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Archive for the 'Research' Category

The best intergovernmental platform that you’ve never heard of… until now

CarlaWashbourne7 May 2019

Last week saw hundreds of people gather in Paris for what some have described as the ‘IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) for nature’. The ‘Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’, or IPBES to its friends, works to produce knowledge on the state of nature and to support the development of skills and capacity to promote its sustainable use. As an independent, intergovernmental body, IPBES spends much of its time building the policy case for biodiversity and ecosystem services; helping policy-makers to make more informed decisions for a sustainable future.


So why, might you ask, have you never heard anything about IPBES? Good question!

IPBES-7 Plenary Hall at UNESCO, Paris (Photo Credit: Carla Washbourne)

I was privileged to attended the most recent plenary meeting of the platform ‘IPBES-7’, which took place last week in Paris, as part of the delegation of the Young Ecosystem Services Specialists (YESS), and can offer a few possible answers:

IPBES is pretty young. It was established back in 2012 through the collective effort of 94 governments. A relative toddler in the world of intergovernmental panels (IPCC, in comparison, was founded in 1988, back when Rick Astley was in the charts and Die Hard was hitting the cinemas!) IPBES has spent its foundational years fine tuning and formalising its methods and approaches and beginning to produce critical reviews on the state of nature. Many thousands of people have contributed to its work and its key knowledge insights are slowly emerging in to the public sphere. It may, of course, take some more years to reach full visibility, but the signs are encouraging. As the IPBES ‘Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ emerged from embargo on 6th May 2019, thousands of international news corporations ran with IPBES inspired headlines from the BBC (‘Nature crisis: Humans ‘threaten 1m species with extinction’) to CNN (‘Is nature over? Maybe‘).

IPBES is heavily focussed on producing technical reports and policy documents. Its assessment reports and other knowledge outputs to date have often been tailored towards technical and decision-making audiences, meaning that they haven’t always been prime fodder for hitting the headlines. They do, however, strive to find their way on to the desks of people calling the shots in environmental decision-making. A lot of visible IPBES activities centre around its plenary meetings, like IPBES-7, which see the attendance of delegations of decision-makers, scientists and civil society actors from across the globe. Over six days of discussion at IPBES-7, the platform’s work to date and its programme for the coming years were respectively signed off and confirmed. Critically, the country-level representatives also agreed and approved two documents for release: the ‘Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ and the ‘Summary for Policy Makers’ of the Global Assessment. These documents provide an important contribution to our knowledge, supporting action towards a more sustainable future.

IPBES forces us to face up to some very difficult truths. Nature is a critical part of so many of our lives, supporting us even when we are unaware of it doing so. Many ecosystems across the planet are already seriously degraded, many others are in decline. Pollution, overexploitation and misuse are often to blame. Many of these harsh realities come as a direct or indirect consequence of human development. Good news, it isn’t… The IPCC has a similar struggle on its hands, convincing the world of the veracity and criticality of human-influenced climate change and, perhaps most importantly, leveraging appropriate action in the face of seemingly overwhelming challenges. For the IPCC, its words have now percolated in to policy and the public realm, sparking everything from global agreements to individual-level action on climate change. The findings of IPBES ‘Global Assessment…’, and other work, suggests that we need equally aspirational and strong commitments on nature, to ensure the continued quality of life on earth. Reassuringly, it seems that just this conversation in now on more and more people’s lips.


It isn’t always smooth sailing. Like any huge participatory process, IPBES has its challenges. It moves at a relatively slow pace, it has a limited budget and limited capacity. As an observer of IPBES-7, I experienced firsthand the sometimes frustrating and ironically slow pace at which materials discussing the urgency and global scope of challenges are agreed upon. However, through this measured and considered process IPBES has already increased our collective knowledge and brought to the fore many voices that had not previously been present in these platforms, most notably indigenous and local knowledge from across the globe. It has set itself a very high bar: to find consensus between many different world-views on the present and future of our global ecosystems.

The fact that we can collectively work together towards solving such grand challenges means that, while the future of nature remains in the balance, I walk away from IPBES-7 with renewed hope and a renewed drive to keep on working alongside the many other inspiring people who choose to face these big global issues head on. Hopefully you will only hear more and more about IPBES from hereon in.


