Friday, 15 June 2012

Sparking new initiatives

I had assumed that as most of the Relu research projects have finished things might quieten down a bit at the Relu Director's Office.  Although this is the case from an administrative point of view, communications seem as busy as ever.  This is gratifying as we did make an argument for extending my role until March next year on the basis that there was more value to be extracted from the programme.  But as I have been starting to put together our next newsletter I have been particularly struck by the amount of activity now being sparked off by Relu, with plenty of news still to tell.  Researchers who dipped their toes into interdisciplinarity, often for the first time, via a Relu project, are moving on to new ventures.  These often build on Relu research.  We are also seeing real impacts coming through as ideas from the research emerge as mainstream thinking.  It's a subtle process and one that we have tried to pin down during the recent evaluation work carried out for ESRC.  It certainly feels as though Relu lives on and has had effects both in academia and the wider world.  A recent meeting with the heads of the research councils was very encouraging, if probing at times, and once again I felt that this is an initiative I'm glad to be part of.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Having fun in Rufshire

The highlight of my week was a trip to Birmingham to an event put on by Relu's Managing Environmental Change at the Rural Urban Fringe project.  They really came up trumps at our Relu conference in November at The Sage in Gateshead.  Asked to put on an interactive activity rather than giving the usual academic paper and powerpoint presentation, they designed a game - Rufopoly - to help people involved in the planning process to think about the competing demands on land.  It's a key challenge at this meeting place of the urban and the rural.  At Wednesday's event Principal Investigator Alister Scott confessed that on its first outing in Gateshead they hadn't really worked out how the game would be played.  I should have realised this as the Rufopoly board had only just arrived from the printer.  There had been some considerable anxiety about its arrival and the team hadn't actually seen the final product.  But nobody would have guessed this as they quickly got everyone involved in playing out their ideas on how Rufshire should approach its planning dilemmas.  The game is a good example of how being forced out of one's comfort zone can prompt creativity.  Since then the idea has developed considerably.  It has been trialled with planning professionals, councillors, students and policymakers from the Welsh Assembly Government.  Wednesday's workshop brought some more key stakeholders together to evaluate rufopoly's usefulness and look at how it might be used more widely.  People attending included local authority representatives, policymakers and third sector organisations.   They were bursting with ideas about different ways in which the game could be developed - for engaging residents in debates, for 6th form geographers, a training tool for elected members on planning committees.  Could versions be developed that showed real planning areas?  What about a computer version on the lines of Sim City?  Rufopoly is just one tool to emerge from the huge Relu programme but for me it represents one of our major objectives: to do science more creatively, in a way that can engage people in unfamiliar processes, and to encourage more fun!