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 Research Strategy and Agenda.

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.

Download the assessment

Public sector land and asset disposals.

Download the assesment

Local government devolution.

Download the assessment

Local Authority Historic Libraries Assessment.

Download the assessment

Cuts to local authority budgets.

Download the assessment

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

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.

Potential Impacts of Brownfield Development

Download the Assessment

General queries relating to this type of analysis can be sent to our Research email address below.


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Related Publications

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.

    Read our report on understanding the relationship between wellbeing and the historic environment, which we carried out to inform future Historic England work.