A historic building in Lavenham village, Suffolk
Lavenham, Suffolk © Historic England
Lavenham, Suffolk © Historic England

Developing a National Research Framework for the Historic Built Environment

A project to pull together different strands of research about England's built historic environment.

Historic England supports the development of a range of research strategies, plans and frameworks. These cover different themes, geographic areas and periods of time. But all have the following main aims in common, to:

  • promote research
  • aid the strategic co-ordination of research
  • advocate for and prioritise funding
  • inform decision making and the assessment of significance
  • provide a research focus for development-led investigations
  • support more collaborative and partnership working.

For more information see our Research Frameworks pages.

Why develop a national historic built environment research framework?

The idea to create a national research framework for the historic built environment is driven by a need to improve the strategic co-ordination of research and, in particular to provide a research focus for investigations undertaken through the planning system. But why do we need to create a specific national research framework?

The existing research frameworks do not fully serve the needs of architectural historians and others engaged in investigating the historic built environment. Although the historic built environment has been integrated into a number of recent frameworks, there is still a perception that they are archaeology based, created by and for archaeologists. The Regional Frameworks tend to be based on broad periods, beginning with prehistory and running through to the present day. Inevitably, historic built environment research priorities tend to be compressed into the last few pages or final chapter of the published documents.

A lot of research on buildings also cuts across regional boundaries – for example the works of a particular architect or a specific building type. The national context is also important when assessing significance, - for example, for listing purposes.

To move forward with this, Historic England funded the HistBEKE project to consult with the sector and to start the process of developing a framework.

HistBEKE

HistBEKE (Historic Built Environment Knowledge Exchange) was a University of Liverpool project funded by Historic England’s Heritage Protection Commissions.  The aim of the project was to begin the process of developing a national research framework in England and to establish the foundations of a collaborative network to take this forward. 

The project involved a review of current literature and wide-ranging consultation with the sector, including surveys, roundtable discussion groups and a seminar day. The project was well received and engaged a large number of stakeholders from across the sector. These included practitioners involved in planning-led investigations, consultants, local authority and national organisations and agencies which commission research, and academia.

The project found that the sector would welcome a research framework to support research, facilitate knowledge exchange, and demonstrate the impact of research.  There was a real desire to improve communication and information sharing on what research was being undertaken and the subsequent results of this research. The framework should be a dynamic online resource, capable of regular update and directly responsive to sectoral needs. In addition, a number of research themes were identified as gaps in knowledge which can start to form the basis of a research framework.   

The project has made a number of recommendations which will enable the creation of an initial research framework and to inform further discussion between Historic England and proposed partners to establish a sustainable network to develop the resource and maintain it into the future.

The recommendations report and a literature review - which has been organised into different thematic categories - can be accessed below.

Next steps

  • The next steps will be to repurpose the information collected from the project to lay the foundations for an online and updatable national research framework. This will be hosted on the forthcoming research frameworks online platform that will enable much better access to the information and a hub to improve knowledge exchange across the historic built environment research community.
  • Historic England will also promote the initiative of creating a research network that would bring together stakeholders across the historic built environment sector. The aim will be to improve collaborative working, the co-creation of resources and tools and the strategic coordination of research.
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