Window frames in a historic building decorated using lead paint.
Kirby Hall, Northamptonshire. © Historic England
Kirby Hall, Northamptonshire. © Historic England

Research Frameworks

What are Research Frameworks?

How do we assess if sites or areas are important or significant?  What research questions can we ask? How do we go about co-ordinating this research?

Research Frameworks help us identify what is important or significant and provide research questions and objectives to help co-ordinate and focus our research effort.

They are created by bringing together people across the sector to create a shared framework, including:

  • Local authorities
  • Contractors
  • Academics and
  • Voluntary groups

Research Frameworks provide us with:

1. An up to date overview of current understanding – ie “what we currently know”
This is usually created by synthesising information from lots of different sources, eg Historic Environment Records (HERs), reports from planning-led investigations, academic and society journals. This provides an overview of a specific period, place or theme – eg The Bronze Age in the West Midlands.

2. A Research Agenda – identifying gaps in our knowledge and providing questions to fill these gaps
This is an agreed set of research areas and questions that is used to help co-ordinate research – they help focus what the sector wants to know more about. Research agendas can help to coordinate academic and community research as well as provide a research focus for planning-led projects.
3. Strategies to carry out this research.
These strategies provide the framework within which the research can be carried out – promoting potential ways forward and partnerships.

What do they cover?

They can cover archaeology, the built environment, landscapes and maritime heritage.

They are normally organised by:

  • Geographical areas (e.g. the South West Regional Research Framework)
  • Periods (eg the Mesolithic)
  • Themes (eg Roman pottery)

The spreadsheet below sets out the Research Frameworks currently in use in the historic environment sector.

Why should I use a Research Framework?

Research Frameworks play an important role in providing an overview of current understanding, coordinating research and informing decision making – particularly planning related. They have many different uses:

1. Local authority staff:

  • As a reference to provide context for assessing the significance of heritage assets and proposed sites.
  • To provide a research focus for planning-led investigations.

2. Contractors:

  • As a reference resource to help write desk-based assessments and environmental impact assessments.
  • Referred to when writing Written Schemes of Investigation (WSIs) in response to project briefs.

3. Academics:

  • To scope out research projects and provide direction for postgraduate research.
  • To assess the ‘impact’ of their research, eg in relation to Research Excellence Framework (REF) impact assessments.

4. Local Societies:

  • To improve their knowledge and scope out research projects.
  • To establish research priorities linking into the regional and national picture.

Developing a network of new online research frameworks

We are currently developing a new network and generation of research frameworks hosted on a digital platform.  Three regional frameworks are currently being updated, you can find out more about each of them by clicking on the links below:

These projects are being developed collaboratively engaging higher education establishments, local authority services, commercial practices and community groups and societies. The aim is to create updated resource assessments – what we currently know, and a new set of research questions which will coordinate and prioritise research in the regions.

 We have also commissioned a research framework for South Yorkshire. This project, as well as developing a framework for South Yorkshire, will be researching the potential for developing spatial research frameworks based on GIS, to join the suite of such geographical resources, including Historic Landscape Characterisation, HER data and NMP layers.

At the same time we are developing a digital platform, based on a wiki system, to host these research frameworks.  This will make the frameworks much more accessible and easy to find, as well as cross searchable across regions, periods and even research question. This platform will be key to providing online access to research frameworks, and allow them to be managed, updated and sustained into the future. The individual frameworks will be managed by their own regional research communities and will be able to be updated periodically so that they remain current and not fixed in time. This will provide local authorities, commercial practices and researchers with up to date information they require in an easy and accessible way online.

The platform will also have a feed from the next edition of OASIS so that investigations associated with a certain region, period or even research questions will be directed to the specific pages of the frameworks on the platform.

For more information on these projects, please contact Dan Miles.

If you have any questions about the support and collaboration we offer to others involved in researching the historic environment, please email us at:

Dan Miles

Research Resources Officer
  • Department

    Capacity Building Team, Research Group