Introduction to Research Frameworks

In 1996 the English Heritage (now Historic England) publication ‘Frameworks for our Past‘ highlighted the need for research frameworks for the historic environment as a tool for establishing long-term objectives. The DCMS document ‘Historic Environment: a Force for our Future’ (2001) stated that English Heritage had been ‘commissioned to frame a co-ordinated approach to research across the historic environment sector’.

Research Frameworks for many areas and specialisms have now been developed, with more in production, some of the earlier Frameworks are already being reviewed and updated.

The development of this Research Frameworks Network also addresses a number of the recommendations of the Pye Tait Review of Research Frameworks report (2014), including the need to ‘Pursue the development of a dynamic and interactive web-based system for hosting a new generation of Research Frameworks’.

As new Research Frameworks are developed, and older documents are reviewed, the plan is for them to be published here on the Network as a central location. We are also working on making older Research Frameworks (originally published as monographs) available through the Network.

A selection of Research Framework covers

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 to identify what is important or significant archaeologically. They are normally organised by;

  • Geographical areas such as Regional, County, or World Heritage Site (e.g. the South West Regional Research Framework)
  • Periods (eg the Mesolithic)
  • Themes (eg Roman pottery)

They 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
  • Voluntary groups

Guided by a Steering Group, meetings of local stakeholders from across the historic environment spectrum come together to discuss and identify priorities. These take the form of a mixture of workshops and meetings, with sections of the Frameworks being written by specialists.

A Regional Research Framework Steering group meeting

Research Frameworks provide us with

1. An up to date overview of current understanding – ie “what we currently know”.

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.

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.

Frameworks content

This Regional Steering Group model means that Frameworks differ in content. They can cover archaeology, the built environment, landscapes, environmental information, and maritime heritage. However, generally they all contain similar components such as the following:-

  • Defining the region – defining the area covered by the framework
  • Time periods – summary of the time periods
  • Research Agenda Topics – list of key research questions for each period and synthesis of research themes spanning multiple periods
  • Research Strategy – strategies for advancing understanding of the Agenda Topics
  • Overarching questions – region or specialism wide questions
  • Environmental information (if relevant) – details of the palaeoenvironmental remains
  • Resources/bibliography – these vary in detail and scope across the network, but often contain lists of publications used in the production of the framework, online resources and other relevant information.

A table of existing research Frameworks can be found here, we are working to make more available on the network.

Using Research Frameworks

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.

Contributing to the Research Frameworks

Frameworks rely on local research to keep up to date – everyone is encouraged to add to the value of the Frameworks by contributing to these online documents via the commenting facility.

To find out how to get involved please visit the How to use the Research Framework Site page to find out how to register and contribute to the historical and archaeological knowledge on these sites.