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Project design

This document contains advice on how to plan and design your project and should be read together with the Project Design Form. It gives you some pointers that we hope will help you think ahead to ensure your project's success.

Project title

It is a good idea to give your project a title that can be linked to any surveys, publications or other work that you produce.


If you are planning to do fieldwork, the geographical extent and accessibility of your project area will have a big effect on how and when your fieldwork is undertaken. You might want to think about:

  • Whether the landowner or estate manager will grant access to your survey sites
  • If there is vehicle access close by
  • How long it will take to travel there
  • How many of your team members have access to transport.
    Team members might consider car sharing to reduce travel costs and enable non-car owners to take part (we don't provide travel costs).
  • What the ground is like underfoot (is it boggy or pot-holed, making walking difficult or unsafe? Will it be covered, or obscured, by heavy vegetation growth during the summer?)

    See our Access and Risk Assessment documents for further information on these topics.

    Be sure to note the grid reference for the site or for the area in which you are working (e.g. NH 5715 3825).

    Contact details

    If you are working in a group, it is a good idea for someone to take on the role of group co-ordinator. This also means that we will have one main point of contact through whom we can arrange site visits, training, etc. It is very helpful if this person can act as group co-ordinator for the duration of the project.

    Your survey records and research reports

    Digital copies of field survey and research reports records created by community projects can be added to RCAHMS' collections and made available to the public, researchers and professionals via Canmore, RCAHMS' on-line database.

    In order for RCAHMS to curate your material appropriately and make it publicly accessible, we need to ensure that all potential copyright issues are dealt with in advance. To avoid any complications in the future, we ask that copyright in records created as part of your SRP project are transferred to RCAHMS. This will not affect how you can use them or access them, but it will enable us to preserve them on your behalf. In recognition of your work, RCAHMS will confer a perpetual, non-exclusive licence to all members of the group to use the resources created by the group for study, research and publication. RCAHMS will also acknowledge your group as the creator of these records when they are displayed on-line and in any publications produced by RCAHMS. You and everyone in your group therefore need to think about how you wish to be acknowledged and let us know in the project design form.

    • In most cases this will be the name of your project (e.g. SRP Braemar).
    • If your project is being undertaken by members of a local history or archaeological society, you may wish to acknowledge the society (e.g. Haddington Local History Society).
    • If you are working alone, you may prefer to acknowledge yourself.

    Further details about transferring your survey records to RCAHMS are available in our Transferring Your Records to RCAHMS document. You should read this document and discuss it with all of your project members before you return your project design form to us, and certainly before beginning any field work. If you have any queries about this, please contact us at: communities@rcahms.gov.uk

    Project members

    Most projects will involve a team of volunteers. The number of volunteers you involve and their abilities will affect what your project can achieve. You might want to think about:

    • How many people are interested in getting involved
    • How much time team members can offer (one or more days a week, month, etc.)
    • The age range and fitness levels of your team members
    • The skills, experience and knowledge of your team members
    • How best to organise tasks in order to balance everyone's enjoyment with your project's aims. For example, undertaking field survey in small teams of mixed ability will generate informal training opportunities within your group; splitting tasks so that some team members focus on documentary research, data inputting and report writing, whilst others focus on field survey, will permit members with lower fitness levels to become involved.

    We need to know whether all of your project members are happy for photographs of them to be included in any publicity material. This is because images of people, including photographs and films, are categorised as sensitive personal information under UK Data Protection law. For further information about this, please see our Photographic Consents document - please make this document available to all of your project members and ask them to tell you if they have any objections.

    Local Council Archaeologists: Keeping them informed

    Most local councils employ an archaeologist to safeguard the interests of historic buildings and archaeology through the planning process and to maintain a local Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) or a Historic Environment Record (HER). They will be interested to hear about any new archaeological survey work in their area and the information it produces, which may be used to update their own records. We strongly recommend that you contact your local council archaeologist before you begin your project.