The UK’s 5G Infrastructure Security – Update from CyberUK, Glasgow

Mark AJohnson29 April 2019

Written by Dr Madeline Carr, Deputy Head of STEaPP and Director of Research

Timeline of 100 Years of the Cyber Mission

Last week thousands of cyber security practitioners, industry representatives, policymakers and academics gathered at the Armadillo in Glasgow for what has become one of the highlights of the annual calendar of events – CyberUK. The brainchild of the National Cyber Security Centre, this event offers a couple of days of carefully curated panel sessions, tutorials, games, social events and keynote addresses. CyberUK is an opportunity to pause and reflect on what’s happened in this dynamic space over the past 12 months, to get an update on strategic thinking that will shape the coming years and to engage with the very latest in research and development.

One of the dominant issues that continually fed into conversations both on and off the stages, was the question of supply chain security – particularly with regards to 5G. And particularly with regards to the Chinese giant, Huawei. If you’re not sure why 5G matters, (beyond the assumption that it must be better for mobile phones than 3G and 4G and therefore, we want it) you should read this blog post by the NCSC’s Technical Director, Dr Ian Levy. It’s a beautifully written piece that explains the broader significance (as well as some fancy technical details that I didn’t know) in clear, plain language.

In a nutshell, the roll-out and successful implementation of 5G will be the foundation upon which a lot of technological innovation (including the Internet of Things) will increasingly be built. It will be the framework – the scaffolding – that makes a lot of other innovations possible. As is often the case with technological innovation of this scale and complexity, there are a few key players leading the field. These include ZTE, Ericsson, Nokia and Huawei.

One of the factors that we focus on in the Digital Technologies Policy Lab is the link between technological innovation and political outcomes. We know that dominance in emerging technologies leads to a certain type of power to set the agenda, develop rules, and shape the future. The Internet emerged in an American vision, largely defined by the ‘Atari Democrats’ like Al Gore and Bill Clinton who saw it as a mechanism for expanding markets, promoting human rights and spreading democratisation. Given the long-term significance of 5G infrastructure, it is understandable that governments are thinking carefully about who to partner with.

To unpack this, CyberUK hosted a panel on the first morning that was the highlight of the event for me. They had a senior representative from each of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing group on stage to discuss (among other things) this question of supply chain security and 5G. Huawei has been banned from building the US 5G infrastructure due to concerns about the nature of its relationship with the Chinese state and there has been pressure (expected to intensify) from the US for all four intelligence partners to do the same. Australia has followed suit, but New Zealand and Canada are yet to decide on their position.

In the UK, Huawei has already been involved in building some parts of our 5G infrastructure. In order to establish a clear basis for the security and resilience of UK telecoms networks and services, the UK government implemented the Telecoms Supply Chain Review. The review has not yet been made public but last week, there was a Cabinet level leak which revealed that the UK intended to continue to allow Huawei to build some parts of the UK 5G infrastructure. (This transcript from the Hansard makes good reading.)

The CyberUK Five Eyes panel revealed close alignment in the sense that all agreed on the fact that 5G infrastructure security is critical. Image of the Five Eyes Panel at Cyber UKBut it also revealed some divergence on how to get there. In his Plenary Address, the Director of GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, pointed out that when they ‘analyse a company for their suitability to supply equipment to the UK’s telecoms networks, we are looking at the risks that arise from their security and engineering processes, as well as the way these technologies are deployed in our national telecom networks. The flag of origin of 5G equipment is important, but it is a secondary factor.’

The geopolitics of emerging technology is changing. We’re seeing a growing recognition that markets alone will not deliver the kind of cyber security necessary for future innovation and that governments do have an important role to play in incentivising and moderating private actors. It is clear that finding innovative ways to govern ‘wicked problems’ like global cyber security will be as essential for future positive outcomes as research that takes place at the lab bench. Providing forward momentum on this is at the heart of the Digital Technologies Policy Lab and it is part of why we value our education programmes so highly.

For the time being, it looks as though Huawei will continue to build out parts of the UK 5G infrastructure, under close supervision from the government and the NCSC. But as with many things in UK politics right now, let’s see what next week brings.








