Generating Research Ideas in Lancaster

09 Mar 2023

Earlier this week we hosted two key events in Lancaster, inviting researchers to join us to connect, share learnings and generate ideas. The events were attended by upwards of 50 individuals, who joined us for either or both activities, which were the UKERC General Meeting and an Advanced Workshop on Proposal Writing that we hosted the following day.

Generating ideas

A key element of the programme at the General Meeting focused on developing research concepts and generating ideas. At this point in the UKERC grant lifecycle, integrating different strands of research, finding additional synergies and identifying new areas of overlap is key to helping develop and deliver activities with impact. To elicit maximum input, two key interactive elements were developed which focused specifically on research integration and generating ideas through an ‘idea napkin’ concept.

Selection of conference materials including post-t notes saying importance, effort and impact

Selection of conference stationery and post it notes

Nicky Beaumont of PML kicked off our research integration activities by highlighting key areas of research being undertaken by her team and identifying where UKERC academics could further collaborate with the Energy and Environment Theme. Ioanna Ketsopoulou and Rachel Freeman then led a workshop focusing on an integrating project which is looking at the necessary energy infrastructure transitions required over the next 10 years. In this session they invited individuals to brainstorm key parameters and choice points on the road to whole systems infrastructure transformation.

Later in the afternoon Mike Bradshaw led the delivery of an idea napkin session to develop concepts for short-form projects that could leverage research already undertaken or in process. With funding for up to three projects, UKERC academics are encouraged to think about potential briefings focused on energy security and net zero that could cut across research areas, whilst also linking to external partners and stakeholders. If you have any ideas, please contact Mike directly.

Attendee viewing one of the idea napkin concepts

Researcher viewing some of the idea napkin concepts

Sharing updates

In the latter part of the afternoon, we had the opportunity to hear from five of our recently commissioned projects, who provided updates and key learnings from their activities. These projects encompassed a wide range of topics, specifically: the implications of energy prices on the switch from natural gas heating to heat pumps, a comparison of the UK and Dutch approaches to heat decarbonisation and natural gas phase-out, the development of an evidence base to support multi-level governance of SME decarbonisation, the development of a tracker to measure the co-benefits of a green recovery, and an analysis of investment trends and risk profiles in offshore wind financing.

Rebecca Willis speaking at the General Meeting

Rebecca Willis presenting at the General Meeting

We were thrilled to finish the day with a presentation by Professor Becky Willis, who is based at Lancaster University and joined us to share findings from a project exploring how people are understood and referenced in current energy and climate governance documents. People will be key to the energy transition and by analysing the terminology used in key documents, the research has developed a picture of how people have been conceptualized. The work has found that governance is seen primarily as a technical or economic challenge, with little mention of people, and where they are discussed an economic framing tends to be used. The work demonstrates that much more needs to be done to leverage current social science research and better engage citizens in all their forms, in the net zero transition.

Advanced workshop

Capitalising on having so many UKERC researchers in one place, we tagged an Advanced Workshop onto proceedings, also opening activities up to those outside of UKERC. We provided space for up to 40 early and mid-career researchers to join us for a programme focused on writing grant proposals.

Researchers at the Advanced Course

Researchers networking at the Advanced Workshop

The course, led by Elizabeth Adams, delivered a mix of networking, development and collaborative activities, and with many staying at the hotel the night before, the opportunity to network began over dinner. On the day, activities were designed to maximise opportunities for attendees to speak to each other and develop networks. From positioning themselves in a room according to places of geographic importance and sharing their research, to completing postcard jigsaw pieces to form a group and discuss key aspects of grant writing, individuals were encouraged to share ideas and insights to upskill in the key area of grant writing. Building on this activity we will be hosting an Impact Workshop in Cambridge in May and will be circulating registration details for this next week.

Researchers engaged in a group activity looking at cards

Researchers engaged in a group activity looking at cards

Overall, it was great to catch up with colleagues in person, developing deeper connections with those who we already knew, whilst also meeting new acquaintances and putting faces to names.  We are looking forward to hosting more in person meetings and conferences to further develop relationships and network with colleagues, so watch this space.