    Contact details and further information about your Local Council Archaeology Service can be obtained from your local authority council offices, Archaeology Scotland (formerly, the Council for Scottish Archaeology), or by contacting the RCAHMS Community Archaeology team.

    Project aims

    As well as thinking about what you want to do (see our guidance note on Project Ideas for suggestions), you should also think carefully about the size and scale of your project. For instance:

    • If you are getting involved in field survey, think about how many sites to include and what detail of recording is required: the more you try and do, the longer it will take to complete.
    • Think about how much you are taking on board before committing to it. It may be better to complete more smaller projects than to get bogged down in one great big project. Be prepared to adjust your aims accordingly.
    • If you would like to explore specific research issues, see our Research Themes document for suggestions that have been prepared by key members of Scotland's academic and heritage community.

    Signing off: what will the outcome of your project be?

    Every project needs a defined end point and this is something that you should think about right at the start of your project. The purpose of a 'signing-off point' is so that both you and we (the SRP team) know when to stop! You choose what you want to do and we are interested in all your suggestions.

    Your project outcome could be one or more of the following:

      • Provide information about your project for the SRP website. Every SRP project is given its own project page where you can post photos and information about your findings. This is a great way for others to find out about what you are doing.
      • Transfer digital copies of your best site photos, plans and written records to the RCAHMS database. Our on-line recording from allows you to transfer your records directly to RCAHMS. It is very easy to use and the SRP team will provide advice and training once you have started your project.
      • A written report. Our guidelines, Creating SRP Survey Reports, will help you.
      • An exhibition. The Raising Awareness section of our website contains useful advice and ideas.
      • An interpretative leaflet or trail. See the Raising Awareness section of our website for advice.
      • A specific event or activity. See the Raising Awareness section of our website for advice.

      Please try and be as specific as possible. Remember that you can always start another project when you have completed your first one.


        When thinking about how long your project will last, it is helpful to break it down into different parts. For example:

        • Preparation
        • Research
        • Field work
        • Recording
        • Analysis
        • Writing up
        • Preparing material for exhibition, website, publication, transfer to RCAHMS database, etc.

        In this way, you should give yourself enough time to complete each task without rushing.

        For projects involving field survey, remember to think about seasonal changes in weather conditions, vegetation growth, midge activity and land-use (e.g. lambing, stalking and shooting), as this will affect when best to do your fieldwork. Perhaps plan documentary research and data entry for the times of the year when your sites are less accessible.

        For most projects, a timescale of one - two years is adequate to gather a meaningful volume of data, without becoming burdensome. However, longer or shorter projects may be more appropriate, depending on what you decide to do.

        Training and Resources

        With the end of SRP in September 2011 support for field survey and historic document training will be limited, but advice on field survey, and historical research will still be available from the RCAHMS Community Archaeology team.

        The following resources are available to help you undertake a survey of the historic environment

          • A comprehensive handbook 'A Practical Guide to Recording Archaeological Sites' for all levels of volunteer skill and experience and a field recording form to help you record sites consistently.
          • RCAHMS can provide all the equipment you will need for the survey and recording of historic landscapes, including measuring tapes, plane tables, alidades, scale rulers, a starter pack of drawing film, digital cameras and hand-held GPS.
          • Material from the RCAHMS Collections, such as aerial photographs, can be ordered via the RCAHMS website. We were able to provide this information free of charge under SRP, but when the project ends there will be a small charge for RCAHMS material to cover reproduction costs. These are detailed on the RCAHMS website. If you would like to discuss your requirements, or would like to have assistance when visiting the RCAHMS Search Room, please contact RCAHMS.
          • RCAHMS cannot make contributions to your project's travel expenses or provide funds for the purchase of additional equipment, however, our guidance note on Funding contains details of a wide range of funding sources suitable for your project and contact details for heritage funding bodies, should you wish to explore this option.

            Now go to our Project Design Form.

            © Historic Environment Scotland - Scottish Charity No. SC045925.