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In the slums of Kampala, the phrase “survival for the fittest” takes on a whole new meaning: reflections from a recent field trip studying electricity access in Nakulabye slum, Kampala, Uganda

penlope.yaguma.2031 October 2022

By Penlope Yaguma

Penlope Yaguma is a 3rd year PhD student of Energy and Development Policy at the UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (UCL STEaPP) and the UCL Engineering for International Development Centre (EfID). Her broad research interests are on electricity access in slums and informal settlements in African cities, with a specific focus on Uganda’s cities. Penlope’s work is inspired by her own experiences of growing up and living in Uganda, and she hopes to bring her formal training in electrical engineering and sustainable energy systems to understanding and creating solutions for the inequalities and injustices in service delivery and infrastructure provision in African cities.

Everyone looks down on us because we live in the ghetto, but deep down they know that these ghettos are the heartbeat of Kampala.

Despite slums’ close proximity to grid infrastructure or sometimes literally under the grid, accessing electricity in Kampala’s slums remains precarious, costly or downright unsafe

How it all began: In September 2022, I set out to do the fieldwork and field data collection for my PhD research in Nakulabye slum, one of over 60 slum settlements in Uganda’s capital Kampala. The plan was to conduct household surveys, hold focus group discussions in the settlement and interview key stakeholders on all matters electricity access specifically and access to social services and infrastructure more broadly. I was very fortunate to work with a passionate field team of geography students from Makerere University’s Urban Action Lab and the Centre for Climate Change Research and Innovation, and community guides who were residents of the settlement. We also received overwhelming support and assistance from the local council leaders (LC1s) of all nine administrative villages/zones that make up Nakulabye settlement. Many generously shared their experiences of securing social services for their jurisdictions and improving livelihoods for community members, families, and businesses. The devastating effects of Covid-19 and increasing cost of living are still being felt in Nakulabye, forcing some to close their businesses or pack up their families and move back to the village. Following two settlement walks, training and piloting the survey questionnaire, the actual data collection began – lasting about 2 weeks in total. In this blog post, I reflect upon this fieldwork exercise and write about my experiences and key observations.

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The wicked fuel subsidies and the complexity of their reforms: Lessons from Indonesia

Muhamad Rosyid Jazuli15 March 2022

Climate change has been a hot issue for most countries for several decades. Experts have expressed significant concern about the overconsumption of fuels across the globe. Its main driver: fuel subsidies.

Our latest publication (Jazuli, Steenmans, and Mulugetta 2021) highlights the importance of reducing global fuel subsidies. Nevertheless, studies are incredulous how these subventions persist. Our review shows that subsidy reforms are not just a matter of cuts to these subventions and the subsequent fuel price increase. It is more complex than that.

Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

Globally, in 2014, fuel consumption subsidies from various countries accounted for 13% of global GHG emissions (IEA, 2015). Fuel subsidies also often lead to carbon lock-in where development cannot be separated from fuel even though renewable energy potential is abundant (Seto et al., 2016).

Fuel subsidies can reduce logistics and transportation costs to suppress prices. However, these policies often come with a variety of ramifications. In addition to exacerbating global warming, fuel subsidies are hampering investment in fundamental sectors such as education, health, and renewable energy. In addition, these subsidies spoil the rich rather than help the poor. In Indonesia, for example, more than 80% of these subsidies are enjoyed by the richest 50% (Diop, 2014).

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PhD Episode II: The Return of Ethnographic Methods

laurent.liote.1916 December 2021

Hi there, it’s been a while! I guess I’ve made some progress since the last time I wrote a post like this one. Rest assured the aim of my PhD has not changed, I’m still focused on understanding how engineering advice and related modelling insights are deployed in energy policy practice (the origin story can be found here). This post is about the initial work I’ve done to answer this question and where I’m going next.

In a UK government department not so far away…

So, what have I been up to in the last year then? Well, I did an initial case study with an engineering advice team within the UK government that provides advice on energy policy questions to the rest of their department. I interviewed engineers and policy advisors working together to gain insight into ‘the engineering-policy interface’ (a fancy way of saying ‘how engineers and policy advisors interact’). I turned the themes that emerged from the interviews into academic database search terms which returned four different strands of literature: science advice, engineering and philosophy, expertise in policy and models as boundary objects. I carried out a review of these fields and compared the literature’s conclusions against my findings, I call that ‘PhD Episode I’.

And what did I make of Episode I then? Like a first episode in what I hope to be a trilogy, it was interesting, set up the characters and storyline nicely but left quite a few questions unanswered. From what I saw, most of the engineering advice consisted of explaining a technology in layman’s terms to policy analysts, answering a question by providing a summary/diagram or designing/running a model. But that’s just scratching the surface and several findings warrant further investigation, constituting the basis for my second case study: Episode II.

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Encryption Pros & Cons: a balancing act

adeolaakinla9 December 2021

By Adeola Akinla, Ayesha Gulley, Kirthika Selvakumar and Zoe Tilsiter

From securing financial transactions to enabling secure communications online, encryption plays a vital role in how we use the Internet today.1 However, recently there have been calls by state actors to undermine encryption as bad actors can also exploit the confidentiality it provides to commit crime, thereby creating an investigative barrier for law enforcement and intelligence agencies (LEIAs).2,3 Although seemingly justified, this intent does not consider the benefits encryption provides to multiple groups including individual users, activists, journalists and industry.3,4

In partnership with the Internet Society (ISOC), our research sought to uncover factors impacting stakeholders in the encryption debate, with the aim of producing an impact assessment and decision-making framework targeted at policymakers. These factors were examined through two lenses: socio-political and economic. The socio-political lens includes the implications on human rights, national security and public safety. ISOC requested that the economic lens be investigated citing the apparent lack of evidence showing the economic effects of weakening encryption; this entailed innovation, consumer trust and economic competitiveness.

Our research, therefore, addressed the overarching question “What should policymakers be aware of and consider in their decisions concerning the weakening of encryption technologies?”

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Tracking the spread of science with machine learning

Basil Mahfouz18 November 2021

On 3-5 November 2021, I joined research professionals from across the Network for Advancing and Evaluating the Societal Impact of Science (AESIS) to discuss state of the art methods for evaluating the impact of research. Participants showcased institutional best practices, stakeholder engagement strategies, as well as how to leverage emerging data sources.  In this blog, I reflect on the conversations initiated at the conference, drawing upon insights gained throughout my research at STEaPP.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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