Bottom-Up Infrastructure

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Civil Environmental and Geomatic Eng


Infrastructure systems such as water, transport and energy are vital to British society and the economy. It is very important that these systems are able to continue to function effectively in the future, but it is difficult to predict the conditions that they will need to operate under because of climate change, social change and economic changes. For this reason infrastructure needs to be adaptable and resilient, able to bounce back from whatever extreme events and general trends occur in the future. In order to achieve this infrastructure may look quite different to how it does today. We may have more renewable energy, more recycled water, and more public transport, walking and cycling, and our cities could look and operate quite differently as a result. Designing infrastructure for the future is a very complex task that needs to take into account the values, experiences and requirements of local communities and everyday people. Engineers and experts are good at developing technical solutions to well defined problems, but they have not been as successful at understanding the needs and expectations of local communities. Engineers have good methods for taking into account physical, enviromental and economic factors, but they need new tools to be able to better understand and account for social factors in their designs. Local communities will also have important roles to play in adapting to climate change and other uncertain events in the future, so it is important that local communities and engineers come together to decide what is important in designing future infrastructure. This fellowship will help Dr Sarah Bell to learn from good examples of how local communities can be involved in infrastructure decisions. Her research team will work with communities and engineers to define methods and tools to allow for better integration of community needs and ideas into infrastructure design. These tools and methods might include checklists or surveys to quickly understand what communities need and what they want for the future, calculators to help engineers working with communities to quickly calculate the environmental impacts and costs of different ideas for infrastructure, and risk assessments to understand the problems that might occur if communities are not involved in engineering design and the benefits that might be possible if they are.

Planned Impact

The main beneficiaries of this research will be infrastructure providers, design consultants and local communities in the UK. The fellowship will develop methods to enable better development and delivery of resilient and sustainable infrastructure that meets community needs and is acceptable to the public, as well as supporting economic growth and adaptation to and mitigation of environmental change. The mechanisms for impact are embedded in the research design, which is based on co-production of new methods for engineering analysis and design. The research programme includes establishing communities of practice of engineers, community sector professionals and volunteers, and researchers to establish best practice and develop new methods for community engagement in infrastructure design and delivery. The outcomes of the research will take the form of a toolkit to support appraisal and development of infrastructure projects from the bottom-up. These tools will be available on-line under an open source licence, to be freely available for a wide range of stakeholders and partners to use and adapt. Secondment of researh team members into key partner organisations in the early years of the fellowship will help to ensure that the tools are developed to meet different user requirements, and will allow critical analysis and feedback of current practice and early research findings.


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