Stakeholder event on floods and droughts

I recently organised a stakeholder engagement event on “floods and droughts – what can the latest science tell us?” which involved over 20 researchers from across the Met Department (see list here). By stakeholders – I mean people outside academia, for example from Government Departments,business, charities.  The event gave stakeholder s an opportunity to engage one to one with researchers, to get a unique view of the latest results and to discuss their needs and interests with us.

(The event was part funded through collaboration with Richard Allan on the impact plan of his NERC funded PREPARE project.)

You can see more about the event here.

Why is this kind of event important?

These days there is more and more emphasis being placed on the “impact” of scientific research. All proposals for research funding from the research councils now have to have to consider research impact: who benefits from your research, how do they benefit and what will you do within the project to realise these benefits?

For the first time, research impact will also play a significant part in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in 2014. Within the REF, “research impact” contributes 20% to the final assessment and is defined as: “any effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia”.

Why am I involved?!!

What has all this got to do with me and what I do?!! I’m a member of the Walker Institute core team and part of our remit is to work with our associates (researchers from across the University) to help them engage with “users” of research outside of academia. Ultimately the aim of this is to enhance research impact and diversify funding sources for University of Reading research

Who were the stakeholders?

I sent invitations to around 300 people in government departments, businesses, government agencies and consultancies. We had a great response with 43 registrations from a really diverse range of stakeholders e.g., lots of Government Departments (DECC, Defra, DFID, GOS, Sainsburys, Anglian Water, Zurich Insurance. see the full list here).

What was the format of the event?

Talks followed by one to one networking with researchers, with posters as background and to highlight work to begin a conversation. You can see all the talks and posters here.

What were the key issues raised by the stakeholders:

  • hard to find information/place where latest research is pulled together (need for some kind of UK forum to do this)
  • return period type metrics (e.g., of extreme rainfall, or hot days, dry seasons…) are useful but aren’t necessarily available from research papers
  • the need for dialogue between researchers and stakeholders to define what the right questions are
  • need for bridge or intermediaries between academic research and “users”
  • particular interest in health impacts – need for an event that looks at implications/impact of floods/drought on health
  • stakeholders not necessarily aware of the mechanisms through which they can interact with Universities (e.g., through MSc projects, industry funded PhDs, contract research etc..)

How can I measure the impact of the event?

I started with research impact, so I obviously need to try and measure the impact of this event. How do I do that? (I don’t think there is any easy or defined way to do this).

Some things that I’ve done:

  • Firstly, lots of stakeholders registered for the event and most attended – that in itself is an impact
  • I’ve monitored who looked at the talks and posters on the Walker Institute website using Google analytics (e.g., Met Office, Deloitte, Environment Agency, Oxford University, Aberdeenshire Council, Christian Aid, Cheshire County Council, I also got views from China and the US)
  • There are some specific outcomes:
    • Visit to the University from Catlin Insurance
    • 2 possible MSc projects (with ForestRe and Health Protection Agency)
    • Various people who want to be kept informed of research results
    • New links with Acclimatise consultancy re Africa research

Things to think about/discuss:

  • How do you measure the benefits and impacts of such an event? (Ideas welcome)
  • Do you think this kind of activity should be an integral part of a career in scientific research?
  • Do we need some kind of intermediary between researchers and “users/stakeholders” – if so, who should these intermediaries be: the media, consultancies, science communicators?

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