Next Gen Cyber Security

Mark AJohnson11 April 2019

Written by Tom Henderson, MPA Candidate (Digital Technologies and Public Policy)

Image of Tom Henderson








Getting involved in cyber security can often seem like a daunting prospect. Yet we know that organisations across the public, private and charity sectors are crying out for the next generation of cyber security professionals

In recognition of this, the UK Government has devised an Initial Cyber Security Skills Strategy, which focuses on ensuring that:

  1. The UK has a well structured and easy to navigate cyber security profession which represents, supports and drives excellence in the different cyber security specialisms, and is sustainable and responsive to change
  2. The UK has education and training systems that provide the right building blocks to help identify, train and place new and untapped cyber security talent
  3. The UK’s general workforce has the right blend and level of skills needed for a truly secure digital economy, with UK-based organisations across all sectors equipped to make informed decisions about their cyber security risk management
  4. The UK remains a global leader in cyber security with access to the best talent, with a public sector that leads by example in developing cyber security capability

However, the Government has openly acknowledged that there may be significant gaps in their approach. Therefore, on the 13th February 2019, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) hosted the first of a series of ‘call for views’ at TechUK in London to solicit feedback on their plans from a diverse range of stakeholders linked to industry, professional organisations, students, employers, existing cyber security professionals and academics.

Why was this session important?

The thought-provoking session touched on numerous issues associated with skills development within the cyber security industry. For example, we spoke about the barriers which prevent the public sector from setting an example to organisations in the private and charity sectors, about how cyber security could be rebranded to drive a more engaging national discourse and how the Government’s plans could give greater attention to the non-technical dimensions of cyber security to attract individuals from more diverse cross-sections of society. Similarly, participants explored how aptitude testing could be used more effectively to support untapped and diverse talent including women, neurodiverse individuals, graduates and the elderly.

In addition, we talked about the potential importance of structural factors- such as budgetary pressures- that may ultimately lead to discrepancies in the cyber skills gap recorded across different sectors. Likewise, we thought about how our existing knowledge, particularly in relation to the risk-management of Critical National Infrastructure (CNI), could be revised in the context of emerging cyber risks, how the way that we measure the effectiveness of schemes designed to boost cyber skills development may lead to a misallocation of vital resources, how the UK could contribute to a clearer international context for cyber security innovation and simultaneously promote its interests abroad, and whether this strategy should place greater emphasis on the liability of the private sector regarding the general cyber security skills provision.

How is this information relevant to me/ UCL STEaPP?

The focus of this session was highly relevant to the STEaPP Digital Technology and Policy MPA cohort, who have recently analysed the International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) Guide to Developing a National Cyber Security Strategy (NCSS) and the socio-technical nature of cyber security policy in different geo-political contexts. Similarly, discussions arising during this session touched on issues that have previously been addressed in work conducted by the Research Institute for the Science of Cyber Security (RISCS), in conjunction with the Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP) at University College London (UCL). For example, a recent project looked at how human-related cyber risks could be mitigated by improving cyber hygiene. Furthermore, the Digital Policy Lab at UCL STEaPP has co-designed a number of projects with policy makers which focus on evaluating cyber security evidence for policy advice, cybersecurity governance mapping, issues of gender and IoT in cyber security. Finally, PETRAS, the 11-university Cybersecurity of the Internet of Things research hub, recently held an event at the House of Lords on February 12th 2019, concluding a three-year long programme of research and engagement which has been led by UCL.

What’s next?

Publication of this initial strategy for cyber security skills development introduces a ten-week call for views, which aims to provide all those interested in cyber security with an opportunity to engage and help shape and refine it. DCMS will be running a series of engagement events across England and the devolved administrations throughout early 2019 and has published a number of questions that it would like to get feedback on.

If you would like to contribute to this call for views and help to formulate the Government’s final strategy for improving cyber security skills in the UK, you can apply to take part in-person, or can access an official survey online.

Gender and IoT: UCL STEaPP Research and Teaching in Action

Mark AJohnson14 March 2019


For this year’s International Women’s Day, several UCL STEaPP MPA students had the opportunity to attend the seminar and training event Technology and Violence Against Women – Helping or Harming? hosted by AVA (Against Violence & Abuse). It offered the MPA cohort the chance to learn outside the classroom, connect teaching and practice, and see first-hand how UCL STEaPP research is supporting frontline organisations active in the field of violence against women and girls (VAWG). Dr Leonie Maria Tanczer, lecturer at UCL STEaPP and lead of UCL’s “Gender and IoT” (G-IoT) research project, was accompanying the students and presented at the event. She was one of a diverse group of speakers, including representatives from the College of Policing, the charity SafeLives, and the research consultancy Think Social Tech.

