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.


  • Use foresight principles to anticipate change, imagining and testing different futures in response to global challenges
  • Understand how heritage practice recognises meaning, significance and value, and apply these ideas to recognise what matters in society
  • Study specialised foresight techniques from a rich mix of disciplines, from trend analysis to speculative fiction.
  • Apply critical, enquiry-based problem-solving approaches to real-world policy challenges for heritage and for society at large 

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 MSc Heritage Evidence, Foresight and Policy will equip students to combine a deep understanding of what matters to society with the capacity to manage uncertainty and anticipate change. Professionals working, or who aspire to work, in heritage, social and cultural policy contexts will gain a unique skillset equipping them to support long-term decision-making in their organisation.  The programme 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.

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    Key Information 

    Entry requirements

    See the entry requirements for this programme on the UCL Graduate Prospectus. 


    • The programme can be studied full-time for one year, part-time for two years or on a modular/flexible basis from two to five years.
    • A Postgraduate Diploma route is available, with fees set accordingly.

    Fees and funding

    Teaching and learning

    Students on the programme will benefit from learning a wide range of transferable skills, including: 

    • Specialized foresight techniques, covering horizon-scanning, trend analysis, scenario planning, backcasting and visioning, and speculative futures approaches drawn from design disciplines; 
    • an understanding of the different ways in which heritage value is understood, assessed and protected in societies, and an awareness of the core theoretical concepts that support discussions of value; 
    • the capacity to adopt a critical stance towards the future, enabling them to question taken-for-granted and business-as-usual futures, and to support this stance with reference to key theoretical concepts from relevant academic fields; 
    • an understanding of the importance of participatory and collaborative approaches towards thinking about the future; 
    • an appreciation of the fundamental principles of systems thinking and complexity in social systems; 
    • the capacity to work with evidence produced across multiple domains and disciplines, and an understanding of the role evidence plays in shaping policy; 
    • a familiarity with core principles and methods of qualitative and quantitative research paradigms, and the capacity to develop new methods appropriate to the nature of a particular object of enquiry;
    • the intellectual and organisational skills necessary to formulate and carry out an independent research project; and, 
    • the communication skills to present their research and make the case for its worth, in written and spoken forms. 

    The programme draws upon the full range of expertise offered by the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage. The programme will be delivered by 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

    Modules and structure

    The MSc HEFP is organised in four strands: introducing the key theoretical and methodological concepts underpinning sustainable heritage and the study of the future; engaging with other disciplinary perspectives on the future; exploring how these ideas are applied in the context of long-term social change; and developing practical research skills and techniques. In the academic year 2020/21 all modules are compulsory: optional modules will be introduced to meet demand in subsequent academic years.

    Students will take the following modules:

    • Introduction to sustainable heritage (15 credits)
    • Foresight for heritage I (15 credits)
    • Foresight for heritage II (15 credits)
    • Time, systems and future heritage (15 credits)
    • Design futures for heritage (15 credits)
    • Material futures for heritage (15 credits)
    • Policy advice and evidence (30 credits)
    • Dissertation module (60 credits)

    Find out more about the programme structure and modules 

    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. 

    Further information