Delivering change through interdisciplinary research

by Mark Reed

 

disciplinary

The 2014 Research Excellence Framework 2014 (REF) results, published today, revealed that 90% of Birmingham City University’s submission was judged to have delivered ‘outstanding’ or ‘very considerable’ impact on society. This is evidence that the research landscape is rapidly changing and I believe that post-1992 Universities like BCU are ideally positioned to reap significant rewards from this new landscape in the years to come.

Essentially, the case for research funding in a time of economic austerity is based on the theory that research promotes competitiveness and growth. As research funders increasingly focus on demonstrating the value of research to society, there has been a rise in the number of directed research calls available to UK researchers. It is still possible to catch sight of blue skies as part of this research landscape, but they are increasingly being coloured by the rising sun of the impact agenda. [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”.


Intangibles in Buildings: Reality or mystery?

Empire State in water

by Mohammad Mayouf

The majority of modern public or private buildings could be described as set of columns, beams and slabs structurally calculated, architecturally designed and tangibly engineered and systemically (e.g. Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing – MEP – or any other associated systems) integrated. This statement sounds complicated enough, but doesn’t reflect the actual process of constructing buildings, and raises the question of who else other than engineers and designers (including architects) are involved in the construction of buildings. If, for the sake of argument, we claim that people involved in the construction process are doing their job according the standards set, why do we still have problems? One possible answer is stated by the Royal Academy of Engineering which claims that the ratio construction cost : maintenance and building operating costs : business operating costs is about 1:5:200.  This demonstrates that the most significant cost of buildings starts after construction (Evans et al., 1998). The stated ratio is not necessarily wholly accurate, and numbers may have been used for illustrative purposes (Hughes et al., 2004), but it must have resulted from problems faced quotewith buildings during operation which had not been taken in account in their design and construction.  The interesting question here is why such a ratio has been highlighted in the first place?  It suggests that there are some aspects that should be considered by those involved during the design stage which currently are not, or not in the right way.  I would like to know whether these building intangibles (e.g. aspects within the building which result in higher costs, non-satisfaction and poor management) are a reality or mystery, and if they are real, can some of them be revealed during the design stage? The purpose of my blog is to generalise about the importance of early considerations (and the involvement of users in the design stage) which can avoid unpredictable intangibles in all buildings, notwithstanding the function of any specific building (Private houses will be excluded from the blog as their problems are considerably less that general private and public buildings).

[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…]