“The event was eye-opening. Understanding how technology is used in VAWG cases to a human’s detriment was soul-wrenching,” says Isabella Manghi, MPA candidate in the Digital Technologies stream. “However, there was hope too, considering that this group of experts came together to discuss how to protect victims and what measures can be taken in order to ensure their safety.”

Sarah Turner, another MPA candidate of STEaPP’s Digital Technology and Policy cohort recognised the significance of involving the support sector in this particular area of work:

“Technology is becoming ever-more prevalent as a means of carrying out violence against individuals. Yet, it’s an incredibly complex and overwhelming subject to get to grips with. It’s therefore so important that those supporting victims of abuse ultimately recognise how technology may play a role in their coercion and control and to have awareness of the relatively simple steps that can be taken to improve safety”.

For Sarah it “reiterated the need for digital literacy for anyone who works to support these groups and communities”, which essentially underpins all of the research and teaching done at the Digital Policy Lab at UCL STEaPP.

Zoey Tung, a fellow MPA student, saw the necessity to translate research into practice: “I learned a lot on how technology is altering VAWG, as well as how academic research has a real-world impact for frontline workers and survivors in the field and opens up opportunities for intervention. It was a positive and supportive seminar and showed how women can feel safe and empowered through the effective and secure use of devices and systems.”

Carlotta Battisti, a MPA candidate from UCL STEaPP’s Development and Innovation stream, explains that “the seminar was really stimulating, especially because of the different professional backgrounds of the panelists. As part of the debate, the panelists discussed the main regulatory gaps in preventing and responding to all the forms of tech abuse and, more importantly, they stressed the importance of ‘speaking out’, so as to incentivise IoT manufactures to introduce safety measures to domestic abuse and raise awareness in society.”

The student’s attendance at the seminar was part of the STEaPP Digital Policy Lab’s #STEaPPLearningCurve programme, which aims to connect MPA students with the ongoing research happening at the department.

If you are interested in finding out more about the G-IoT research, please consult the project webpage and further details about our MPA programmes can be found online.

STEaPP Internship: Choreographing the City

30 August 2018

STEaPP intern Luke Gregory Jones reflects on 6 months working on the Choreographing the City research project

In my time with UCL STEaPP I have been fortunate to observe, produce and reflect upon some hugely exciting research. The project I have been a part of, Choreographing the City, brings forward the productive possibilities of collaborative action between choreographic thinking and doing, and engineering. It is clear, the problems facing our contemporary cities require a diverse and trans-disciplinary approach. Expertise need to be challenged and shared across distant and seemingly unconnected fields. Choreographing the city, taking this transdisciplinarity as its starting point, brought together choreographers and engineers to discuss how they might work together to choreograph a city more sympathetic to the unique movements and diverse nee shapes of its citizenry.

My role in the project can be broadly split into two aspects. The first has been to consider, study and analyse the primary research produced by Dr Ellie Cosgrave and Dr John Bingham-Hall as part of the previous research workshops. These 5 workshops, which took place in the Autumn of 2017, each invited a choreographer and an engineer to, firstly, explore and analyse a particular area of central London (including Kings Cross, Euston and Great Portland Street), and then secondly to be interviewed jointly to reflect on the parallel theories and practices of choreography and engineering. I have been calling on the interview transcripts, workshop film footage, and the participants work sheets and notes, to write a results paper. The aim of the paper is to communicate the theoretical importance of the research, elucidate our methodology, and also to offer a framework of analysis, based on the research, for the existing but also the potential relationship between choreography and engineering. The intention is to publish this paper in both choreographic and engineering journals, to continue the logic of collaborative action that threads throughout the research.

The second part of my internship has been to help facilitate, document and photograph a number of additional workshops. This additional programme of workshops is a direct result of the emergent themes from the research, and in many ways attempts to build upon some of the live and unfolding findings of the project whilst also bringing into circulation interested practitioners and potential collaborators. The first workshop was run by award-winning choreographer Hagit Yakira at UCL’s Pedestrian Accessibility Movement Environment Laboratory. This workshop brought together practicing engineers – planners, transport engineers, architects, consultants and computational modellers – to explore the choreographic method of improvisatory design. UCL’s PAMELA explores and expands the limits of quantitative engineering modelling, and aims to centre qualitative human-scale modelling to the engineering process. This was, then, the perfect location to expand this even further through the modelling and creative techniques of choreography. Yakira lead a movement workshop within the Laboratory, before leading the participants out into the world to explore movement within urban space. Yakira found news ways for the engineers to explore, inhabit and move through space. This was a collaborative exchange of how choreographers and engineers experience and understand space, and as such points to the epistemological possibilities of collaboration.

