X Close

UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy

Home

Applied in Focus. Global in Reach

Menu

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.

(more…)

Covid-19 and the chance to build back better for mental health

Shirah M Zirabamuzale23 November 2020

My doctoral project on Sustainable and Responsible Innovation in Mental Health (SRIMH) investigates the feasibility and utility of healthcare policies and architectures that on one hand promote mental health through patient-centric designs and design responsibility, and on the other through sustainable and thoughtful environmental design embedding regenerative and adaptive reuse/preservation strategies. Mental illnesses are increasingly recognised as a leading cause of disability worldwide, yet many countries have fragmented funding models, policy structures and physical infrastructures. Mental well-being affects community spirit, education and the economy, making it a priority for governments worldwide.

Mural of cupped hands

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted and, in some cases, halted critical mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide yet the demand for mental health is increasing, as highlighted in a recent WHO survey. The survey of 130 countries provides the first global data showing the devastating impact of COVID-19 on access to mental health services and underscores the urgent need for increased funding, technological innovation and policy interventions that advance the role of the built environment and SRIMH in improving mental health for citizens.

(more…)

Kind scholars, wicked problems: Life in a Centre for Doctoral Training in Cybersecurity

Niamh F Healy24 September 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated our reliance on digital technologies as we have used them to work, to stay in contact with friends and family, and even to tackle the virus itself. The use of these technologies is not without risks however, as shown in the increase in cyber-attacks during the pandemic.

UCL’s Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Cybersecurity is a new initiative set up to train the next generation of thinkers who will tackle these issues of cybersecurity and emerging technology. The Centre is formed across three UCL departments – Computer Science, Security and Crime Science, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP) – reflecting the program’s cross-disciplinary intentions. The CDT is founded on the acknowledgement that issues of cybersecurity and emerging technologies necessitate thinkers who can navigate disciplinary boundaries, for problems of cybersecurity cannot be neatly contained within one subject box. I am a member of the CDT’s first cohort and have just finished my first year of the four-year programme. It has been a fascinating albeit challenging year!

CDT in Cybersecurity cohort

CDT in Cybersecurity cohort

(more…)

Understanding Engineering Advice in Policy Practice

laurent.liote.1920 August 2020

Laurent Liote is a first year PhD student at UCL STEaPP. He is also a member of the 21st Century Decision Making research unit. Follow him on LinkedIn (Laurent Liote) and twitter (@LaurentLiote).

“So, what’s your PhD on again?”

What is the worst question you can ask a PhD student? You guessed it, the classic “so what’s your topic then?”. I generally mumble academic buzzwords for three minutes before looking at my confused interlocutor and concluding: “Huh, basically political science”. So, this post is my attempt at clearly explaining what my research is about, and by extension what the next three years of my life will look like.

My research interest was sparked by something I read in the 2018 National Infrastructure Commission report (yes, I read those for fun): “policy design [is to be] embedded into the engineering-driven culture of infrastructure planning”. This raises several questions, what is an engineering-driven culture and what does that mean for engineering expertise in the policy process? More digging revealed that very little research had been done on engineering advice for policy; no one had systematically looked at why interactions between engineering experts and other policy officials happen the way they do and what that means for the policy process.

(more…)

Coordinating Innovation (Policy): an Introduction to my PhD Research Topic

Andreas P Kopp11 August 2020

Andreas Kopp, a final year PhD candidate at UCL STEaPP and UCL IIPP and member of the Digital Technologies Policy Lab, elaborates on his doctoral research project and explains what’s so difficult about governing innovation. 

The challenge of innovation policy is coordination

There are no simple, prescribed solutions to such global issues as mitigating climate change or ensuring sustainable urban mobility. Instead, these require long-term contributions of many different economic sectors, governments, public agencies, and individual stakeholders. Increasingly, governments avert to drafting ‘mission-oriented’ innovation policies, i.e. systemic policies that cut across sectors in an attempt to enable the purposeful innovation of technologies towards a desired direction, rather than prescribing a closely defined solution. In other words, governments are ‘tilting the playing field’.

Shared, sustainable autonomous vehicles at Lindholmen Science Park, Gothenburg, Sweden (Kopp 2019)

Shared, sustainable autonomous vehicles at Lindholmen Science Park, Gothenburg, Sweden (Kopp 2019)

This often results in innovations that are not only technically highly complex, but also re-define human behaviour – so called socio-technical systems. They also span across different policy areas and therefore pose a new challenge for policy makers and policy implementers: they trigger coordination problems across policy domains and across government authorities, as existing policies might contradict each other, or relevant policies and regulations might be missing entirely.

(more…)