UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage


Heritage Evidence, Foresight and Policy MSc

Equipping policy professionals and heritage practitioners to think critically and strategically about the long-term futures of what society values.

Woman with a cityscape in her mind

This programme is not recruiting for the 2022/23 academic year.

UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage is undertaking a major review of its programmes. UCL will not offer the Heritage, Evidence Foresight and Policy in 2022-23. We invite you to visit our website in September 2022 to discover what we have to offer you in 2023/24, or see our Master's programmes now recruiting for September 2022/23.

About the programme

To build a more sustainable and equitable world, we need to imagine better futures. 

The fields of foresight and futures studies use evidence about the world today to create scenarios of possible futures. Heritage can make these possible futures richer and more meaningful, drawing on our collective memories, and tapping into the values that shape what we care about. For those working in public policy, and in social innovation, these approaches can help to think about the long-term future of what matters to society.

Why heritage and the future?

Heritage reflects our past, but it also addresses the future. It sustains the places, practices and artefacts that we find meaningful, in order for future generations to have access to what we value today. In times of change and uncertainty, heritage can be a source of continuity, identity, and cohesion.

For heritage to play this role, the future can't be taken for granted. Threats to heritage, from society and from nature, need to be identified and mitigated. New forms of heritage, emerging from new materials and ways of living, must be recognised and protected. And the role that heritage plays in our lives is always changing. With foresight, these challenges can be anticipated, and we can adapt to them.

So heritage can benefit from foresight. But foresight can be made stronger and richer through heritage. Heritage connects people across time, and makes our responsibility to future generations clear. Heritage practitioners and researchers understand loss and decay, whether through the respectful deaccessioning of items in collections or through studying the molecular processes unfolding within artefacts. And it starts with a focus on people and what matters to them, since what we recognise as heritage reflects what we find meaningful.

How heritage and foresight can help policy

These perspectives are valuable now. Policy teams and groups trying to make a difference in society are grappling with a complex world in which decisions are never value-free. 

Over recent years, a new approach has emerged to designing social interventions, one that thinks in terms of systems and networks, that recognises the importance of community expertise and values, that recognises the limits of market approaches to describing what is important to people, and that aims to develop systems that are sustainable over the long-term. Groups working in this way draw on evidence from across multiple disciplines within material science and social research. 

This approach supports an emerging form of governance and public policy, one that prioritises resilience and sustainability, that is adaptable, and that is grounded in the values of the communities it serves. This is necessary for thinking about the long-term-future of what matters to society

This programme will equip graduates to support this work, through helping organisations and institutions identify what we value now, and imagine new forms it might take, so that we might protect it where we can, adapt it where have to, or decommission it when it is no longer something we can take forwards with us.

The Heritage Evidence, Foresight and Policy MSc equips students to combine a deep understanding of what matters to society with the capacity to manage uncertainty and anticipate change. Students gain a unique skillset equipping them to support long-term decision-making in heritage, social and cultural policy contexts. The Masters draws on a wide interdisciplinary range of theoretical and methodological approaches, from strategic foresight, and from related disciplines like sociology, geography, and design, all of which have their own academic traditions of engaging with the future. 

Students will:

  • Gain an understanding of how heritage recognises and protects what is meaningful and valued,
  • learn practical foresight techniques of scenario planning and horizon scanning,
  • develop critical perspectives on different approaches to the future,
  • encounter key concepts from systems analysis and complexity theory, and 
  • grasp the most effective ways to embed evidence from foresight and futures analysis in day-to-day policy contexts. 

Along the way, they will build a practical understanding of core qualitative and quantitative research methods, and become skilled in working with evidence from multiple disciplines and paradigms.

    Modules and structure

    Heritage Evidence Foresight and Policy MSc is organised in five strands to give you a holistic perspective of heritage and the future, that draws on multiple disciplinary perspectices. Students learnings will culminate in  undertaking their own original piece of research in the diisertation module.

    1. Core heritage concepts

    Students take an initial foundation module. It will provide an overview of the core concepts underpinning sustainable heritage, and establish the academic and practical context of the programme. Teaching on this module will be shared with the other three ISH Master’s programmes.

    Introduction to sustainable heritage (15 credits)

    This introductory module, shared across all of the Master’s programmes in the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage, offers students the chance to engage with the fundamental concepts and principles that underpin sustainable heritage. 