The second workshop I have been involved with was a symposium held at Siobhan Davies Dance studios, as part of the London Festival of Architecture, entitled: How does the city move you? On bodies, identity and urban design. This symposium, which once again brought together an incredibly diverse audience from the worlds of architecture, dance, engineering and design, also concluded a week long residency at the studios by dance company Candoco Dance Company – a company that brings together disabled and non-disabled dancers. Discussions on urban identities, urban mobility and human-centred design were concluded by the creation and performance of original dance work by Candoco. Where Yakira’s workshop had sought to bring the benefits of improvisatory design to engineers, this symposium brought together new and original discourses surrounding the contemporary city, and demonstrated that choreography is ideally placed to contribute to a more emancipatory, more human-centred, contemporary city.

These two workshops, as well as previous workshops and also ones to come, were an opportunity for us to put our research back into the world. The emergent themes from the research were given space to unfold, and in some ways given back to the practitioners to put into practice. It seems clear that this is a type of methodology in its own right, and bridges the gap between the academic and real-world aspects of the project. As part of my internship, I have been able to reflect on and write up these workshops, both for UCL’s online publishing and also Theatrum Mundi’s website. Thus also demonstrating the various levels this projects lives in; from academic publishing, dance workshops, symposiums and online blogging.

As my internship is coming to end, I have been working with Dr Cosgrave and Dr Bingham-Hall in planning the future life of this project. Part of this is related to funding, and we have been working alongside Professor Nick Tyler to discuss how we can have a more concrete and productive relationship with PAMELA. One of the most valuable assets of the project has been to bring together keen and interest practitioners from incredibly broad fields, and from this network lots of new and innovate research and collaboration can take place.


Conversation with Youba Sokona

12 January 2018

Dr Youba Sokona is an Honorary Professor at STEaPP. He visited the Department on 6 and 7 December and had a number of meetings with faculty and students. In one of the conversations with Dr Julius Mugwagwa and Prof Yacob Mulugetta, he shared his thoughts as follows:

1. Youba, you have been thinking and working on energy, climate change and development issues for a long time now, what motivates you to keep going?

In reality my work and focus have all the time been on development in Africa. Development is complex and complicated in particular for Africa and other low-income regions as you have to deal with a multiplicity of intertwined issues – all high priority and important – with constraints imposed from the African continent and from outside the African continent, both reinforcing each other. An adequate approach to dealing with such complex systems is energy access as a strategic entry point. Energy is a central prerequisite for development. It is a key requirement for adequate access to basic education, health care and food; for industrialisation, for transport, infrastructure, for wellbeing and as a building block for dealing with poverty and delivering benefits of development. Everything human beings engage with and/or need requires energy. Unfortunately, this is not yet well understood by policy makers in most developing countries. Climate change is another entry point for approaching development issues – fully informed by scientific knowledge on climate change – particularly for a continent like Africa due to the fact that the continent has the advantage of being a late comer on the road to development and has not yet experienced any lock-in effect with high anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. Africa is thus open to exploring new ideas and new avenues for making development more sustainable and climate compatible. Energy, climate change and development, all require enduring and long term effort. This is part of my motivation.

2. Reflecting on when you started off, which issues still under discussion are a surprise to you?

Poverty, capacity building and access (for energy, food and health) – these are not new issues, yet they remain persistent challenges. Lots of studies have been done on these, and in my view one of the fundamental problems is that we are addressing symptoms and not the root cause of problems. Lack of development is the problem, the core issue. Development should come first. There needs to be agreement to move away from addressing symptoms, across the board from funders, agenda-setters and decision-makers at global and national levels and among the implementers. This means having radical structural transformation in the form of industrialisation that allows countries to move from being only raw material producers to higher up the value chain as part of efforts to capture greater value. This will not be easy since much of the space is already occupied. Africa though has the advantage of huge resources, both human and physical, that it can harness. But Africa has to move fast since the window is closing.  A leadership that is in ‘sleep mode’ can only feed into negative spirals such as the persistent focus on high levels of youth unemployment, migration, destitution and destabilisation.  When focus shifts to the core issue of development, even the kind of data or evidence we collect will change and where we spend available resources too. Local voices are indispensable in this endeavour.

3. These areas, climate change in particular, are fraught with conflicting ideologies, systems and models. What is the way forward on this in your view?

