Designing Effective Research Spaces Sandpit: SPIRES- Supporting People Investigating Research Environments and Spaces

Lead Research Organisation: Heriot-Watt University
Department Name: S of Mathematical and Computer Sciences


The EPSRC Digital Economy theme seeks to investigate how the use of innovative ICT can transform both lives and work. Research is vital to the UK economy. The UK research councils annually invest 2.8 billion into new research across a spectrum of academic disciplines. Total research and development spending by UK businesses was 16.1 billion per annum in 2007 . Research is also a significant part of the lives of the general public, whether researching their family history or contributing observational data to the BBC programme Springwatch. Given that research is so important to society, it is reasonable to ask how we can assist researchers to become more effective.SPIRES arises from a Digital Economy sandpit held in July 2009 on Effective Research Spaces that brought together an inter-disciplinary set of researchers interested in this theme. SPIRES - Supporting People Investigating Research Environments and Spaces - is a network proposal that aims to bring together currently disparate groups interested in the design of effective research spaces and environments in order to create a new research community. Through a set of focused workshop and outreach activities it will bring together the three perspectives of physical spaces, novel technology, and social interaction to support a new synthesis of ideas and new conversations between groups currently not in contact with each other. Its objectives are: - To form and support a multi-disciplinary community of researchers with expertise in enhancing physical, technological or social aspects of research environments; - To develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which effective research can be fostered; - To document and disseminate the current state of the art in nurturing effective research spaces, both from a UK and international perspective; - To stimulate the production of new methodologies for designing and evaluating effective research spaces.

Planned Impact

SPIRES will actively seek to expand its membership base outside of academia, using its contact with the Edinburgh BELTANE (Beacon for Public Engagement) with their close links to public organisations such as Edinburgh Museums and Botanic Gardens. Equivalent public engagement organisations elsewhere in the UK will be sought to expand the network's influence into Museums and other public spaces where research is carried out by non-academics. Nesta FutureLabs will also be approached in order to link SPIRES to state-of-the-art work in more generic learning environments and to non-university educationalists. SPIRES has been asked not to approach the British Library at the proposal stage because they are involved as evaluators, but will do so as a priority if the network is funded both because they will be designing an innovative research space of their own and because they link to many different types of researchers whose research environment requirements may be very different from those of university researchers. SPIRES will also benefit industrial research centres by making available and publicising the most current work on effective research spaces as well as the theoretical basis for making research more effective. Industrial research centres such as Microsoft Cambridge and Google will be approached at the start of the network with a view to drawing them into membership. The Salford MediaCity will also be approached through SPIRES Salford members as a domain in which technology-rich research spaces are likely to be of immediate benefit to Media and Communications professionals. SPIRES will also target specific industrial sectors such as pharmaceuticals and genetic engineering where increasing the effectiveness of research has a direct impact on UK productivity and wealth and on the health of its population.


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Williams, Alison (Newcastle University); Jones, Derek (Lecturer In Occupational Therapy, Department Of Occupational Therapy And Art Therapy, Queen Margaret College, Leith Campus, Edinburgh, UK); Robertson, Judy (2014) Bite: Recipes for Remarkable Research

Title Pecha Kuchas from SPIRES travel grant recipients 
Description Travel visits have been funded as part of the SPIRES programmes in which network members have visited a research environment and documented it for the SPIRES website: see 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact Available via website 
Title Database of benchmarked research environments 
Description Audits of research environments carried out internationally (on four continents) by SPIRES Travel Scholars using the Grammar of Creative Workplaces (Williams 2013). The database reports on the extent to which the research environment audited does or does not support the creativity of its researchers, and benchmarks the research environment against its peers. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact BITE book 
Description Collaboration between SPIRES and Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle US 
Organisation University of Washington
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collaboration in auditing and benchmarking HCDE research spaces SPIRES workshops with Post-Graduate students SPIRES travel funding supported the academic input, and the space auditing that contributed to the SPIRES database
Start Year 2012
Description Collaboration between SPIRES and PKAL Learning Spaces Collaboratory (US) 
Organisation PKAL (Project Kaleidescope) Learning Spaces Collaboratory
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Invited attendance at 3-day LSC seminar, contributing SPIRES learning to the PKAL?Sloane Foundation project. October 2012, Michigan, US. SPIRES travel funding enabled attendance at the seminar. The resulting report contribution was written in SPIRES time.
Start Year 2012
Description INSPIRES 
Organisation Coventry University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution JISC funded project for 7.5 months for 70k gbp led by Coventry University along with universities of Oxford and Warwick. Within the partner universities of the INSPIRES project, special focus will be made on developing specific communities which have been identified as institutional priorities that link to disciplinary areas and themes related to SPIRES. The technologies used for the project are based on those developed as part of the VRE3 Brain project at Coventry University, work carried out by the VRE3 Cancer Imaging VRE project and the Institutional Innovation BRII project at Oxford University, and work carried out under several projects at Warwick University. The technologies used for the project are based on those developed as part of the VRE3 Brain project at Coventry University, work carried out by the VRE3 Cancer Imaging VRE project and the Institutional Innovation BRII project at Oxford University, and work carried out under several projects at Warwick University.
Start Year 2012
Description Writing workshops 
Organisation Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Three writing workshops to define and gather material for the SPIRES legacy book, undertaken with partners from the PATINA and SERENA projects, and directed by a partner from the Open University. The writing collaborations in workshops included collaborations with SERENA and PATINA, sister projects, and with Meredith Bostwick of SOM.
Start Year 2012
Description Launch of SPIRES fieldbook in the US Eastern seaboard 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Editor Derek Jones is being hosted by SOM (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, New York) to launch BITE: Recipes for remarkable research in New York. The SOM sponsor is the Associate Director responsible for the design of academic research environments, Meredith Bostwick.

The presentation is jointly designed by Derek Jones, Judy Robertson and Alison Williams.

The SOM US launch will entail presentations within SOM, to the press and to Eastern Seaboard academics.

Further discussions
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description SPIRES website 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact A website with past, current and future SPIRES activities, including video links to YouTube screening of past events. Profiles of network and steering group members, and links to other networks and parallel organisations. Resources such as members' preferred references, methodologies and methods.

The website will continue to support membership until January 2015, being updated regularly to support the BITE launch, database and members.

The SPIRES website (previously blog) continues to be a source of information, contacts and ongoing research for the network. As at 29th January 2014 there have been 46,865 visitors to the website in under two years.

Various member activities enhanced
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010