S1. E28. Richard Sandford

Richard Sandford is Professor of Heritage Evidence Foresight and Policy at the UCL Institute of Sustainable Heritage (Twitter, LinkedIn). He interested in how we think about the future and how we connect it to the past. 

We discuss in depth how heritage can be a source of useful and productive stances towards the future. Key line from Richard for me:

There is change coming. And actually, the hardest thing might be to preserve sufficient continuity ourselves and allow institutions for them to be able to act to be the same to preserve an identity over the time and they need to be able to do the work that they’re trying to do.



Richard’s key paper (£) laying out how he thinks lived futures should be the focus of futures researchers and heritage, rather than history, offers the context for developing lived futures.

UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) on Futures Literacy: “a universally accessible skill that builds on the innate human capacity to imagine the future, offers a clear, field tested solution to poverty-of-the-imagination”.

Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies was “established by the Hawaii State Legislature in 1971. It is one of the world’s most renowned institutions for futures research, consulting, and education”.

Stuart Candy on Design and Futures.

Rodney Harrison and “future-making”.

Rupert Read on the need “to build lifeboats to carry as many as possible of us through the storms that are coming”.

Geoff Mulgan — Another World Is Possible here.

Rob Hopkins’ work on ‘What If’ and imagination taking power — here

Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) Emerging Futures

Pheobe Tickell on Moral Imagination

Gillespie and Zittoun — Imagination in Human and Cultural Development

More on Three Horizons method here.

BP CEO John Browne’s Stanford speech publicly accepting climate change in 1997.

Courses at UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage.

Link to get Richard’s email address.

More on Tony Hodgson here.


0:50 – Q1 What are you doing now? And how did you get there?
11:10 – Q2. What is the future you are trying to create, and why?
27:33 — BONUS QUESTION: Is the rise of imagination activities a sign that we have run out of road and trying to imagine something different?
31:10 – Q3. What are your priorities for the next few years, and why?
38:14 – Q4. If someone was inspired to follow those priorities, what should they do next?
41:45 – Q5. If your younger self was starting their career now, what advice would you give them?
43: 34 – Q6. Who would you nominate to answer these questions, because you admire their approach?
46:06 – Q7. Is there anything else important you feel you have to say?


-“I am exploring the connection between heritage and a future. I’m really interested in the fact that heritage (things from the past, or the very recent present that we care about enough to think about preserving them) has a very necessary connection to the future….At the same time, when we think about the future, it’s very tempting to start at the kind of from the present as kind of T=0, and not think about what’s come before us and how that’s shaped, the choices open to us, the values that we’re trying to project forward, into the future, and so on. What I’m doing here is trying to is advocate for heritage as a source of useful and productive stances towards the future.

-[Working in civil service and elsewhere using futures techniques] “really got me thinking about why thinking about the future doesn’t necessarily have the impact that we might expect it to. So I guess there’s a kind of a standard model, which is if we can imagine a future, then you know, that’s a necessary first step to the future happening. Or if we only knew about the threats approaching, we would obviously take steps to avoid it. And I think recently, history illustrates that neither of those things are really true, that decisions are taken on autopilot.”

-“I think heritage is an example a source of examples of how to approach the future, through care. That heritage embodies practices, things like maintenance and stewardship, which are orientations towards the future.”

-“If you’re a national government, the idea that the society of 30 or 40 years time isn’t in some way the product of your action or inaction, it’s clearly a fiction. And it’s very hard to talk about that in the room, because then the kind of natural, small politics of these kinds of meetings comes into play, and everyone suddenly clams up, because you can’t say anything that might lead you to be being held to account or that might suggest you take any any other choices.”

-“There’s a way in which heritage practices [of care, stewarding and adapting] can be oriented towards the future and actively contributing towards the future, while remaining agnostic about what it is. That’s in contrast to the kind of the modernist approach of drawing a straight line out from the present and picking a spot in the future, describing it in detail, and then working on to bring that about.”

-“it’s very hard to anticipate the emergent things before they’ve emerged. The world is not made of those kinds of straight lines. So how should we think also offers a chance to step out of the kind of modern historical time groups and start thinking about the future is something that’s latent, that is around us, that we can help as it continually emerges?”

-“There are a number of people arguing that heritage, we ought to be less precious about heritage that we all recognise that things decay, but you can’t stop things [degrading over time].”

-[As well as planning and risk, there are stances toward the future] ” that are more about recognising a continual emergence of the process. And particularly thinking about sustainability, and about like sensing the fast changes that seem to be coming our way or that we’re in the middle of too big for us to really grasp, developing other ways of thinking about the future that relinquish control that maybe have more humility about them.”

-‘And so I think if there’s one thing to take away from the concept of the Anthropocene, which whatever you think about its value, versus what aspects of it, I think, is useful. It’s just a really orient ourselves to the notion that change is not up for discussion now. There is change coming. And actually, the hardest thing might be to preserve sufficient continuity ourselves and allow institutions for them to be able to act to be the same to preserve an identity over the time and they need to be able to do the work that they’re trying to do. And so I think heritage, looking to heritage as a means of looking at the future. It’s not so much about protecting the heritage. itself, although obviously that matters. It’s about understanding that what’s at stake isn’t continuity, that’s not given any more changes and given continuity is not. And if you’re looking at the future, perhaps our job now, usually, is to try and preserve that sense of identity that allows us to act without reifying the things that we do need to let go.”

-“So there are lots of ways in which we might try and build a new world which actually don’t, and lots of ways in which we don’t think we’re being radical, but we’re just occupying space marked out for us by the old guard.”

-“It’s been difficult for me to kind of accept that lots of work, I thought was being very divisive, actually, helping. Lots of organisations preserve their position, the old order was genuinely thinking.”

-“I think one of the biggest things [people can do] is noticing the future yourself. So we often just accept certain kinds of dominant discourses of the future about rockets of disasters and apocalypse or fall upon kids if opiates, but actually the future occupies a place in our lives in lots of lots of different ways. I think if you can just kind of tune into when do you anticipate when do you plan when, or different stances to the future in your life.”

-My closing reflection: “I think there’s a much broader set of practices and lessons which might flow out of them over time about that stance to the future. It doesn’t just apply to things which we might bear just capital H heritage, but also applies to almost every aspect of our lives and almost every aspect of decision making by large organisations as they’re trying to make their way in a world which is much more disrupted and the future much more clouded and uncertain compared to what we’re used to.”


1 thought on “S1. E28. Richard Sandford

  1. Pingback: End of 2022 – Richard Sandford

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