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AHIA 2020-21 Demonstrating dependencies between humanity and nature for a sustainable future: A nitrogen case-study

c.washbourne1 September 2020

STEaPP’s Dr Carla Washbourne is part of a new project supported by the ALTER-Net High Impact Action (AHIA)-fund. This blog is also published at on ALTER-Net website

Through this project we want to explore how past and current research on the nitrogen cycle can be used to generate new insights on the dependence of humans on non-human-nature. Insights from this project will provide a new way to view humanity’s place in nature and could help to shape the development of more equitable and sustainable environmental decision-making and management.

Team photo

Team photo

The nitrogen (N) cycle is a familiar concept. Many of us first encountered it at school, where it was used to illustrate the scale and importance of global cycles that link air, water, rocks and living things. Humans are often presented as the end recipient of natural processes like the nitrogen cycle, and sometimes are not shown as part of the cycle at all! However, humanity is part of the cycle, being both a direct beneficiary (of  food) and direct contributor (fertiliser use) and is impacted by effects of nitrogen on air and water quality. This AHIA-funded project questions what the nitrogen cycle would look like if we rebuild it to more clearly include humans and to show the true scale of our dependence on non-human nature. The project is driven by a desire to provide a different narrative of the relationship between people and nature, that better represents our place in the biosphere.

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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.

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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.

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More funding for research, yes, but what kind of research?

Siobhan Pipa21 November 2019

By Professor Joanna Chataway, UCL STEaPP, Dr Tommaso Ciarli and Dr Hugo Confraria, SPRU

Increased spending on research and innovation is a key component of efforts to help address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their complex interactions. But pumping more money into scientific research does not necessarily mean that research will succeed in addressing the SDGs, even when it is designed to do just that.  This observation is at the heart of the new international and multi-partner STRINGS project which is looking at how science, technology and innovation (STI) can be better aligned to addressing the SDGs in Low and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs).

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