Two of the Community Innovations for Sustainable Energy team (Tom Hargreaves and Adrian Smith) attended a UK Energy Research Centre workshop in Oxford earlier this week on ‘Local Energy Governance’. A core aim of the workshop was to draw together the various community energy research projects currently underway in the UK, to work out what their various research interests are, where they overlap, how they’re unique, how they might work together etc. etc. As part of this, Adrian Smith gave a presentation on day 1 exploring relationships between the way we conceptualise community energy as either an energy issue or a development issue, the kinds of analysis that subsequently get done, and the way different values towards community energy emphasise certain forms of knowledge production over others. This feature of community energy research means that effective engagement with practitioners is especially important.
On the second day, the workshop spent a great deal of time discussing how the various academic research projects could or should work with different types of practitioners in the community energy sector. As well as raising the many and various limitations experienced by both academics and community energy practitioners that might make collaboration difficult (e.g. funding, time etc. etc.), the workshop also highlighted several practical steps that might be taken to improve collaboration, such as:
· Academics could inform and advise community energy initiatives based on different theoretical perspectives and ideas.
· Academics and practitioners should work together early on to ensure both research projects and practical initiatives are designed with co-benefits in mind.
· Academics should share their preliminary findings and recommendations early to make sure projects can benefit when it matters most, such as through short and digestible briefing notes.
· Students at different levels (undergraduate, masters, PhD) could usefully carry out dissertations on topics that community energy groups want researching.
As the workshop went on, and these interesting ideas were discussed, there was growing recognition amongst the participants that rather than simply talking about what academics and practitioners should do, there was a need for us to actually start doing it. With this in mind, this blog entry is designed as a call to all community energy practitioners to share with us their research wants and needs. Do you have a particular question you want answering that you think university students or researchers could help you with? Are there any issues or challenges you’ve faced in trying to deliver initiatives on-the-ground that you think a piece of research, or a different theoretical approach, might be able to help you overcome? Is there anything else that you think the research community could usefully help you with? If so, please post a comment in response to this message.
We can’t promise that we’ll be able to help out, but if we can start gathering together all the research wants and needs that community energy groups have, this would be a really useful first step in making sure that both academics and community energy practitioners get the most out of their future exchanges. Collecting questions and issues together in this blog feed, and publicising it, could help in this endeavour, so please do add your needs by commenting on this blog. And who knows, it’s just possible we might be able to help, or point you towards someone who can…