From an African perspective, but equally for other developing regions – as I said before – the urgent issue is to bring development back to the centre and making sure the required development is compatible with climate change. Indeed, there are too many players, and there is a historical logic to it (good or bad as it may be depending on one’s standpoint). For example, there have been arguments that the proliferation of NGOs in the 1980s and 1990s dismantled and severely weakened the public sector in the global south. Of course, the political elite in Africa played its part in the process as it handed over power, and in some cases even colluded with those who were intent on ‘disciplining’ Africa to their version of adjustment, which later came to be known as the Washington Consensus. The focus now should be to strengthen the public service and making it more responsible, efficient and effective; like what you see in the global north and emerging economies where the public/civil service is generally very strong. There is a correlation between strength of institutions and the confidence that stakeholders have in long-term planning efforts and outputs. It is only after this that the private sector can play its part of the game effectively.

4. Issues of capacity-building and political will are mentioned a lot, for example regarding climate change mitigation and energy access. What’s your take on these issues?

In Africa, political will existed in the 1960s when most countries gained political independence, but this period of great optimism got eroded by economic structural adjustment programmes and in some cases ‘political experimentation’ which later backfired or got corrupted by the ineptitude of indigenous leadership, leading to internal conflict in some countries. In my view, political will is slowly re-emerging in individual countries like Rwanda, Ghana, Ethiopia, Tanzania and at the African Union level. It is a critical prerequisite for any form or type of positive societal transformation to happen, including tackling climate change and ensuring energy access for development. While political statements at different levels can be a good sign of political will, beyond that I always say there are four fundamental requirements: system leadership; strong institutions; resources; and programmes that are addressing pressing urgent societal needs and longer term developmental imperatives. Capacity building sits at the centre of these pillars, and is a process that requires long-term commitment and enduring effort. Certain historical trajectories have shaped and locked-in the way these issues are handled across different countries. I would also add that western countries should not see assertive countries in the global south as adversaries, like what happened in the early post-independence era, but rather welcome this new form of self-actualization. It is a win-win situation as it would mean countries are trying their best to deliver meaningful results and contribute to global development goals.

5. What is the one output from all your policy work that you are most proud of?

We offered energy planning training to many young African energy administrators, energy professionals, research institutions and practitioners from 1985 to 1993. We viewed this as an instance of ‘getting down to business’, and being concrete, with a view to showing policy makers the need to build from the bottom-up by understanding their reality. In the words of Paolo Freire, ‘we build the road by walking’ – we were trying to create the space for energy dialogue by bringing together young Africans from different countries to interact with others, learn from these dialogues, and begin to piece together their specific reality, and imagine their country’s or region’s energy future. While that training could not be sustained due to financial constraints or in fact lack of political will or support, some of the beneficiaries of that training are still playing active and key roles in energy matters in Africa and globally today.

6. If you were to give a piece of advice to policy scholars, what would that be?

Funding is a key part of what gets done or not done, but a scholar should always maintain his/her integrity. I recommend what I call the slow onset strategy … within the big funded agenda, find a way of developing your own, complementary agenda which will allow you to stand out, so that you do not just become part of history, but you can also create history. Having said that, let me end by saying that STEaPP’s contribution to the development of critical and agile policy scholars who are able to work on key technology-related policy issues across the world is highly commendable. Synergistic partnerships with institutions in the global south providing similar training or utilising such scholars should be urgently explored to support countries addressing Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and Climate Change.

Image: Dr Youba Sokona at a panel discussion on the organization of work and production, Flickr Photo 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) © Marcel Crozet / ILO

Perspectives on the STEaPP Internship: Public policy processes and knowledge systems

AliceFerns17 July 2017

alessandro-allegra-smallSTEaPP Intern Alessandro Allegra takes stock two-thirds of the way into his internship working on research project Public policy processes and knowledge systems.

I have been working on a project with Dr Chris Tyler and Dr Adam Cooper to investigate public policy processes and knowledge systems. The first thing I had to do for the project was figure out what exactly we mean by a ‘policy process’. This was not just because of my ignorance, but because it turns out that, although there are no shortage of definitions and diagrams out there describing the policy process, it turns out that they often have very little resemblance with happens in the corridors of Whitehall.

