Birmingham City University’s CEBE faculty hosted a national workshop on 23rd May, for the EU-funded Horizon 2020 project ‘PEGASUS’ (2015-18). The event was facilitated by University of Gloucester’s CCRI (Countryside and Community Research Institute), which is one of 14 pan-European project partners. The workshop enabled stakeholders to share learning to date and give input and comment into initial findings and research process. Over thirty people attended the event, including representatives from the Department of Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), National Farmers Union (NFU), Natural England, Care Farms UK, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and academics, among others.
Some people will have picked-up on Steven Spielberg’s recent visit to Birmingham. The director of E.T., Jaws, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park and current hit The BFG was shooting footage for his dystopian sci-fi thriller, Ready Player One – the film adaptation of the award-winning novel by Ernest Cline. Set in 2044 with many people living in bleak stacks of homes piled on top of each other; this forms a rather grim urban backdrop. Photographs of the Birmingham filming locations posted on Twitter, for example, show graffiti-covered walls, streets covered with litter and smashed cars.[i] The film is scheduled for release in 2018.
Society is facing potentially disastrous climate change impacts. The UK is at the brink of a looming energy gap as old power stations close with little to replace them, and much of this is because we simply consume too much energy. This is a problem because we currently heavily rely on energy that is produced by fossil fuels; only 11.3% of UK energy comes from renewable resources (DECC 2013). The UK Government has long been trying to tackle this by calling on people to reduce their personal energy use through various behavioural change campaigns. A host of research and academic literature supports this, and various government departments have commissioned studies attempting to get to the bottom of why we behave the way we do with energy. The government hopes to use information derived from these studies to design policies that will bring about a measurable difference; to design interventions that will change individual energy behaviour. The belief is that pulling the right ‘lever’ will bring about the desired behaviour. But is this right?
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’.
I 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? Continue reading All Knowledge is Equal but Some Knowledge is More Equal than Others?→
Hey! This is one question to which I think I know the answer. That’s unless they’ve been doing a lot of expensive repaving work since I was there a couple of weekends ago to see the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park. The reason I’m so confident that nothing will have changed is that the government is too busy saving up so that it can build HS2. This (of course) is the high speed rail link that seems designed to get us all to the capital as quickly as possible. Despite controversy over the economic case, the environmental consequences and the (lack of) social benefits (not to mention a sudden £10bn price-hike a couple of weeks ago), the government seems determined to drive this one through. It’s only track ‘n’ rolling stock but they like it.
A few things occur to me. For a start, why are we all so desperate to get to the Big Smoke? Sure, it’s a great place and I like going there; but Birmingham’s pretty good too and I’ve also heard nice things about Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield (feel free to amend this list to suit your own preferences). I spent a few years living in Germany and one of the things that struck me over there was the way in which the major cities all had their own identities and sense of importance. Perhaps this was a consequence of the (then) capital being the relatively small town of Bonn (which might give a clue as to how long ago I was there) but it always seemed very healthy to me. One of the ‘pro’ arguments I’ve heard for HS2 is that it will allow people flying to Birmingham to get to London quicker. Is ‘Birmingham International Airport’ destined to become ‘London North’? Surely, it would be better if the people actually wanted to stay in Birmingham. But don’t start me up on that one.
Does the Earth move for You? If you live in the North West of England, it already has on a couple of occasions and may well do so more often in the future. After a one-year moratorium on exploratory fracking, the Government has decided that the scientific evidence does not link the practice of forcing liquids into the ground at high pressures to crack rocks with the occurrence of earthquakes. Moreover, within weeks of this ground-breaking decision (did you see what I did there?), it has decided to offer huge tax incentives to companies wishing to exploit the supposedly vast reserves of shale gas beneath our feet (or at least under the feet of those who live in the North West). So after a few wobbles, energy policy appears to have shaken off its reservations, papered over any cracks in the science and embraced shale gas as the next cheap energy alternative.