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UCL’s MPA Students Host Second Summit on Sustainability

By leonie.dunn, on 16 May 2024

On 26 April, a cross-faculty student committee representing the MPA degrees from the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP), UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Public Policy (STEaPP), and UCL Department of Political Science (DoPS) hosted the second annual Summit on Sustainability.

MPA students The Summit brought together students, academics, and professionals for an interactive and collaborative learning experience as well as engaging discussions about ongoing action in sustainability. This year’s theme, the Power and Politics of Sustainability Transitions, aimed to navigate the increasingly complex world of activism, policy, and conflict surrounding sustainable transitions and solutions.

Collaboration with the UCL Climate Action Unit opened the Summit

Dr. Kris de Meyer from the UCL Climate Action Unit started the event off with a talk about climate change and the uncertainty of the future. He demonstrated how we are doing what we can because it’s what we know, but posed the question: “If we knew the solution, what might we do differently to get there?” The thought-provoking talk set the tone for the event and explored the different realities that can and do exist in sustainability.

Jon Alexander and Jane Davidson in fireside chat about collaboration

Co-founder of The New Citizenship Project and co-author of Citizens, Jon Alexander has worked to center the public at the heart of collaborative issues like climate change and economic insecurity – to treat people like Citizens not Consumers. He sat down with Jane Davidson, former Welsh Government minister and current chair of the Wales Net Zero 2035 Group, to discuss community participation in policymaking. Ms. Davidson delved into her history has a lawmaker in Wales, living through community collaboration for a better future. Her passion for sustainability led to the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (2015), putting sustainability at the forefront of all government and public organization action.

Panel with Jon Alexander and Jane DavidsonPolicy Pathways Simulation adapted from in-field work for MPA participation

After lunch, the UCL Climate Action Unit once again took the stage to deliver a two-hour activity in which the participating students and staff joined a Climate Strategy Advisory Board to advise on a hypothetical green transition plan set out by the Prime Minister. Policy Pathways was created by the Unit as a virtual exercise for policymakers and politicians to collaborate and deliver different methods of sustainability transitions through financial regulation, taxation, and public subsidies. The simulation was adapted for the Summit with the goal of providing groups with differing perspectives the chance to discuss and debate amongst themselves, leading to somewhat differing strategies.

UCL Climate Action interactive workshopAfter the activity, Dr. de Meyer showed that, in the field, stakeholders struggled to utilise the existing policy tools to deliver effective and affordable green transitions. He brought the conversation back to his opening talk, wherein he stated that we can only do what we know, so we must expand that knowledge in order to expand the reality of sustainability.

Multi-profession panel explores navigating power and politics in the field of sustainability

Moderated by one of the student organizers, the three-person panel discussed different actors’ roles in change, and how power plays into the sustainability movement when it comes to justice and representation. Selina Newell, Director of Climate Action Implementation at C40, Fatou Jeng, founder of Clean Earth Gambia and Youth Climate Advisor to the UN Secretary General, and Asad Rehman, Executive Director of War on Want, unpacked the different levels of action, from individual movements to global affairs. Much of the conversation focused on equity being utmost important for sustainability movements and recognising economic inequality as a major point of conflict when it comes to global change. The cross-sector backgrounds of the panellists offered unique insight into the different powers that activists and policymakers have to enact change through sustainability transitions.

Multi-professional panelClare Farrell speaks on the failure of ‘sustainability’ and where to go from here

To round out the Summit, keynote speaker Clare Farrell, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, delivered a talk titled Why Sustainability Isn’t Working Out. She spoke on her background in fashion and ethics, and how her work on the ground in activism led to the group’s message of civil rebellion for democratic change. Her thought-proving talk demonstrated the slow-moving and barrier-filled process of change through established political and economic institutions, and how the conventional perception of ‘sustainability’ has failed to come to fruition. Ms. Farrell guided the attendees to think about what must change now in order to achieve future goals in green transitions. She wrapped up the event by evoking hope in action now for change later.

Clare Farrell Extinction Rebellion as speakerAfter closing remarks, guests and attendees were invited to food and drinks for a two-hour networking social with open discussion and further questions.