By surveying the existing literature, analysing the paper trail behind some specific policy initiatives, and talking to people who have been involved in government policy in various roles, I have started building a more nuanced picture. Rather than a neat and orderly cycle of well-distinguished stages, the process seems to be more composed of phases that blend into each other, often with iterations and feedback loops, where the boundaries can only be drawn retrospectively through post-hoc rationalisation.

This more nuanced understanding of what happens at the coalface of policymaking is so far the greatest lesson that I have learned during my time at STEaPP, and has several implications for how we understand the role of scientific knowledge in it. The next step of the project will be bringing these insights together into a coherent model, and validate it though discussion with practitioners. This will then allow to ask questions about the use for evidence in policy from a different perspective, such as for example what pressures and constraints civil servants encounter in their daily policy work, what activities and cognitive processes they engage with, and how vulnerable the whole process is to individual cognitive biases we are inevitably victim of.

STEaPP Research Internships 2018

To find out about details of our internship programme for 2018, visit the internship webpages.

Perspectives on the STEaPP Internship: Urban knowledge for resilience building

AliceFerns17 July 2017

clementine-chazalSTEaPP intern Clementine Chazal reflects on 6 months working on research project Urban knowledge for socially urban resilient strategies in Cape Town:

I have been working with Enora Robin and Dr Rocio Carrero from STEaPP’s City Leadership Laboratory. The project looks at the production of knowledge in the aftermath of an urban crisis and whether or not this knowledge can be integrated and translated into resilient strategies at the local level. We chose Cape Town as our first case study looking at social unrest, violence towards foreign nationals and breakouts of xenophobia – these issues were identified as the main resilience challenges for the City of Cape Town by the 100resilientCities programme (Rockfeller Foundation).

Following a preliminary research period, our team travelled to Cape Town to undertake a week of fieldwork and conduct interviews with key informants. We met with a diverse range of professionals who enthusiastically/insightfully shared knowledge on urban violence and migration in Cape Town. It was a fantastic opportunity to embrace and understand the complexity of the South African context.

We aim to share the database we created on actors involved and existing knowledge on urban violence in Cape Town, as well as writing a policy brief, an academic paper and to present the findings of this project at the International Conference on African Urban Planning in Lisbon in September. The first findings of this project revealed the need to create bridges between the existing initiatives on data collection from academic institutions, civil society and public authorities; as well as the need to create a structure that can act as a potential catalyst for knowledge sharing between those different actors, and thus improve the building of holistic and integrated policy interventions. Issues of urban migration and subsequent arising tensions are not specific to Cape Town but are issues that many cities are facing today, as it was highlighted in the Global Forum on Urban Resilience and Adaptation (Bonn, 4-6 May 2017). Therefore, I believe that this project should be pursued in a comparative analysis with other cities of the Global South.

I gained a lot of skills from this project: I got to work on every aspect of the research, from preliminary research to mapping of actors and social network analysis, organising fieldwork to conducting, transcribing and analysing the interviews. It is inspiring to work in a dynamic environment like the City Leadership Laboratory and more generally UCL STEaPP. I am now participating in a collaborative project between Nature Sustainability and UCL STEaPP and I hope that I to be involved in further projects within the Lab.

I wish to continue working on (and in) Cape Town and more broadly on sub-Saharan African cities. This project fed my interests for the concepts of urban resilience and migration. I would love to continue work on those topics exploring issues of climate migration and the building of innovative sustainable strategies for African Cities.

Taxi station in Langa, Cape Town, photo by Clementine Chazal

Taxi station in Langa, Cape Town

Gugulethu, Cape Town

Townships, Cape Town


Kalkbay, Cape Town


V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

Photographs by Clementine Chazal: chazal.clementine@gmail.com

Follow Clementine on Twitter

STEaPP Research Internships 2018

To find out about details of our internship programme for 2018, visit the internship webpages.

Perspectives on the STEaPP Internship: Urban observatories and the new urban agenda

AliceFerns17 July 2017

joanna-sawkinJoanna Sawkins discusses her experiences as an intern at STEaPP working on the Shaping Informed Cities project and her thoughts on the role of internships today:

When you tell someone you are going to do an internship often they are worried for you. Low pay or no pay, part time, temporary, low skilled work, stuck in a corner somewhere, ‘doing your time’ until you can get a real job. Internships have a bad name, and in many cases rightly so. I came to STEaPP from working firstly in place marketing and then at a contemporary arts centre. Although I have been fairly lucky myself when it has come to internships, (to get a job in contemporary art I gained experience through weekend volunteering in place of interning) I have seen and heard many internship horror stories from friends and colleagues.

