Evaluation strategies (EVALS1): Understanding current practice and encouraging sector engagement report published


The Evaluation Strategies project was developed by CIfA, in partnership with FAME and with funding from Historic England, to develop and implement strategic improvements in the practice of archaeological field evaluation in England. The first stage, EVALS1, was undertaken by WSP acting as our consultants. You can read the report here

CIfA welcomes the publication of the report and it’s recommendations and will be considering them carefully. The consensus around the potential for improvements to be made to the practice of field evaluation which emerged from constructive discussion with stakeholders including archaeologists advising on, designing and carrying out field evaluation and representatives of the developers commissioning the work was extremely valuable. The project presented an opportunity to bring different parts of the sector together to discuss priorities, challenges and concerns, supporting the ongoing development of professional practice.

We particularly welcome the general agreement that evaluation methodologies should be site specific and tailored to the question(s) being asked, which can vary considerably depending on the nature of proposed development, previous knowledge and many other factors. CIfA guidance already notes that templates and off-the-shelf responses should be used with caution but we understand that time pressures and a lack of training, guidance or support can mean that this doesn’t always happen. These pressures can apply equally to archaeologists recommending, designing and carrying out field evaluation. The project highlighted that, although the iterative process of assessment and evaluation is well defined in policy and guidance, it isn’t always in practice, or in communication with developers.

The project also highlighted that as products, desk-based assessments and field evaluations are used for different purposes by the different stakeholders. These are not incompatible and there is scope for them to be made more compatible. Greater understanding of how these different audiences use the information from field evaluation may be beneficial.

One of primary aims of the project was to involve representatives from the development sector in the discussion, with a focus on infrastructure, housing and minerals development. Although establishing contact through the various trade associations was challenging in some cases, It was encouraging that others were keen to engage. There was widespread agreement on the need for a robust, transparent basis for decision-making and on the need for field evaluation to deliver value to all parties. We particularly welcome the confirmation that ‘value for money’ is not the same as ‘cheap’.

The need for a sound evidence base underpinning the decision-making process was highlighted and further work, particularly the PhD research being carried out by Richard Higham at the University of Brighton using spatial data and GIS analysis to examine trench percentages and arrays and create predictive modelling on the most effective approaches, will strengthen this. The value of such work lies in identifying the factors that impact the success of different evaluation strategies (eg previous knowledge, the questions being asked, anticipated results, terrain, geology, nature and potential impact of proposed development, etc) rather than in any blanket conclusions about percentage samples.

The project, along with many others including the recently published CIRIA Archaeology and construction: good practice guidance, emphasised the benefits of early engagement between developers and archaeological advisors and it is frustrating to note that this is still not a routine occurrence. The need for a shared understanding of the purpose(s) of evaluation and a consistent set of terms is also echoed in the CIRIA guide, with the aim of supporting better communication between archaeologists, developers and the construction sector. Further work on clarifying the research and public benefit potential of evaluation, as highlighted by recent synthesis projects and the CIfA and Historic England led 21st century challenges in archaeology initiative, would also be of benefit.

EVALS1 was conceived as the first stage in an ongoing conversation about field evaluation. It focussed very clearly on trial trenching and on three specific development sectors and was careful to complement but not duplicate the ongoing PhD research. Many of the recommendations the report makes are aimed at CIfA and many can be taken forward as part of a second stage of work. Other aspects will be planned into CIfA’s annual business plans, following further discussion with sector partners.

We are also keen to ensure that the wider conversation about the purpose(s) of field evaluation, the questions posed and techniques used to address them, and how to better integrate evaluation within the development process continues in the meantime. Opportunities to showcase different techniques, consider alternative approaches and improve communications – whether in print, through workshops, conference sessions or the Innovation Festival – will be explored. As always, feedback from members and stakeholders is particularly valuable so please do get in touch with your thoughts on the practice of evaluation and how the recommendations from the report could be implemented. You can contact us at admin@archaeologists.net or by joining the project’s Knowledge Hub workplace at Home - Archaeological site evaluation review - EVALS1 - Knowledge Hub (khub.net).