Societal challenges and heritage science research

The NHSF research working group has identified five societal grand challenges to inspire and encourage connections between heritage science research and five issues of importance to society.

The five societal challenges are:

  • Sustainable development

Challenge: Use heritage science as an enabler of sustainable development, assessing its contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and to the long-term management of heritage as a global resource for the benefit of societies around the world.

  • Climate emergency

Challenge: Collaborate with environmental sciences and social sciences to both extend our understanding of the impact of a changing climate on heritage whilst also using knowledge derived from the study of heritage assets to address the climate emergency and deliver progress against the UK’s net zero targets.

  • Improved wellbeing

Challenge: Bring together heritage science, social science and health science methods to better understand the role of cultural heritage in notions of identity, self and sense of place, and how this contributes to wellbeing.

  • Equality and inclusivity

Challenge: Address the collective responsibility for equal opportunities for people from all backgrounds to participate in heritage science and define the questions that are asked about heritage and the methods used to understand the past, inform current actions and shape future opportunities.

  • Digital society

Challenge: Integrate technological innovation and data science into heritage science research and practise to transform the way that collections, buildings and archaeology are managed, accessed and understood.

Thinking about the role of heritage science in addressing these societal grand challenges provides an opportunity to re-examine the research questions that are asked, collaborate to define research priorities, re-think the way that research is practised, open up opportunities for the sector to work with others and contribute to solutions beyond the reach of a single discipline, delivering public benefit.

A blueprint for action

The paper Heritage Science and Societal Challenges: a blueprint for action (pdf) shows how heritage science research could have a transformational impact on addressing these challenges, with heritage scientists working in partnership with researchers from other disciplines, communities and commercial companies. 

We want people to use the blueprint and show how their own heritage science research or practice is unlocking the intellectual capital associated with heritage and demonstrating that heritage is as relevant to the major issues that concern people today and tomorrow, as it is to our understanding of the past.

Case studies of how heritage science addresses the challenges

We are looking for case studies of how heritage science research and practice is addressing the five societal challenges in this paper. A template has been prepared to help with this (see link below). The template includes an example case study that focuses on climate change and the historic environment.

Template to submit short case studies is available here: Societal Challenges Case Study Template (Word document download).

Please send completed case studies, or any questions to Caroline Peach

Mapping institutional research strategies to the challenges

How does your organisation’s research strategy, corporate strategy or teaching programme align to the societal challenges? We would welcome examples of how individual organisations are already taking action to address the five challenges as well as statements from organisations who recognise a gap in their existing research strategy with respect to the societal challenges, and how they plan to use the challenges to incorporate a focus on wider societal issues.

NHSF Member Meeting, December 2020

Information on the NHSF Member Meeting held on this topic in December 2020, including the presentations that provide strategic context to the societal challenges, can be found here: Societal challenges and heritage science research, Member Meeting December 2020

Societal challenges case study template