Conflict and Cheetahs

by Claudia Carter

The news of endangered species, extinctions and near extinctions seems hardly to bat many eyelids or feature in news channels.  Unless it is a species which seems to strike a chord or has some sort of direct meaning.  And here, the cheetah features.

Cheetah Outreach Trust_photo by Thierry Plaud

Cheetahs are known for their speed. Photo: Thierry Plaud, Cheetah Outreach

For me, living in England, and not a great fan of caged animals / zoos, thinking about cheetahs was triggered about a year ago when I received an email from Rosie Wilkes who works at the West Midland Safari Park and in her spare time helps raise awareness and support for Cheetah Outreach.  Not teaching biology or environmental conservation as such I thought what on earth does this have to do with my modules, amongst it ‘Complexity, Conflict and Resolution’ for the MSc Environmental Sustainability which focuses on environmental governance and conflict resolution.  As it turned out, much more than I had anticipated. [Read more…]


Good plan: Birmingham built environment research climbs University league tables

rufopolyResearch from the Birmingham School of the Built Environment (BSBE) at Birmingham City University has made significant progress in University rankings published today.

Academics who were submitted to the Architecture, Built Environment and Planning panel have moved from the bottom quartile to the middle rank of planning schools in the UK, according to results published today as part of the Government’s Research Excellence Framework (REF), which is used to distribute funding to the best Universities. The group increased the number of publications graded as internationally significant or leading (3 or 4 out of 4 stars) rose from from 25% in the last assessment to 65% today.

One of the highlights of the School’s submission was a 3 star impact case study about the creation of new markets to enable companies to pay for restoring damaged peat bogs in return for the carbon that is saved. The Government launched a pilot UK Peatland Code last year based on this work in collaboration with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and water companies now regularly restore peat bogs to reduce water treatment costs. Also featured in the submission was a board game called “Rufopoly”, designed to raise awareness and support decisions in rural areas under pressure from housing development around cities. The training game has just received additional funding from the Government’s Economic and Social Research Council, and has now been played by policy-makers, businesses, voluntary bodies and schools across the UK, Sweden and the USA. Professors Mark Reed and Alister Scott who led the development of these case studies, also played a major role in the follow-up to the Government’s National Ecosystem Assessment, providing policy-makers and practitioners with tools to better take account of nature in their decisions, including the cultural values that communities share for the natural environment. Prof David Edwards from BSBE was also part of a highly scoring submission from the Business School, which included a 3-4 star impact case study based on his work on improving the health and safety of vibrating plant machinery.

Professor Peter Larkham, the School’s Associate Head (Research), welcomed this clear and externally-accredited evidence of the high quality and impact of their research in planning and the environment:

“This is a tremendous endorsement of our achievements in producing high-quality research which not only influences national and local government policy, and helps other agencies and property developers, but it demonstrates that our undergraduate and Masters courses are up-to-date, underpinned by the best research”.


All Knowledge is Equal but Some Knowledge is More Equal than Others?

by Beck Collins

I get very annoyed when people talk about scientific knowledge as though it was just another opinion to be heard down the pub.  Scientific knowledge is different.  From the stage of fledgling academics working through their PhDs, scientists are trained to be rigorous in their research practice.  They must be conversant with the debates in their area, they must follow meticulous procedures while gathering and analysing data, and they must demonstrate where their work contributes to current understanding.  They must be able to defend themselves at every turn.  In this way scientific knowledge can be ‘trusted’.

Quote Blog 12I have a lot of respect for this approach.  However, knowledge which comes from this rigorous process of inquiry is not the only type.  I realised this recently while reading planning journal papers about how local people sometimes reject the ‘rational knowledge’ and resultant solutions that are presented to them by planners.  In these cases, people favour their own knowledge of their local areas generated through their everyday experience.  How could I reconcile these two understandings of knowledge?  Does one have precedence over the other?  I went on to think about BCU’s accredited courses; where students gain knowledge through professionally standardised training.  Accredited courses have a stamp of approval; the relevant body has said that this is what you need to know; this is how we market our courses to new students after all!  Is that the end of it then?  What about tacit knowledge which is important to the smooth running of professional life; knowledge that people have that is difficult to articulate and is based on experience (such as tendering skills built up from past experience)?  How does that fit in?  There’s also Dreyfus and Dreyfus’s understanding of experts’ knowledge; according to Flyvbjerg (2011) their great experience gives them such a holistic understanding that they intuitively know what to do.  So I should trust them, they’re experts?  That sounds fishy!  And are all ‘experts’ quite so worthy of this description? [Read more…]


From Co-Production to Performative Knowledge Exchange

by Claudia Carter

Our journey researching the rural-urban fringe is now published as an open access article in Progress in Planning 83: 1-52.

ProgInPlanning articleAs in industry, the field of small to medium-sized research entities is different to that of the mega-million pound projects.  Big research programmes often have (science) communication and other specialised experts to hand to help shape high impact outputs and to support knowledge exchange activities.  With smaller grants the principal and co-investigators often need to fulfil a larger range of functions themselves; including working at times outside of one’s usual comfort zone.  The project completed under the recently finished RELU programme on Managing Environmental Change at the Fringe: Reconnecting Science and Policy with the Rural-Urban Fringe’ was no exception.  The project team consisting of a handful of academic researchers and 10 practitioners and policy-makers were awarded just over £150,000 to work together on the rural-urban fringe and developing novel lenses by exploring the fusion of core themes in Spatial Planning with principles of the Ecosystem Approach.  The research project journey has just been published in Progress in Planning – a 30,000 word guided tour from project rationale to practice-relevant outputs and planning theory.  This journal provides an outlet for multi-disciplinary work relating to spatial and environmental planning in the form of monographs, with an impact factor of 1.750.

So, here is a 900-word quick guide through the rural-urban fringe project work without too many spoilers. [Read more…]


Why isn’t our research having a greater impact on UK society?

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by Mark Reed

Throughout history, civilisations have risen and fallen on their ability to generate new knowledge and innovate in the face of major challenges. In the UK, many of the fastest-growing sectors of our economy are knowledge-based. This is made very clear at the Birmingham Made Me Design Expo 2013 at Millennium Point this month, which argues that design and innovation are drivers of wealth creation. This thirst for knowledge goes right to the heart of Government, with policy-makers increasingly striving to make “evidence-based” decisions on controversial issues like the designation of Marine Protected Areas and the creation of new markets for peatland carbon – issues that my colleagues and I at Birmingham School of the Built Environment are researching.

I think that we, as researchers, often take for granted that we have privileged access to the latest knowledge, forgetting that this is often locked behind publisher pay-walls. We have the skills to generate answers to some of the biggest questions facing society, and yet as a research community in the UK, only a small proportion of our work actually provides answers to these big questions. So why isn’t more UK research having a greater impact on society?

[Read more…]