Chair on Heritage Futures

A new study published: Anticipating Futures for Heritage


The heritage sector has up until now seldom engaged with Strategic Foresight to better prepare for – and proactively face – different futures. This makes a new study just published by ICCROM (International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property) significant as an example that could potentially inspire other heritage actors to venture on their own Foresight journeys. 

In 2021, ICCROM, as part of its Foresight Initiative, employed Strategic Foresight to anticipate different futures for the heritage sector globally. This was done to increase resilience in the face of a changing world and outline possible opportunities for action. Gustav Wollentz, from the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures, is one of the authors of the study, together with Alison Heritage and Amy Iwasaki. Cornelius Holtorf contributed as an expert advisor. 

To undertake this work, ICCROM launched a horizon scan study, which is an established method within Strategic Foresight, to gather intelligence about possible macro-environmental changes that might affect cultural heritage in the future. The project engaged an interdisciplinary team of 18 researchers and two advisors from different world regions who collectively generated over 60 research reports looking out over a 15-year horizon. The findings are categorized according to the PESTE-Framework: Political, Environmental, Societal, Technological and Economic.

The publication is available Open Access from here: https://www.iccrom.org/publication/anticipating-futures-heritage

UNESCO Chair Symposium


On 24 November, Anders Högberg, Professor of Archaeology and member of the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures, represented our Chair in a Global Symposium arranged by Ted Fuller at the UNESCO Chair on Responsible Foresight for Sustainable Development at University of Lincoln. The symposium was arranged ahead of UNESCO World Futures Day 2022.

Presentations were made by researchers from all over the world, dealing with aspects on social entrepreneurship, sustainability and futures literacy. It was interesting to see researchers from various academic disciplines can coming together to discuss future related topics.

Anders Högberg

Anders Högberg, Professor of Archaeology UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures

50 Years UNESCO World Heritage


Wars, pandemics, artificial intelligence, a swiftly unfolding climate crisis… The world is changing rapidly, and human communities must adapt to many challenges. In this situation, world heritage presents something of a twofold paradox: when the world needs global solidarity and collaboration, world heritage sites serve as cultural totems of the different nation states, which themselves can be in conflict. As we anticipate and adapt to change, world heritage looks backward, encouraging us to conserve what was before. Fifty years after the establishment of Unesco’s World Heritage Convention, it is time to look ahead – literally.

Continue reading (open access):

To adapt to a changing world, heritage conservation needs to look toward the future published in The Conversation on 20 September 2022.

Travelling to the year 2062


“Det är onsdag eftermiddag i mars 2062, på teamet Vård & Välmående på företaget HemFrisk i Kalmarsunds kommun. Veckans team samlas för gemensam genomgång av veckan som kommer. Egentligen är det inget konstigt, så gör de varje vecka. Men denna vecka är det också något nytt på gång, … “

This is the situation to which almost 20 participants travelled this afternoon, to experience a lively discussion about the introduction of a digital Doctor, steered by artifical intelligence. The participants were mostly from the elderly care sector on southern Öland. All enjoyed the role play and found it very educational as the scenario became very real and the complexity of the issues very apparent.

The event was an outcome of the future time travel concept originally initiated by our Chair on Heritage Futures in collaboration with Kalmar County Museum, and a current co-project by the museum and the University’s eHealth institute.

Heritage for the future


Under the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the Foundation for Heritage Science organised the symposium ‘Heritage for the Future, Science for Heritage: A European Adventure for Research and Innovation’. The hybrid event was accessible physically in Paris as well as digitally (15-16 March 2022).

Claudio Pescatore participated physically and will soon report about his impressions on this blog.

Cornelius Holtorf and Anders Högberg participated digitally. They also had a short paper accepted entitled “Why cultural heritage needs foresight“. In that paper, they argue that the cultural heritage sector, including Heritage Science, needs to address an inherent lack of capability in futures thinking by enhancing foresight and ‘futures literacy’. The sector ought to take seriously the consequences of the insight that the uses and values of cultural heritage in future societies will be different from those in the present and in the past. Foresight and futures literacy will allow the cultural heritage sector to respond to climate change and other global developments, risks and challenges anticipated by futurists

Heritage as Reuse


For two days in February 2022, I contributed to a workshop at the Italian Politecnico di Torino, entitled “Designing the future of the past” and discussing contemporary theories of conservation. The participants were some 15 PhD students in Architecture and Design. The responsible organizer was Matteo Robiglio, founding director in 2017 of the University’s Future Urban Legacy Lab. Robiglio is an architect interested in adaptive reuse. Among others, he authored the book, RE-USA: 20 American Stories of Adaptive Reuse. A Toolkit for Post-Industrial Cities (Jovis, 2017).

