Journeys through environmental change: narratives by and for communities

Lead Research Organisation: Open University
Department Name: Geography


Journeys through environmental change: narratives by and for communities

Many people feel put off by the way environmental issues are talked about, and find it difficult to identify with or respond to them. When policy makers talk of improving the 'eco-efficiency' of production and consumption, or, at the other end of the emotional scale, NGOs stoke fear of environmental catastrophe, a lot of people seem to switch off. The Journeys Project will reveal the fact that understanding and action on global environmental issues can be far more dynamic and compelling, and involve many more voices.

The project will make the most of what is unique about the humanities, arts and social sciences. An interdisciplinary team including architects, artists, producers, geographers, historians, media and literature researchers will come together to study and advance a set of literal as well as imagined journeys. Some of these will be designed with and undertaken alongside community groups. These journeys will explore how human communities rely on each other and on the non-human natural world, to meet their needs and wants, drawing together present practices and past experiences, and anticipating future developments.The development grant will allow us to further elaborate our ideas for a set of two cross cutting work packages (CWPs) that will develop our thinking about the theories and methods we will use. It will also see us co-design with community groups and their representatives and other partners approximately three to five journey work packages (JWPs). These will look at big environmental issues such as energy, food and the built environment in a fresh way. It is also an opportunity to cement and enhance our team, and to gather critical advice and develop new partnerships.

Planned Impact

We intend our activities in the development phase to generate insights into interdisciplinary and inter-agency working that are of value to the practice of policy-relevant environmental research, but also of wider significance to the policy-research interface. We also welcome the challenge to co-produce our research project with communities, and view this as a second key area of impact of our work in the development phase. We will design the public/academic workshop (Proj Dev Wkshop 2 Day 1) in such a way as to ensure a rich and memorable engagement with the team and our project.

The research team will liaise with representatives of the groups and categories of communities referenced in the prospective JWP's listed below, in order to develop a full research proposal that incorporates their needs and views, and acknowledges their role as active contributors to the development of the project.

Across the project as a whole we will be working to extend the impact of the work through collaboration with key partners in the media and museum/gallery sector. We will also draw upon our extensive arts and media networks to build relationships with writers and journalists, artists and sculptors, storytellers, musicians, film makers, and lay the ground for collaborations, commissions and media work linked to the large consortium bid. In parallel we will return to draw on existing relationships with e.g. New Economics Foundation (nef) and government departments in order to extend public and policy reach, and to work through their networks to enhance international impacts.

Taking the three illustrative Journey Work Packages in turn, representatives from the following sectors, organisations and groups will be engaged in relation to specific JWPs. In some cases it will be a light scoping, in others individuals or groups will be worked with to develop the vision and substance of the full research proposal. These also represent communities, institutions or networks that we intend the large consortium project to have positive impacts upon:

JWP1 Power lines
* communities engaged in debates regarding new renewables projects (e.g. landowners, tourist and other local businesses, residents)
* energy consumer groups, energy companies and regulatory bodies; energy and environmental consultants
* NGOS and civil society organisations (e.g. Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, Ramblers, National Trust for Scotland, Scottish National Heritage, Woodland Trust, Friends of the Earth
* policy makers, development agencies, local government bodies (e.g. DECC, DEFRA, Environment Agency, DCMS, Forestry Commission Scotland, Visit Scotland, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland)

JWP2 City Streets
* affected members of local communities in the places where materials are sourced, manufactured and used for construction (local, regional and international)
* environmental NGOs and other third sector organisations (e.g. Campaign to Protect Rural England, heritage site managers, National Trust, English Heritage, National Heritage, Living Places, Transition network, Civic Voice, Eden Project)
* government agencies (Environment Agency, Natural England, Forestry Commission, Commission for Rural Communities, local government environment officers)
* associations of professional groups involved (RIBA; RTPI; Design Council)
businesses and professionals (aggregates & building supplies; developers; construction companies; architecture and planning practices)

JWP3 Market Places
* members of local communities (near and far) engaged in / affected by food production and shifting patterns of shopping
* commercial interests (e.g. farmers, growers, transporters, supermarkets, small traders, consumers)
* government agencies (central government policymakers local government environment officers, waste management companies and professionals)
* third sector organisations (Common Ground, Sustainable Communities)
Description This was a development grant primarily designed to mature our proposal which later led to a successful large grant bid. But, in the context of the research development grant several members of the team edited and / or contributed to a book of essays that formed the working document for a workshop at the Free Word centre in London. The workshop was attended by 80 creative writers from across the UK and funded by the Arts Council England. The publication was co-funded by the Ashden Trust and Open University Open Space Research Centre, and the ideas developed in the context of the development phase of the Stories of Change Research project (initially 'Journeys'). A further 250 hard copies of the book has been circulated more widely throughout the policy and cultural community with the goal of inviting more plural and dynamic approaches to energy and climate change.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Description Policy advisory meetings: one to one hour long meetings with senior Whitehall civil servants, arranged by invitation by the Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy. I have spent an hour discussing the outcomes and implications of the Stories of Change and Earth in Vision projects for a range of civil servants and cognate professionals including: 14-1-15 Stuart Wainwright, Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser, DEFRA 26-4-15 Sophie Odenthal Fast Stream, Cabinet Office 28-4-15 Craig Bennett, Director, Friends of the Earth England and Wales 20 -11-15 Simon Sharp, Head of Climate Risk, FCO; 28-1-16 Douglas Wilson, Director of Scientific & Evidence Services, Environment Agency 17-2-16 Jonathan Ireland, Dep Dir Climate Change, Scottish Govt; 13-4-16 Emily Miles, Group Director Strategy, DEFRA; 9-6-16 Vicky Robb, Snr Strategy & Policy Advisor, HM Treasury; 25-1-17 Rachel Zammett, Head of Climate Change Policy, The Treasury; 27-1-17 Emma Woods, Head of Policy, The Royal Society; 21-2-17 John Curnow, Chief Economist DEFRA; 20-11-17 Beth Chaudhary, Head of Smart Energy Policy, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS); 23-1-18 Alisa Helbitz, CEO Social Finance
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact These one to one discussions form part of a programme that these senior civil servants and other policy figures experience as Cambridge Science and Policy fellows. The one hour meetings see the academic share their expertise in relation to a body of questions previously submitted by the Fellow. These meetings have tended to draw directly on both my research for the Stories of Change and Earth in Vision projects, and to the older but still relevant Interdependence Day project. The questions pertinent to my work have spanned: environmental sustainability and systems change (energy; transport etc); public understanding and engagement; new tools for public participation in policy; media decision-making. On most occasions climate change has been a prominent thread. I have explicitly outlined the research projects and the origins of the funding (AHRC for Earth in Vision and Stories of Change, and when relevant NERC-ESRC for the Interdependence Day project). The fact that I am so regularly asked to contribute to this programme run within and for another university suggests that the organisers (CSaP of the University of Cambridge) are getting positive feedback about the policy relevance and professional value of my advice and opinion.