Reflections on the Energy-PIECES secondment programme

22 May 2019


Reported by Bekki Parrish NERC-funded Policy Intern (May - July 2019)

Secondees from the 2019 Energy-PIECES programme came together in May to discuss their research findings and recent secondment experiences.

The Energy-PIECES (Energy Policy Insights from Early Career Events and Secondments) programme, coordinated by Anglia Ruskin University's Global Sustainability Institute (GSI) and CSaP aims to create policy opportunities for early-career researchers working in energy-related Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH). Simultaneously, it fosters relationships with policy-facing organisations and encourages the use of SSH research to support their agendas around energy-policy problems. This is achieved through engaging SSH researchers with programme partners through a secondment programme

Following completion of the 2019 programme, secondees gathered in Cambridge to share findings from their research, discuss their experiences, and identify common threads across their placements, that could be used to inform future activities and that would be presenting at the 2019 Royal Geographical Society conference as part of the Energy Geographies Research Group (EnGRG).

The 2019 ENERGY-PIECES programme consisted of two main activities:

  1. A Masterclass on how SSH can better connect with energy policy
  2. A set of six-week energy-SSH policy secondments with six programme partners
The Masterclass

In December 2018 a masterclass was held in Cambridge, attended by over seventy early career researchers, to explore how SSH can be better utilised within energy policy-making, and how energy-SSH reseachers can help support this goal. The Masterclass explored the unique perspective and role that SSH plays within Energy policy. Traditionally, evidence for energy policy has been drawn largely from physical sciences, technologies, engineering and mathematical (STEM) disciplines, somewhat neglecting the nuanced insights that SSH can offer. The masterclass explored this STEM-SSH dichotomy and provided recommendations and tools to enable for SSH researchers to engage in energy policy.

The masterclass also utilised the SSH expertise in the room to crowdsource different perspectives on each of six Energy-PIECES policy problems that were devised in collaboration with the programme's six energy partners. These policy problems were then refined and one researcher was seconded to each of the six partners to help address these problems.

The Secondments

Between January and March 2019, six high-calibre early career researchers were awarded secondments with a variety of energy partners including: The UK Government's Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, The Energy Savings Trust, Energy Cities, EDF Energy and Practical Action. Each secondee spent six weeks working with their respective partner, producing a research report addressing the policy problem laid out by the partners. These problems covered a range of energy policy considerations such as new energy governance frameworks, social dimensions of heat decarbonisation policy, public energy advice, the role of local authorities in involving citizens in energy systems, social value in significant energy infrastructure projects, and achieving inclusive rural electrification in developing countries. Secondees each conducted research and prepared a research report.

At the meeting in May, secondees each presented their research findings and discussed their work experiences in an informal roundtable. Some common themes were identified. One was around the perceived role of research within policy-making and policy-facing institutions as a useful tool for corroborating and providing independent evidence to support initiatives. Another recurring theme was the challenge of measuring intangible factors relevant to energy policy such as social value. The role of civil society as agents in energy transitioning was also discussed, as were comparisons between top-down and bottom-up policy approaches. It was also commonly agreed that social science and humanities were under-utilised resources and that the secondments provided great benefit to the host organisations by providing access to SSH literature and a range of new insights.

Overall, the programme has introduced new voices to participate in dialogue with key policy players in the field of energy policy. It has also supported the uptake of SSH research and enoucraged interdisciplinary within the energy policy sector.

Energy-PIECES is funded by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), via the UK Energy Research Centre’s (UKERC) Whole Systems Networking Fund.

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