Continuing cross-MPA collaboration and learning

Last year’s summit paved the way for the collaborative effort made this year. The three departments delivered learning in different contexts. Unifying those views for a cohesive and multi-perspective educational opportunity allowed the attendees and the committee to learn from both each other as well as the guests. Collaboration between the MPAs is imperative as we the students prepare to embark on our professional journeys as decision makers. Our ability to learn from each other must be fostered now so that it is not limited to these formal institutions. After coming together for this year’s Summit, we hope the relationship between the departments’ MPA programs continues to grow and furthers collaboration in the coming years.

Authors Note

Written by Erin Sebastian.

Erin along with the other organisers of the Sustainability Summit would like to give a special thanks to Kazuhiro Naito and Liam Orme for photography.

 

Blog Series – Breaking BEIS: Risks & Opportunities for Engineering Policy (4/4)

By laurent.liote.19, on 8 March 2023

This 4-part blog series covers the recent dismantling of the UK government’s department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and what it means for engineering policy. We take this opportunity to look at what we can learn from the creation and internal organisation of BEIS to reflect on how machinery of government changes affect engineering in and for policy. This blog series is written by final year PhD candidate Laurent Lioté, working on engineering advice for energy policy and part of STEaPP’s Engineering Policy Group.      

Science, Innovation and Technology… but still no engineering

My final point is somewhat more conceptual than my previous ones (posts 1, post 2 , post 3) but just as important. Engineering is clearly key for energy and innovation policy so why does it not get an explicit mention in the new ministries’ names or remit? Perhaps because the concepts of science, innovation and technology are thought to cover engineering – but this is not exactly true and has an important impact on engineering policy. All the arguments made in this post are adapted from this article written with Adam Cooper and Chloé Colomer, where we discuss this topic in more detail.

Science is often thought to include engineering because of the common belief that engineers “apply science” in the process of innovation or technology creation. But this is not always the case, a lot of engineering focuses on maintaining systems and optimising already existing processes. Moreover, a lot of science happens in publicly funded academic research institutions whereas most engineers work in private sector companies.

Taking a narrower view, we can also make the case that engineering and science advice for energy policy (now the in the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero’s portfolio) is different too.  Within energy policy, science advice focuses on the biological (like the types of organisms in an anaerobic digester or amount of gas emitted) and engineering focuses on the physical features of the reactor (like how the reactor and engine are built). Engineering is about objects and their performance whereas science is about bio- and ecosystems. Science advice, because it is concerned with biological and ecosystems, is methodologically driven by a hypothesis that measurements can validate or invalidate. Engineering advice on the other hand is outcome-driven or solution-oriented, where measurements help achieve a goal that best meets project design criteria.

Focusing on innovation or technology doesn’t do engineering justice either. Indeed, such focus is necessarily rooted in objects, with the engineers in orbit. Whereas a focus on engineers is rooted in their skills, knowledge, and practices, often with technologies in orbit. Exploring engineering practice surfaces how engineers draw on existing and new knowledge, how they communicate amongst themselves and with others in a way that exploring technology does not.

If assumptions and concepts from “science, innovation and technology” do not apply equally to engineering, perhaps a distinction in policy terms is important if engineering is to be governed effectively. But perhaps we’ll have to wait for the next reshuffle to see engineering pop-up in the name or remit of a UK government department!

Blog Series – Breaking BEIS: Risks & Opportunities for Engineering Policy (3/4)

By laurent.liote.19, on 1 March 2023

This 4-part blog series covers the recent dismantling of the UK government’s department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and what it means for engineering policy. We take this opportunity to look at what we can learn from the creation and internal organisation of BEIS to reflect on how machinery of government changes affect engineering in and for policy. This blog series is written by final year PhD candidate Laurent Lioté, working on engineering advice for energy policy and part of STEaPP’s Engineering Policy Group.      

