How can we change individual energy behaviour? This is NOT the right question!

by Beck Collins

Blog 15 - Rat food lever cartoonSociety 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?

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A Nation of Couch Potatoes?

by Antony Taft

How far do you walk each week?  If there is one thing that most health professionals agree upon it is that our state of health is greatly enhanced if we each have a brisk walk each day.  It seems logical to surmise that if this simple direction was followed, NHS costs might be significantly reduced.

Quote Blog 14Perhaps surprisingly, built environment professionals can have a significant effect on peoples’ physical activity and this is well recognised in the USA where there is a trend towards “active design” agreed between health authorities and architects.  This might mean, for instance, locating stair cases near the main entrance instead of hiding them at the rear of the lifts.  This principle can be applied beyond buildings to the external environment.  The trend towards pedestrianisation over the last few decades has undoubtedly helped, although increasing walking is a positive spin-off rather than a planned benefit.  However, in the Country as a whole the National Travel Survey 2012 states that walking trips fell by 27% since 1997.  Conversely, the number of households with two or more cars has risen to 31% from only 17% in 1986 – this in the midst of a recession.

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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…]


Software: solution or a new problem?

by Mohammad Mayouf

Quote Blog 11PCs, laptops, computer pads, smart phones and others have become essentials in our daily lives, for some even a way of living.  It is true to say that technology has turned much of the world into a “global village” (Marshall Mcluhan’s phrase) where any information can be obtained within seconds with a click, rather than spending hours or days searching for and sifting through large volumes of paper turning page after page.  Technology has touched nearly everything in our life, which has made me think that the world might end up with living surrogates rather than human selves: however, the question raised is “will this kind of technology solve many of our problems?” and the likely answer “probably not”.  Here, I will briefly explore why technology fails despite all the numerous benefits it provides for the users.  I will look at this through the ‘lens’ of software and why they turn out to be a problem rather than a solution.

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Are the Streets of London Really Paved with Gold?

by Roger Wall

 

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.

Quote Blog 10A 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.

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The Growth of the NUMBY

by Roger Wall

Gasland movie cover and trailor linkDoes 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.

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Can planning’s past tell us about planning’s future?

by Peter J Larkham

Planning has the potential to become a rallying-cry around which people come together to bring diverse and exciting ideas about what their future could be like, and then helps people realise these collective dreams.  But I worry that we have lost the knack of constructively and positively engaging the public in the complex issues of planning.  Perhaps we can look to the past to re-learn a lost art of inspiring enthusiasm and hope through planning.

Routledge is publishing a new series of booksWhen We Build Again book title, reprinting classic texts in town planning with newly-commissioned critical introductions.  My contribution – published on 17 July – focuses on two books about Birmingham: principally the Bournville Village Trust’s When we build again (1941), with Paul Cadbury’s Birmingham – fifty years on (1952).  But why do we revisit these aged texts?  What can we learn from planning history?

It’s commonplace to suggest that we should learn lessons from the past.  On the other hand, perhaps we just make the same mistakes over and over again!  Look at the current furore over the new syllabus for history in secondary schools.  In terms of planning history specifically, the eminent planning historian Tony Sutcliffe said long ago that “does it not reflect [society’s] rejection of a once-proud elite of technocrats, who take refuge in the past from an uncertain present and a gloomy future?” (Sutcliffe, 1981, p. 65).  Sutcliffe’s place for planning history and historians was as “unsettling persons”, evaluating and questioning the past, soberly assessing its “contribution to the long-term development of planning methodology” (Sutcliffe, 1981, p. 67).  Planning history should replace myth in situating ideas within a broad and long-term historical perspective. [Read more…]


Putting the P back into Planning

by Alister Scott

This blog uses evidence from recent research work on the urban rural fringe[1] to re-discover a different way forward for English planning. The rediscovery element is important here as we all too often seek the new when we have solutions buried in our vaults from past interventions

Planning Regs Sandcastle CartoonMuch of the present debate about the delivery of economic growth and protection of the countryside is being fought out in the battlefield of the urban-rural fringe. Here at the meeting of town and country where urban and rural land uses, interests and values converge in the daily experience of development proposals, I see a dualism between proponents of urban growth and countryside protectors. We urgently need to move beyond this sterile and media-fuelled debate by a re-examination of what planning is about and what it means on the ground. In the murky political football that now characterises planning policy and decision-making, the soul of planning has become lost. [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…]


Ethics, Universities and Research

by Peter Larkham

We have just ended the second successful BCU Ethics Conference, this time focusing on research ethics including four guest speakers on concepts of research ethics, researching children, and fraud in research. The event was lively and informative. The presentations will be available to BCU staff and students on the iCity research community tab (https://icity.bcu.ac.uk/Research-Community).

These are not trivial issues. Ethics should permeate all of the activities of a modern university, not just its externally-facing research. But research, at all levels from undergraduate projects to PhDs and major externally-funded projects, needs to be carefully designed to be ethically robust. Such research protects those involved in the research, whether they might be participants, the researchers themselves and even the reputation of the institution and funding bodies. This is most significant where these might be vulnerable people, such as young people and others for whom the concept of “informed consent” is problematic; and, of course, young researchers are also vulnerable to undue pressures.

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Universities, including our own, have woken up to at least some of these issues in recent years, and have some policies and procedures in place. But we need to ensure that these are both appropriate and suitably followed. Ethics review should not be simply a “tick box” one-off exercise. Research evolves over time, and some research takes years: we might need a continued engagement with ethics concepts and procedures. Ethics awareness needs to be embedded more deeply in staff activities from induction onwards; and likewise in our teaching, at all levels. Our business and administrative practices, and overall focus and mission statement, should explicitly refer to ethics. We should aspire to be known as an ethically-robust university. In that way we could attract research partners, funding, professional and business collaborators, and better students.

I hope that we’ll have another conference, perhaps sooner than this time next year. Perhaps the focus should be on how we embed ethics in our teaching and learning activities. That might attract those who decided not to come today, saying that they weren’t researchers, so research ethics were irrelevant to them!

Peter J Larkham is Professor of Planning in the Birmingham School of the Built Environment, and has led the concluding sessions of both BCU Ethics conferences. His most-cited publication is on the treatment of plagiarism (http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/routledg/cjfh/2002/00000026/00000004/art00005), though he doesn’t think that it’s his best paper!