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Foresight and the Historic Environment

In seeking to preserve the best of our buildings and sites for the future, Historic England and others need to know about potential threats and opportunities. Foresight helps us understand what the future may hold and identify the topics where Historic England can most make a difference and best direct resource to protect our historic environment.

What is foresight?

Foresight identifies trends beyond the normal corporate planning cycle of 3-5 years, along with possible responses that can be used to inform long-term planning.

Why do we do it?

  • It is a long term, continuous risk and impact assessment that enables Historic England to plan strategically and be more prepared for change
  • It helps us to develop research priorities for the Historic England Action Plan

How do we do foresight?

Foresight work is informed by horizon-scanning and research by government departments, agencies, international bodies and commercial organisations.

It covers all aspects of the historic environment; archaeology, buildings and landscape. Historic England uses two main techniques, horizon scanning and threat/opportunity assessment:

  • Horizon Scans are rapid reviews of an emerging topic that set out current understanding and identify gaps in knowledge and the need for any further work
  • Assessments are longer documents that explore topics in greater detail and suggest potential responses and the potential scope of further research, if required
  • Historic England also publishes reports that examine cross-cutting themes and analysis of sector wide issues.

The benefits of foresight:

  • Focussed forward-looking research and evidence gathering is the key to developing a strategic, long-term approach to heritage protection
  • Understanding emerging issues underpins Historic England’s expert role and the necessity of the organisation being well prepared to best serve the needs of the physical remains of the past
  • Clear assessments of future risks and opportunities underpin the development of robust policies and resilience in the organisation

Responding to opportunities and threats

To protect the best of the past it is necessary to manage change, not try to prevent it. The historic environment we know today is a product of technical, socio-political and environmental changes in the past which continue into the present and will affect future generations.

For this reason, Historic England researches into and responds to current trends in the wider world so we can understand how they may affect the historic environment in the future.
This allows us to develop solutions to strategic threats and helps us identify opportunities for partnership working, to improve protection and increase understanding and appreciation of our shared heritage.

Examples of the type of assessment of strategic issues are:

National infrastructure investment.

National Infrastructure Development and Capacity 2015-33: An Assessment

National Infrastructure Development and Capacity 2015-33: An Assessment

Published 16 May 2016

Report warning of current under-capacity in the archaeological workforce to deal with major infrastructure projects, with recommendations.

Public sector land and asset disposals.

Public Sector Land and Asset Disposals

Public Sector Land and Asset Disposals

Published 16 May 2016

Potential impact on the historic environment of disposals of public land and assets.

Local government devolution.

Devolution: Impacts on National and Local Government, Localism and the Historic Environment

Devolution: Impacts on National and Local Government, Localism and the Historic Environment

Published 16 May 2016

An assessment of the impact that devolution may have on the historic environment.

Local Authority Historic Libraries Assessment.

Historic Local Authority Libraries: updated

Historic Local Authority Libraries: updated

Published 16 May 2016

This assessment looks at the impact of budget and service delivery changes for local historic library buildings owned by local authorities.

Cuts to local authority budgets.

Local Authority Budgetary Cuts: The Changing Shape of Local Government

Local Authority Budgetary Cuts: The Changing Shape of Local Government

Published 16 May 2016

This Assessment looks at the impact on the historic environment of cuts to local authority grants from central government.

An eighth report on Local Authority Staff Resources

An eighth report on Local Authority Staff Resources

Published 14 September 2016

Report from 2016 on staffing levels for historic environment specialists advising in local authorities.

Contact details for the authors are included in each of the documents, but more general queries relating to this type of analysis can be sent to HEITeam@HistoricEngland.org.uk

 

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Next steps

  • Read the our Climate Change Adaption Report, which looks at the impact of climate change on Historic England as an organisation and for our role in championing the Historic Environment.