This is a topic close to my own interests. For one thing, my own Doctoral research project was about reuse of megalithic architecture in the distant past (adaptive or not). For another, I would be inclined to argue that designated cultural heritage constitutes in itself a form of creative reuse of objects inherited from the past. And this is where Robiglio disagrees – why?

In RE-USA (pp. 177-8, 192-3, 203, 214-5, 219), Robiglio contrasts people creatively re-using inherited structures in any suitable way with others who are carefully documenting and meticulously conserving a fragmented heritage of the historic past. Whereas the former, for Robiglio (inspired, among others, by Viollet-Le-Duc and Halbwachs and in contrast to Ruskin and Morris), is an expression of living traditions pragmatically creating something for their own time, the latter is an ever-growing aberration that led to the sanitization and commodification of the ‘heritage industry’. He goes on to state that whereas in heritage preservation, locality is inherited and must be preserved, in adaptive reuse, a new form of locality is being produced within the same spatial frame. Overall, Robiglio ends up with a dichotomy that looks about like this:

I would argue that the left column becomes nothing but a caricature as soon as heritage is recognised for what it is: a particular response to older structures that emerged at a certain time in modern history and is connected with a body of creative ideas linked to notions such as National Romanticism. Since then, the authorised heritage discourse has been changing continuously, incorporating ideals of education, development, and community engagement, among others. Indeed, there is a discernible transition from an initial focus in heritage management on safeguarding tangible remains to one on negotiating multiple societal values and now increasingly to ensuring important uses for communities. Heritage, too, constitutes a creative change from how the remains of the past were seen before, and it has brought about various hybrids between past and present, incorporating new ideas and meanings, often fairly pragmatically, and with a noticeable agenda for a future to come.

I suspect that Robiglio presented a different analysis in RE-USA first and foremost as a pragmatic move to establish a creative contrast between conservation and reuse, benefitting his agenda of promoting adaptive reuse. The concept of heritage futures recognizes that heritage, too, contributes to future-making. This is now increasingly becoming explicit, e.g. in the Foresight Initiative of the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) exploring how to apply strategic foresight for thinking about cultural heritage and the contribution it can make to people’s lives in the decades to come.

Indeed, the past is becoming an active force for shaping the future – which is what Robiglio’s PhD workshop in Torino explored. I am looking forward to more collaboration!

Heritage and Foresight


Since 2021, I have been advising the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) in their Heritage Foresight initiative.

This is why foresight matters to ICCROM:

The events of the last few years have demonstrated time and again that the world is rapidly changing, and with it, the cultural heritage sector. Out of mounting global uncertainties rises an urgent need to reconsider how strategic planning can help us better prepare for the future. Within this context, we explore the concept of strategic foresight and highlight ICCROM’s recent investigation into the future of cultural heritage.

We see enormous value in applying strategic foresight to how we think about cultural heritage and the contribution it can make to people’s lives in the decades to come if properly safeguarded. As an organization charged with promoting conservation in all corners of the globe, we have an obligation to proactively identify external forces and address their potential impacts, and also put forward a compelling vision for a future in which the benefits of cultural heritage are fully harnessed. Through foresight, we can begin to form this bigger picture.

Here is ICCROM’s short explanation of strategic foresight (on youtube):


Futures Literacy and Nuclear Waste


Anders Högberg presented at the first capacity-building workshop of the Expert Group on Awareness Presentation, which is part of the Nuclear Energy Agency’s Working Party on Information, Data and Knowledge Management at the OECD. Even Cornelius Holtorf participated.

The session, held on 10 May 2021, was dedicated to Futures Literacy and featured even a keynote lecture by Richard Sandford (UCL) who concluded with the following slide:

During the session, the 37 participants began to realise how they were using the future in various ways to inform specific actions and started to examine their own anticipatory assumptions regarding long-term communication of nuclear waste disposal sites. They also started to understand that the uncertainty of the future is not something that can or must be controlled but that it is instead important to learn how to embrace uncertainty in our present in order to reduce future uncertainty.

A next step is acquiring the capability of how to imagine alternative futures, and so the discussion will continue…