“Growth, bills and inflation”: making sure economics is not at odds with engineering

Back in January the Prime Minister articulated his vision for the country, stressing the need to halve inflation, grow the economy and reduce debt. I am not going to discuss this in this post… However, of particular relevance for us today is how these promises have made it into the new “post-BEIS” ministerial remits.

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero is tasked with “securing the UK’s long-term energy supply, bringing down bills and halving inflation”. The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology’s remit is to “drive innovation, create new and better-paid jobs and grow the economy”. As we pointed out last week, both ministries are responsible for technically oriented policy fields (energy and innovation, respectively) yet their mission statements are very focused on economics concerns. Again, the economy is important, no doubt about that, but this economics-driven framing of energy and innovation policy could be at odds with engineering expertise. Let’s take a historical look at how this might manifest itself.

Going in back in time, DECC’s (The Department for Energy and Climate Change, BEIS’ predecessor) mission was to establish the UK as a world-leader in the fight against climate change. As we established, this led to an increase in in-house engineering expertise. Later, with the Conservative Party now in power, the vision shifted to “how can we use climate policy efforts for economic advantage”, which was closer to the view BIS (The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, BEIS’ other predecessor) had over the issue. When DECC and BIS merged to form BEIS, the focus of the energy and innovation portfolio thus became more about economics than science and engineering.

This shift in focus had two impacts on engineering advice for energy policy. First, it meant that engineers were less involved in policy vision setting (as opposed to economists) which constrained policy options down the line. Indeed, at BEIS, engineers often mentioned that alternative technical options could have been viable, but they weren’t able to suggest them early enough in the process to shape policy direction accordingly. Second, and linked to our first point, the engineers were sometimes at odds with the policy advisers as the technical solution proposed did not match the economic-driven policy imperative (i.e. the technical solution was too costly).

This doesn’t mean that engineering and economic advice are mutually exclusive, far from it. However, there are a few lessons to learn from DECC and BEIS that might prove useful for the new departments. First, despite the economic framing of their mission, the new ministries will benefit from involving engineers (and leveraging engineering expertise) when setting policy directions. Second, and this is more for the engineers and policy advisers working within the new departments, it is always useful to be clear on what the policy is aiming to achieve from the start. I talk about recognising mutual expertise and developing interactional expertise in more detail in this article (if of interest!).

No matter what, energy and innovation policy will always require a mix of engineering and economics (and many more disciplines) – it’s just a matter of recognising the importance of both and acting accordingly. Which brings me to my final question, engineering is undeniably important to energy and innovation policy so why does it still not get an explicit mention in the ministries’ names or remit?

Find out in next week’s episode of Breaking BEIS!

Blog Series – Breaking BEIS: Risks & Opportunities for Engineering Policy (2/4)

By laurent.liote.19, on 22 February 2023

This 4-part blog series covers the recent dismantling of the UK government’s department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and what it means for engineering policy. We take this opportunity to look at what we can learn from the creation and internal organisation of BEIS to reflect on how machinery of government changes affect engineering in and for policy. This blog series is written by final year PhD candidate Laurent Lioté, working on engineering advice for energy policy and part of STEaPP’s Engineering Policy Group.      

Machining government: barriers and opportunities for engineering

Picking up where we left off last week, this post will cover how machinery of government changes can help or hinder the development of engineering advice for policy. This post looks at how BEIS came to be to understand the potential impact of the most recent reshuffle.

If you recall the diagram from last week, the energy and innovation portfolios have been bounced around frequently. Now the challenge with this type of machinery of government changes is that they lead to increased staff turnover (which is already quite high ‘by default’) and decreased knowledge retention, in turn breaking-up policy continuity.

Turnover happens at a high political level when new ministers come in like last week, in 2016 with the creation of BEIS or 2008 when DECC (the Department for Energy and Climate Change) was established. A less visible turnover however happens at policy levels where policy and technical teams (ex: DECC then BEIS’ engineering and science advice teams) get moved around depending on the portfolio and remit of the new departments.

