The original version of this blog was published by the London-Loughborough (LoLo) Centre for Doctoral Research in Energy Demand.
There are many opportunities for early-stage researchers to influence decision-makers within policy-making and industry. Providing key stakeholders with robust, accessible and well-prepared research helps them to make better decisions, thereby accelerating the development of society. At the beginning of December 2018, as a PhD student at the LoLo CDT, I embarked on the RISE (Recognising Inspirational Scientists and Engineers) programme run by EPSRC and want to share the insights I have gained so far.
Decision-making is surprisingly hectic in business and policy-making. For this reason, a researcher should stay informed and be prepared. A great way to get information on policy-making is to subscribe to Government and Parliament mailing lists. For example, POST (Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology), provides opportunities to make contributions to parliamentary publications and offers fellowships. Parliamentary Select Committees are constantly asking for evidence for inquiries into societal matters.
RISE group photo
To make an impact as an early career researcher: prepare for ad hoc opportunities, have a clear message and communicate it properly. Since response-time windows can be relatively short, researchers should have their key messages ready at hand. The messages should be understandable and tangible to non-specialists. I have found this challenging with research related to infrastructure.
For most people infrastructure and functions like roads, energy and buildings are quite “invisible.” For this reason, I have found concrete examples useful when demonstrating the importance of my research, which focuses on making buildings more flexible consumers of energy with new control strategies for heating and air-conditioning systems. In this context I typically say that renewable energy is needed but when it is not available heating can be used temporarily to balance supply short-falls, since even if heating is turned off it takes a while before a home cools down.
An important thing to appreciate is that many people with power, i.e. politicians, journalists and business managers, do not read academic publications. They simply do not have the time to do so nor the access to them. Thus, channels other than academic journals are required to accelerate impact.
Academic writing conventions set scenes with introductions and lengthy narratives including thorough descriptions of methodologies and results before the outcomes. For busy decision-makers this format does not work. Key messages should be conveyed right at the start and elaborated further by using examples to give the reader a clear idea of why the research deserves their attention.
Thanks to the RISE training I have started this process at the very beginning of my PhD studies to actively get my research exposed. I believe the increased scrutiny of my research by the public and decision-makers will make it more robust. Who knows, I could even find new angles or problems my research can help to solve. I encourage everyone to grasp the opportunities at hand and get the important research we do out into the open.