The Energy-SHINES Workshop

31 May 2023

Earlier this year we hosted a workshop, delivered as part of the  Energy-SHINES project, which created a women-focused space to facilitate engagement of social science and humanities (SSH) research in energy policy. The workshop provided an opportunity for academic researchers to engage with practitioners from non-energy organisations in tackling energy-related challenges in their transition to net-zero.

Insights from keynote speakers

The keynote by Dr Joanne Wade, Chief Strategic Advisor, the Association for Decentralised Energy, provided useful insights into how SSH-research could effectively inform policy and practice. Dr Wade emphasised the need for better channels of communication between policy and SSH-academic research. Through global examples, she demonstrated the value of research and methods from political science, sociology, economics and the broader human sciences in bringing real-world impact and informing critical climate change transitions. She emphasised the need for policy institutions to move beyond dominant techno-economic framings towards more human-centred approaches to designing interventions. In addition, she also highlighted the need for SSH practitioners to present their work and research findings in more accessible and coherent ways to policy bodies and industry.

As co-lead on the project, I then delivered the second keynote. I shared my experiences of having previously been seconded to the UK’s former Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), as part of the Energy-PIECES project– a forerunner to the Energy-SHINES project. I provided practical recommendations for successful engagement between placement holders and host organisations that can maximise the potential for such collaborative opportunities.

SSH insights for reframing net zero transitions

Following this we hosted a panel discussion and brainstorming sessions, in which participants worked together with the partner organisations, contributing useful SSH-related insights to address net-zero transition challenges. Many important learnings and recommendations transpired from the discussion. A key takeaway was the need to reframe the challenge. Participants questioned whether the right questions are being asked, or if the goals set by policymakers for energy reductions and carbon emissions are the right ones.

Questions were also raised about how to fully capture the insights of research work and the impact from the evidence-base produced. Impact can often be built into projects, policies, and practice as an immediate, short-term target, whereas long-term, indirect impacts are often not captured or tracked as part of project outcomes, nor budgeted within the project timescales.

Another key insight from the workshop was the need for policy bodies and decisionmakers to critically examine both the methods and the types of outputs that are valued. Moving beyond a sole focus on numbers, quantitative metrics, and monetary value to thinking about people and the power of storytelling. For this, social sciences and humanities has much to offer in terms of challenging the dominant ideologies and business-as-usual models through alternative socio-technical approaches, modes of governance and participatory channels that can help disrupt the status quo to achieve net-zero transition targets.

Feedback from participants

Overall, the workshop was received very positively by the participants. The PhD students found the workshop extremely informative, helping them better understand the policy landscape, and also connecting them with other researchers working in the same space, as well as with a broader non-academic audience:

Mixing social science scholars with non-academic partners was also really thought provoking. It’s helping me to learn the process of how I present and apply my academic knowledge to a real-world scenario where the stakeholders have different framings.”

“The sessions helped me understand the real-life challenges important sectors are facing and helped me think and visualise about new challenges that may come up in the future.”

“Overall today’s session was really thought provoking and interesting. As a placement holder, the presentation from the Energy-PIECES participant was so helpful just to think about how I would start to reframe the problem and mould the placement into a short research project.”

The participants gained important insights from the panel discussion, in which the partner organisations presented the real-world and complex nature of examples and challenges in their respective transition to net-zero.  The focus on women attendees was also received positively. Overall, there was a consensus on the need to get more women involved within the energy sector, which remains male-dominated, as participants highlighted:

“Given that women continue to experience barriers and inequalities in the workplace and their careers, I think it is important that we continue to create these sorts of opportunities.”

“It helped bring insights from women researchers in a field which is commonly male dominated. It made it easy for me to share my thoughts and insights.”

“It’s great to have a women-only space that you feel comfortable and unjudged in, to gain confidence which you can then take forward to mixed gender workshops.”

The feedback highlighted the benefits of providing such opportunities for engagement between academia, policy, and industry and how projects like the Energy-SHINES can help create spaces for interaction, networking, and collaboration, particularly across academic disciplines and industry sectors. Such projects can also play a key role in improving women’s participation within the energy sector. By breaking down barriers, together we can drive meaningful change and accelerate the path towards net-zero.