working Groups:

Discovery, identification and understanding

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.

The Heritage 2020 Framework document outlined the vision and priorities for collaboration for each working group. The vision for the Discovery, Identification and Understanding group was:


  • By 2020 we will see compelling new discoveries and stories emerging from investigations in ways that are more readily accessible to the public; we will know far more about what happened in the past; more gaps on the heritage map of England will be identified and filled.
  • Joint working with the higher education sector will be extended and strengthened to address the strategic and front-line priorities for the historic environment.
  • Understanding of the historic environment will be recognised as a valuable and integral contribution to the growing knowledge economy.
  • Greater understanding of the risks to historic environment will inform preventative conservation measures and policies.
  • More people will find fulfilment by taking part in learning and discovery. A wider range of national and local communities will take greater responsibility for research and for sharing their knowledge.
  • There will be a significant increase in the level of public access to knowledge and information.

Priorities for collaboration

The key priorities identified in the Heritage 2020 Framework for collaborative action under the theme of ‘Discovery, Identification and Understanding’ were:

  • Building stronger 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. To achieve this, the Historic Environment Forum will work closely with the UK Research Councils and the National Heritage Science Forum to enhance collaboration and secure the greatest impact from heritage research on practical challenges.
  • Developing a more strategic approach to risks and opportunities: much of our heritage is safe and well managed, but other aspects area at risk of damage caused by environmental, climatic, economic and social changes. We need to develop a better understanding of current and impending changes to ensure public policy on heritage is as effective as possible and resources are targeted most efficiently. The Historic Environment Forum will work to improve our collective ability to assess risks – particularly the impacts of development pressure; neglect; and major climatic, societal and environmental changes – and to capitalise on opportunities.
  • Addressing undiscovered and under-appreciated heritage: because much of England’s heritage remains to be discovered or to have its value to society confirmed, its recognition, recording and evaluation remains the vital first step in ensuring its effective conservation and potential future use. Without this we cannot be sure that we are always addressing the most pressing needs in statutory protection or conservation. The excitement of this process of discovery, detection and revelation remains an essential part of the public appeal of heritage. The Historic Environment Forum will work to encourage all parts of the sector to develop an ever-better understanding and appreciation of the historic environment and its widest possible communication.
  • Securing maximum value from discoveries by the private sector: the private sector is now a major creator of knowledge about our archaeological and built heritage but cross-sector action is required to ensure that this information is secure and accessible in the long term. The Historic Environment Forum will work closely with agencies, local authorities and the private sector to ensure this information is secure and digitally accessible to all, now and in the future.

Priorities taken from Heritage 2020 Framework document.

Action Plan

Working Group Members

Over the course of the Heritage 2020 programme the following people and organisations contributed to the Discovery, Identification & Understanding working group.

David Bowsher, MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology)
May Cassar, UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage
John Cattell, Historic England
Joseph Elders, Church of England (Chair)
Kate Geary, Chartered Institute for Archaeologists
Helen Graham, University of Leeds
Katie Green, Archaeology Data Services
Gary Grubb, Arts & Humanities Research Council (Vice Chair)
Jen Heathcote, Historic England
Michael Lewis, Portable Antiquities Scheme, British Museum
Jen Parker Wooding, Chartered Institute for Archaeologists
John Pendlebury, Newcastle University
Olivia Swift, Royal Holloway University of London
Steve Trow, Historic England


12 March 2020

The group began by refining their action plan to help build stronger bridges with the higher education sector. The group’s survey on the findings of the report (commissioned from Newcastle University) into the nature and depth of collaborations between the Higher Education and Heritage organisations has added weight to the finding that there is a relative cold spot in terms of research collaborations with the historic environment sector. The survey sought input on the tools, information or facilitation that could increase or strengthen collaboration and found greatest support for brokering of information.

The group then discussed what could be done to address undiscovered and under-appreciated heritage. It was decided to investigate whether guidance is adequate for community groups wishing to start a project. Conversations then turned to work being done to secure maximum value from discoveries by the private sector. The group’s scoping review is coming to an end, but they discussed the potential of publishing guidance lists.

11 October 2019

The report commissioned from Newcastle University on research linkages between higher education and heritage sector organisations (extent and nature of collaboration) has been published. The report identified collaboration between HEIs and the historic environment sector as a relative cold spot and made a number of recommendations for dissemination, the development of guidance or a toolkit, or facilitating collaboration. The findings, and potential ideas for improving collaboration were tested with the wider sector through an online survey over the summer. The survey responses revealed a mixed picture, though with consistent support for strengthening collaboration and particular demand from Local Authorities for help in accessing research collaborations, and for data contributions to Historic Environment Records.

The next area of the Heritage 2020 Framework that the group is looking to address is issues of ‘under-appreciated and under-represented heritage’ and ‘increasing public access to knowledge and understanding’ – and how to ensure inclusion of other organisations in this work.

7 May 2019

The group used the opportunity of this meeting to discuss potential new areas of focus. They began by exploring how they can help in addressing undiscovered and under-appreciated heritage. They noted that the reflective evidence on First World War centenary projects suggests that the work of communities is already being lost because of infrastructure issues (i.e. where resources are put, how accessible, website technology outdated). The group decided they will use World War One projects as a pilot/starting point to investigate issues associated with archiving community projects and encouraging sustainability of such projects.

