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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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Is a total ban of plastic bags good and inclusive? Lessons from Rwanda

katerynatsybenko24 September 2021

In June 2021, Ukraine adopted a law to ban plastic bags. The ban will be implemented in stages: in December 2021, bags up to 50 microns thick will be banned; on March 2022, bags 15 microns thick will be banned. Only very small thin bags for transporting fish, meat, ice will be allowed but for a limited period of time. Starting from January 1 2023, only biodegradable bags will be allowed. Similar bans have been imposed in other countries, such as Rwanda and the UK, and in the EU. Radical policies to ban plastic bags may improve environmental sustainability, but there can be unintended consequences. They should be anticipated and carefully planned for.

plastic bags in different colours at lanfill

Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

The new Ukrainian law stipulates fines for using plastic bags: 1700-8500 UAH (45-215GBP, while 150GBP is a minimum salary) from December 2021, and 8500-34000 UAH (215-850 GBP) from March 2022.

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Careers Advice for STEAPP Career Changers

Siobhan Pipa22 July 2021

By Pablo Costa and Amy Lourenco

Many of our UCL STEaPP MPA students are hoping to make a career change to work for a range of policy/strategy focussed organisations all over the world after a successful career in another field. As MPA students approach the end of their courses we wanted to share a few tips for those who are embarking on this career change.

Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash

You are not alone

You might be career-changing, but you are certainly not the first nor the last to do so. In fact, it is becoming more and more common.  According to an Aviva 2021 report, the number of people in the UK planning a career change has increased from 53% to 60% since July 2020. This same report states that over UK 700,000 workers plan to switch to a role that helps others; much like the reason why many MPA students choose to find roles within the public sector. Making a career shift can be challenging but remember you are not alone in this journey and support is available up to 3 years after graduation from the UCL Careers team.

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