SHOCK (not) horror

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Civil Engineering and Geosciences


The project team propose that system shocks constitute opportunities to radically 'shift minds' by reevaluating the relationship between demand and provision of infrastructure. Shocks provide drivers to re-imagining the scale of resource use, particularly in terms of delivering core utilities, as we move into an era of resource scarcity. The SHOCK (not) HORROR project uniquely unpicks the potential for radical change through the allegory of medical trauma to challenge infrastructure stakeholders to move out of their comfort zone, challenge the current organization of infrastructure in silos, rethink the nature of shocks and devise new and transformative ways of thinking about infrastructure. Specifically it will develop a new concept of infrastructure resilience, both by using shocks as a way of both highlighting the interdependencies of existing infrastructure systems (identifying the weak points), and improving infrastructure by restoring it to a better state after the shock (rather than re-instating what was there before the shock). The project team is connected by the belief that the study of infrastructure shocks can help develop new holistic models of infrastructure. We approach infrastructure problems from very different discipline perspectives (civil engineering, design for sustainability and socio-technical systems research) but aim to build on this diversity to generate new and insightful outputs which will synthesise knowledge across these different fields of study.
Our methodology is based on the use of narratives of trauma as a means to free up thinking about infrastructure 'traumas' and the opportunities they provide for radical re-shaping of the infrastructure. These will be used, together with a portfolio of case studies where trauma has occurred, to explore to what extent the 'window of opportunity' for change was recognised and/or utilised, and whether we can envisage methods to take the maximum advantage of similar situations in the future. The methodology is will use maps of socio-technical infrastructure systems of systems and develop of narratives of intervention points. It will have 5 stages:
1) Medical trauma as an allegory of infrastructure system shocks: We are going to develop the medical allegory using a range of qualitative methods, including document analysis and interviews with medical professionals from different cultural approaches (e.g. Western and Chinese medicine) and different forms of medical practice (e.g. GP consulting vs emergencies), to compile trauma storylines that have led to radical re-evaluations of either medical practice and/or personal ways of living
2) Construction of maps of the socio-technological configuration of infrastructure systems: We are going to map the socio-technical configurations of infrastructure systems and the dynamics of change with reference to the literature of systems innovations and sustainability transitions. We will extend this framework by investigating it further through our storylines of systems shocks.
3) Testing the allegory in real infrastructure systems and defining system intervention points: We are going to organize two day-long stakeholder events in which stakeholders will be invited to evaluate the accuracy of our infrastructure systems maps and debate the feasibility of intervention in the system intervention points defined according to a hierarchical scale.
4) Development of a Framework to Maximise Learning from Infrastructure Systems Shocks: We are going to devise a series of experiments to understand the decisions required to maximize the window of opportunity provided by shocks to learn about the integration of infrastructure systems.
5) Synthesis of the combined outputs into a long-term transformative agenda: We will use the combined outputs of the research to develop an agenda for transformative research, education and practice on integrated infrastructure. We will focus on developing a "shock tactics laboratory".

Planned Impact

The SHOCK project processes and outcomes will have major societal impact in that it will help re-evaluate and make decisions that balance the quality of life with access to increasingly scarce resources and the impacts of this for infrastructure provision. This will have major implications for policy makers, and the project will specifically ensure this is realised through direct engagement with representatives from the Cabinet Office, the National Infrastructure Management Group and the Local Resilience Network.

The economic benefits derive from a global need to develop new ways of thinking about infrastructure, to ensure future wealth creation. Rather than seeking always to maintain, improve and construct new infrastructure, we will re-think and re-evaluate our needs for infrastructure, where improvement does not necessarily equate to more. We will engage major players in infrastructure design, provision maintenance and insurance (Arup, CIRIA, National Grid, IBM, Yorkshire Water, Network Rail and Willis Re) in order to make sure that the processes and outcomes of the research enable innovation for sustainable infrastructure to be considered.

SHOCK seeks to generate a step-change in knowledge that can be understood and applied by stakeholders for the wider industrial and user community. The use of allegories in defining paths of radical transition and socio technical models of integrated infrastructures and interventions will assist in developing this understanding by drawing upon experiences with which we are all familiar. The use of interactive, learning experiments to drawn out practical decision making will actively engage practitioners and decision makers with the process and with one another to engender a sense of shared ownership and enabling capacity. In this sense, the greatest impact that the SHOCK project seeks to have is on people, awakening their imaginations and ability to create change. The trans-disciplinary research team constitutes a sufficiently diverse range of capabilities and broad academic reach to be influential across a wide range of academic audiences and their associated stakeholder partners. The Steering Group will provide guidance throughout the project to facilitate effective outcomes for the people operating in their respective and diverse sectors. An even greater stakeholder buy-in will be ensured through workshop and experimental events designed to be relevant to a diverse range of needs and interests.

In the long-term the environment will benefit from the increased human-ecological resilience determined by re-assessing resource flows in and across society. In re-imagining a reduction in infrastructure provision, SHOCK will help identify areas of greatest potential for reducing the environmental stresses created by infrastructure systems and, over the long term, understanding how they can be designed to be more resilient.
Description Need differentiate between shocks and stresses
Shocks disrupt the current regime
Shocks provide opportunities for learning
Shocks facilitate co-operation and collaboration of multiple infrastructure providers
Shocks affect perceptions and visibility of infrastructure
Shocks provide opportunities for behavioural change and re-evaluating the provision of infrastructure
Shocks provide the opportunity to consider 'less'
Exploitation Route To use shock events as case histories from which to gain a deeper understanding of:
what motivates and creates acceptability of change to systems
the nature of dependencies and inter-dependencies of systems
the national and international reach of infrastructure systems
demonstrations of the importance of infrastructure to the wider public
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Construction,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Transport

Title Application for smart phones and tablets 
Description Development of an app' for smart phones and tablets to collect data on users' journeys and perceptions of infrastructure. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2013 
Description Member of UK-US KNowledge exchange on Future Cities, 29 Jan - 7 Feb 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited member of Technology Strategy board and the FCO SIN network mission to Chicago, San Francisco and New York, making presentations to academic, industry and government organisations related to smart cities. These sessions invited much discussion amongst audiences.

Other members of the group:
Richard Bellingham

University of Strathclyde

Colin Birchenall

Glasgow City Council

Simon Cross


Stephanie Glendinning

University of Newcastle

Dan Hill

Future Cities Catapult

Stephen Hilton

Bristol City Council

Richard Miller

Technology Strategy Board

Chris Murray


Allison Nicholl


Ben Plowden

Transport for London

Tim Stonor

Space Syntax

Judith Sykes

Useful Simple Projects

Kathryn Vowles

Balfour Beatty

Lee Woodcock

One of only 2 academic members of UK group visiting 3 US cities (Universities, City departments and private industry) to learn best practice and forge new partnerships in the field of smart cities. Awarding Body - Technology Strategy Board, Name of Scheme - UK-US KNowledge exchange on Future Cities, 29 Jan - 7 Feb 2014
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Project website 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Project website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011,2012,2013,2014,2015,2016