This can easily result in a break in policy continuity as the ministerial remits are different, key individuals might leave (and with them some institutional memory), policy and technical teams have to find their footing, and advisers have to be brought up to speed on new policy areas. This last point is particularly important for technical policy areas, like energy, as new individuals don’t always have the tacit knowledge linked to corporate memory that enables them to assess the reliability of evidence. The lack of policy continuity can quickly become an issue when it comes to long-term challenges and targets like climate change policy.

But machinery of government changes are not always barriers to technical advice, in fact they can provide an opportunity for positive change like bringing a bit of engineering capacity back in-house (I might be biased!). When DECC was created for instance, the newly appointed CSA was clear that DECC’s mission of combatting climate change could not be achieved without hiring more engineers and scientists. In this case, a machinery of government change – and individual will and policy vision – increased the government’s engineering capability.

And in the end this question of policy vision and ministerial mission might be the key. How much engineering is recognised at the core of the new departments’ mission will determine how much engineering advice will be sought, deployed and used.

Looking at the aims of the two new departments, the technical (“energy supply, drive innovation”) is mixed with more economic imperatives (“growth, bills and inflation”). This is fine, lowering bills and creating jobs is important, but it does bring up the question of how much influence engineering vs. economics will have in policy – or if they are compatible. And that’s what we’ll cover in the next episode, stay tuned!

Blog Series – Breaking BEIS: Risks & Opportunities for Engineering Policy (1/4)

By laurent.liote.19, on 15 February 2023

This 4-part blog series covers the recent dismantling of the UK government’s department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and what it means for engineering policy. We take this opportunity to look at what we can learn from the creation and internal organisation of BEIS to reflect on how machinery of government changes affect engineering in and for policy. This blog series is written by final year PhD candidate Laurent Lioté, working on engineering advice for energy policy and part of STEaPP’s Engineering Policy Group.

February government reshuffle: plus ça change…

As of Tuesday 7th of February 2023, the UK’s Department for Energy, Business and the Industrial Strategy (BEIS) no longer exists… And as a researcher who has spent the last three years studying the ministry, this is important news! Rest assured the Prime Minister has not completely scrapped energy and business policy, BEIS has undergone what we call a ‘machinery of government change’ and its portfolio has been split between new and existing departments.

Before I launch into what the new ministerial organisation looks like and what the new remits are, let me say a quick word about what I got up to in the now defunct department. I am a final year PhD student, and my research has been focused on ethnographically studying engineering advice for policy at BEIS. Energy being an engineering demanding policy area, the ministry covering the topic seemed like a good site to investigate how engineering expertise is leveraged by the government. Through my research I have come to learn a lot about the history of the ministry and how its creation and internal organisation impacted its internal engineering capacity. This post and the next three in this series are therefore reflections on what we can learn from the more and less distant past to do ‘good’ engineering policy in the present.

So, back to the Prime Minister’s announcements. Last week BEIS portfolio was divided into:

  • A new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, tasked with “securing the UK’s long-term energy supply, bringing down bills and halving inflation”
  • A new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, who’s remit is to “drive innovation, improve public services and grow the economy”
  • A combined Department for Business and Trade, in charge of “supporting UK business on home soil and abroad”

Now that might seem like a bold new direction for the UK government but to anyone who knows about the history of BEIS, this is actually more of a return to the roots. Indeed, BEIS was a merger of:

  • The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and
  • The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)

Going even one step further, both DECC and BIS were spun off BERR, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. But rather than drown you in acronyms, I’ve compiled it all in one neat diagram:

My point here, as you can see, is that this is all very cyclical. And given all those ministries have been focused in one way or another on energy and/or innovation, all those changes have had impacts on the government’s in-house engineering capacity in those policy fields.

This new reshuffle will have more than one policy professional say: “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” – but it’s not always the case, ministerial changes also provide windows of opportunity to change policy and institutional organisation. This is what I want to cover in the next three blogs by looking at BEIS and its history. How have machinery of government changes helped or hindered the development of engineering advice for policy? Is the current government’s focus on “growing the economy, reducing bills and halving inflation” going to be at odds with engineering advice? Is it finally time to push for engineering as an official ministerial remit or does science, innovation and technology cover it?

Find out in the next episodes of Breaking BEIS!