Rather than being a sneaky way to skirt labour laws, an internship should be an opportunity, for both parties. Interns should be employed on projects rather than in roles and should, throughout the internship, always be learning new skills and gaining new experiences. Because interns don’t necessarily need to have direct experience of doing what they are going to do, internships can help organisations attract different types of people to their teams, such as those from widening participation backgrounds. An internship should be an opportunity for someone to try out a new sector, gain some skills and access role models that could help them to make decisions about what they want their future to look like. This is the sort of opportunity I was looking for and I found it through an internship at STEaPP.

I joined the department as an Urban Science Intern working part-time for five months on a project with Dr Carla-Leanne Washbourne entitled Shaping Informed Cities. During my first few weeks I found the return to academia challenging. Initially, the project required a lot of what I now know as “desktop research”. Most days involved finding and collating things I was finding online, in databases and on old websites. Months later I was thankful of the level of depth I went into with the early research material but I do remember finding it difficult to focus and unnatural to sit at a desk all day. Once I realised that I was here because I have the capacity to look at material critically, I started keeping a journal to track how my ideas were evolving and created questions to guide my research. I also started going to talks and reading more widely and in different locations. After this things began to get a lot easier and more exciting.

As part of my internship I was required to undertake fieldwork in South Africa! This section of the research took place just over half way through my time and was a real game changer for my thinking on the project and also my thinking on my future. This fieldwork trip was the first time I experienced a blending of my academic interests with my professional skills. I spent a week giving presentations, conducting interviews and forming relationships – things my career has seen me do everyday but in completely different contexts. It was amazing to be able to do the things I am good at in a field I truly have a passion for. I also got to go to a new country and got to know Carla better.

My internship has been really well structured. Across the five months I have presented my research to other members of the department three times and produced two written outputs. Sometimes deadlines have been tight and I have had to do extra work at home. This sort of pressure has been good: I have been pushed but not pushed over the edge. I work elsewhere in the borough three to four days a week but the flexible and friendly nature of this internship made that manageable in the short term. Working so much would have been harder if I hadn’t felt so supported at STEaPP. The last five months have been a special and important time for me and could prove to be a turning point in my career. I am currently making an application to continue my research at PhD level. At STEaPP of course! As the first person in my family to go to university this is a future I could never have predicted and I look forward to what the next chapter brings.

STEaPP Research Internships 2018

To find out about details of our internship programme for 2018, visit the internship webpages.

Perspectives on the STEaPP internship: Understanding and transforming sensors for socio-technical energy research

AliceFerns17 July 2017

Trupti Patel reviews six months as a STEaPP intern working on STEaPP’s Physics and Energy Social Research project:

trupti-patelI am coming to the end of my initial internship here at STEaPP on thermal comfort with Dr Adam Cooper. Fortunately however, through the process we have won a UCL Grand Challenges grant, so I will be continuing for an additional few months. I took the internship hoping to gain some experience within an interdisciplinary environment and to help me decide on next steps after my PhD on Quantum Sensors, which I am currently writing up.  At first, the intention was to read up on thermal comfort and look at physical measurement techniques used within the field. From this I was to help write a grant application and organise a workshop. After a period of reading the literature, I began a review and designed a future experiment. We applied for further funding through UCL Grand Challenges to conduct this experiment and won! I am currently writing a paper on the research I have conducted so far and am beginning to think about what needs to be done for the experiment.

I have enjoyed the philosophical view Adam, my advisor, has on the subject and all he has taught me; I have very engaging meetings with him in which we discuss our ideas. I had never before had the experience of writing a grant application and learnt a lot through the process. Coming from a physical science background, I have thoroughly enjoyed being exposed to ideas from social science and feel I have expanded my horizons. The work I have conducting in bringing the two strands of research in thermal comfort together –  both the social and the physical – could potentially have an impact within the field itself and has wider implications for building standards.

The project has helped me decide on my career goals, as I am currently applying for postdocs and fellowships in more interdisciplinary fields. I have been very impressed with STEaPP – the staff here are extremely friendly and supportive. There is a real community atmosphere and people are more than willing to help each other. The support staff are extremely professional and approachable – they really create such a warm atmosphere. I have made some great friends here who I am sure I will see again after finishing my internship.

STEaPP Research Internships 2018

To find out about details of our internship programme for 2018, visit the internship webpages.