    Students learn:

    • what is and what is not heritage
    • how and in what ways heritage is valued
    • the shape and nature of the heritage sector
    • the role played by heritage in developing resilient and sustainable societies
    • heritage risks and possible futures
    • how scientific data and evidence is used within heritage  

      The module illustrates the social and material systems hat form heritage, and developing a understanding of different research paradigms and methodologies, equipping students to collaborate in a truly interdisciplinary way.

      2. Theorising and working with the future

      The two subsequent modules introduce students to different ways of working with the future.

      Foresight for heritage I (15 credits)

      This module will gives practical experience of strategic foresight tools, introducing core concepts of trends and drivers, and covering a range of techniques for creating and analysing future scenarios. Students create their own scenarios reflecting possible futures for a heritage area relevant to their professional concerns.

      Foresight for heritage II (15 credits)

      This module introduces students to critical futures approaches that aim to find a place for social value and normative responses to future challenges, equipping them to critique the scenarios produced in the previous module. 

      4. Critical perspectives from other fields

      These two modules engage with perspectives on the future from another field.

      Time, systems and future heritage (15 credits) 

      This module introduces students to different theoretical perspectives, engaging with theories of causation and emergence, understanding the social impact of ideas of the future, and examining discourses of the future throughout history. Together these offer the theoretical and methodological resources students need to critically engage with the methods of strategic foresight currently employed in organisations around the world, and to begin to connect these with ideas of the long-term found in heritage. 

      Design futures for heritage (15 credits)

      This module introduces students to techniques from design futures and speculative design, and considering the role of design in creating new heritage. Students create physical or digital artefacts from possible futures, and exhibit them as a group. 

      4. Applying futures in the context of social and cultural change

      The following two modules engage with the ways in which ideas of the future are applied in processes of social and cultural change. 

      Material futures for heritage (15 credits) 

      This module explores the place of the future in the development of the built environment and in changing patterns of land use, paying attention to the role of technology in shaping these and other arenas for heritage. 

      Policy advice and evidence (30 credits)

      In this module students examine the role of foresight in shaping national policy, and its connections with mechanisms for sharing scientific advice with policy groups more generally. In this longer module students design and undertake a research project in response to a policy challenge set by a practicing heritage policy team. 

      5. Research project

      In the final term students take the Dissertation module (60 credits).

      Dissertation (60 credits)

      The dissertation module is a chance for student to undertake their own original research, drawing on their learnings from previous modules, developing an appropriate methodology and relating your findings to a professional or policy context. 

      Academic staff

      The programme draws upon the full range of expertise offered by the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage. Students learn from a team of world-leading academics working at the forefront of their disciplines, alongside policy practitioners from heritage and related fields sharing real-world challenges and experience.

      Key staff

      Professor Richard Sandford
      Programme lead

      Professor May Cassar
      Director of UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage

      Careers and employability

      Graduates will have a diverse skill-set usually associated with senior or leadership roles, encompassing research skills, competence in strategic foresight, the ability to envision and work towards strategic outcomes, and an understanding of the value of different forms of evidence to policy teams. These attributes, coupled with the capacity to recognise social value and make the case for its protection, will make graduates attractive to a wide range of employers. 

      Within the heritage sector, both policy teams and academics recognise that there is a need for heritage professionals and practitioners with the capacity to anticipate and manage long-term change. For groups in social and cultural policy more widely, the ability to think strategically about complex issues is established as a highly desirable skill. 

      This is a time of unprecedented challenge for our historic environment. More than ever before, heritage professionals need to be able to think strategically about the long-term future of the historic places and artefacts that we choose to protect. Developed through the Academic-Heritage Partnership between Historic England and the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage, this innovative master's programme will provide the foresight skills we need to anticipate change and ensure our heritage is accessible to future generations. Graduates from this programme will make a vital contribution to the sector."

      Duncan Wilson OBE, Chief Executive, Historic England 

      Heritage has always been concerned with the future, protecting our historic environment and the culture we care about for the people who come after us. This exciting new Masters programme shows how heritage values of care and stewardship can be combined with strategic foresight to think about the long-term future of what matters to us all. At a time when policy groups are faced with complex and difficult challenges that affect people across all parts of society, the skills and perspectives developed through this programme will equip graduates to make a real difference." 

      Barney Sloane, National Specialist Services Director, Historic England