The group then proceeded to discuss the progress of their commissioned report on the nature and strength of collaboration between the heritage sector and UK higher education institutions. They also discussed how they could use it to start a wider cross-sector conversation. Next, discussions turned to how the group can help to secure maximum value from the private sector, especially regarding depositing collections and digital archiving.  Finally, the group discussed what work is happening in the organisation of group members that aligns to DIU themes.

12 October 2018

The draft report on research connections between Higher Education Institutions and heritage organisations was discussed, with a focus on the recommendations and conclusions, who the report speaks to (and on whose authority), and how it should be publicised.

The group looked at the issues and opportunities arising from community engagement in infrastructure projects. The CIfA voluntary and community group agreed to run a #HeritageChat on this theme, which is summarised here.

The group then reviewed the Heritage 2020 framework priorities to inform its next area for joint working, and which other organisations could be approached to take part in the group.

14 June 2018

At its meeting on 14 June 2018, the group discussed the progress it is making against its priority areas, particularly ‘building stronger bridges with the higher education sector’. It reviewed the draft report into research linkages between Historic Environment Sector organisations and Higher Education Institutions that is being led by Newcastle University with support from AHRC. The final phase of this project will include interviews with individuals based at Historic Environment Sector organisations.

A presentation was given to the group on the HistBEKE project and how the Knowledge Exchange Framework will be taken forward once the initial projects ends in August. The group were also informed of a platform for searching across research frameworks that is under development by Historic England.

It was reported that the CIfA conference session targeted at Early Career Researchers had been successful and that sessions such as this, that look at examples of how research collaborations benefit current and future practice could be extended to other sector conferences. The Church of England reported on plans for a new project to improve its collaboration with the Higher Education sector by engaging history and archaeology students to work on the conservation plans of major churches.

21 February 2018

At its meeting on 21 February 2018, the group discussed progress made in its priority area of building bridges with the higher education sector. It noted that the activity level across the group is good but that it needs to be more visible. Good progress continues to be made with the scoping study into research linkages despite it being time intensive. The report will be complemented by follow up interviews and conclusions, with a particular focus on the DIU group’s objective of how to improve connections. It is envisioned that a draft report will be available by the next group meeting of 14 June. An update was also provided on the content of the CIfA conference session (focusing on improving the impact of research on practice and targeted at Early Career Researchers). It was agreed that a summary of post-event legacy opportunities would be helpful and enable the group and wider sector to build on this theme.  The group then discussed strategic approaches to risks and opportunities, to inform preventative conservation measures and policies, and lastly talked about the need to secure maximum value from discoveries made by the private sector. Going forward, it was decided that Heritage 2020 needs to explore positive opportunities for community engagement that arise from infrastructure projects.

17 October 2017
The group discussed progress on the ongoing scoping study of links between higher education institutions and historic environment sector organisations. REF impact case studies are being analysed despite challenging amounts and variability of data. Planning for an Early Career Researchers session at the next CIfA conference is underway; the call for papers now open and the group will work to encourage ECRs to submit papers and attend the conference. The group also explored opportunities for action within the context of major infrastructure projects such as HS2. The idea of a ‘match-making’ site for commercial and academic organisations was raised and funding possibilities were discussed. Additionally, the group reviewed existing systems available for sharing and re-using data, including OASIS and the Historic England Heritage Information Access Strategy (HIAS). It noted that HIAS is not intended to address community and academic contributions, and the group is to explore whether academic or community equivalents exist. Finally, the group contributed topic suggestions for the upcoming Twitter #HeritageChat series.

13 June 2017
The group met on 13th June 2017. It discussed the priority areas of its action plan, particularly progress towards the goal of strengthening the relationship between the historic environment and academic sectors. Progress on the scoping study into strengths and weaknesses of research linkages was reviewed. The first phase of this work will involve an analysis of the REF impact case studies. The group also discussed options to take forward the idea of an event targeted at Early Career Researchers that focus on the practical application of research. Finally, the group noted the desirability of understanding who provides access to data and who contributes and accesses data. On other topics, the group noted that a public-facing HS2 research and delivery strategy is to be published soon. They also discussed the wider Heritage 2020 work, in relation to the proposed themes for the 2018 Foresight day and the proposal to use a Twitter Chat for the Autumn 2017 engagement activity.

28 February 2017
In this meeting the group discussed feedback to the recent consultation, which included observations on the need for more research. In particular, the need to provide evidence of the value and benefits of heritage was commented on, as well as the difficulty in gaining access to existing research. The group noted that the former issue is being addressed by the ‘Helping Things to Happen’ working group. The group agreed to focus their actions on addressing the consultation requests for improving access to research and data, and the request for information on regional, rather than national or site-specific research. The group discussed running a symposium to help people make connections between practice and research as a future activity for 2017-18.

18 October 2016
The group’s meeting of 18 October focused on its priority topic of ‘building stronger bridges with the higher education sector’. It discussed how best to identify whether there are, or are not, opportunities for join-up between the higher education and historic environment sectors and it looked at how existing and planned work by organisations active in the historic environment sector could be used to create a resource that the demonstrates the health of the relationship between the sectors, and identifies how the relationship can be enhanced or better presented (for example, by identifying thematic or geographical cold spots).
The group agreed to use the forthcoming Heritage2020 consultation to ask the wider historic environment and higher education sectors to contribute views on the research needed to address the strategic and front-line priorities for the historic environment.