CIfA and the role of the archaeological advisor to spatial planning and heritage regulators

This statement characterises the relationship between professional standards and the authority of the advisor as one of alliance, providing greater authority in the promotion of integrity, transparency, and support of high professional standards.  It considers how the Code of Conduct, Standards and guidance, and the promotion of a culture of self-discipline, as well as recourse to professional conduct procedures creates an improved culture of high quality working which assists archaeological advisors in their role.

CIfA understands that the advisor’s role is vital, allowing not only the implementation of CIfA standards, but also the application of local reporting requirements, more detailed specialist local, regional or national knowledge, and specification of work. Use of CIfA standards allows this role to be undertaken with less monitoring, fewer corrections, and shared responsibilities for holding practitioners to account. Similarly, CIfA standards for archaeological advice provide a professional justification for adhering to good practice where other interests may pressurise.

The advisor

The job of the archaeological advisor is crucial where archaeology is undertaken in the spatial planning process, in response to development proposals. The advisor is equally important where archaeology takes place in accordance with some other condition or permission, for example under an archaeological excavation licence or a consent to investigate a designated, protected site.

Recently CIfA has identified a need to clarify its role in relation to such advice.


CIfA accredits professional archaeologists.

CIfA’s Code of conduct sets an overarching ethical framework for archaeology. It commits those who sign up to it to uphold Standards of conduct and self‐discipline in the interests of the public and in the pursuit of the study and care of the historic environment.

Its Standards and guidance for archaeological fieldwork (for example evaluation, excavation or building recording) interpret the provisions of the Code. The Standard defines the outcomes or products required of a professional archaeologist, against which performance can be monitored. The Standard deliberately lacks detail because it is impossible to foresee every circumstance and the Institute does not wish to dictate precisely how projects are conducted, nor to stifle innovative approaches. The accompanying guidance advises on what the profession presently considers good practice for attaining those outcomes.

The Standard and guidance have many potential applications, but is principally used by

  • archaeologists undertaking work, to ensure that they are compliant with the professional code
  • those involved in commissioning archaeological work, whether developers or their agents, who want to know that the work will meet their needs, the needs of the public and the requirements of the authorities: the Standards may be referred to in the contract
  • archaeological advisors, who may find value in referring to a third-party professional Standard reached by consensus, to show that they are requiring independently justified, reasonable work: the Standards may be referred to in the condition, licence or consent

Complementing and defending the advisor’s role

An archaeological advisor should need to monitor work less often, and seek fewer corrections, when work is being done to professional Standards. But the CIfA Standard and guidance may only be a starting point for the advisors. Their role includes using their specialist regional or national knowledge to steer research in a productive direction. It usually involves specifying in much more detail than CIfA can, with its multinational perspective. The advisors set the local reporting requirements, data Standards, archive deposition specifications and many other details. Many advisors specify compliance with the CIfA Standard, stating that these additional requirements must be met to attain that Standard.

The advisor should similarly have to intervene less frequently when work is being conducted by a professionally accredited archaeologist or archaeological organisation. The advisor will know that the individual or firm has demonstrated competence, has agreed to be bound by the Code of conduct, Standards and guidance, and is accountable under CIfA’s professional conduct process. CIfA also has a Standard and guidance for archaeological advice. This may help guide advisors in their role, but it may also provide a professional justification for adhering to good practice if other interests pressurise them to change their views. The Standards says

Archaeological advice on the historic environment must aim to benefit the public both now and in the future, through management and the advancement of understanding. It will contribute to the achievement of sustainable development and the realisation of social, environmental or economic benefits.

Advice must be clear, consistent, compliant, reasonable, timely, informed and impartial, and should be proportionate to a reasoned and clearly-documented assessment of known or potential significance.

Advice must be provided by suitably qualified, skilled and competent advisors and based on an up-to-date and publicly-accessible information base maintained to nationally-agreed Standards.

The guidance defines the underlined terms and advises on good practice that will help the advisor comply with the Standard. The guidance covers many challenging areas, not least that of advising on which individuals or organisations are competent to undertake the work required. Previously the lack of clear professional guidance led many authorities to make recommendations which were sometimes challenged as unreasonable or unfair, particularly where those recommendations affected the award of contracts.

The requirement for members to comply with professional Standards may initially feel like an imposition on an advisor’s authority. Yet that authority depends on the integrity, reasonableness and transparency of the advice they give. CIfA is therefore an ally in supporting professional standards, not a threat.

CIfA’s accreditations, and Standards and guidance provide a complementary tool to archaeologists with national, regional or local responsibilities to guide the authorities – or who are themselves the authorities – specifying, requiring or permitting archaeological work. CIfA is always happy to engage with advisors constructively about improving its half of the bargain, and relies on its network of special interest and national/area groups to ensure that the guidance stays up to date and works effectively in the scores of different legal jurisdictions in which CIfA professionals practise archaeology.