Author: James Rae

Engaging with Parliamentarians during Evidence Week

Dr Gbemi Oluleye, is a Lecturer in Energy and Environmental Technology and Policy, within the Centre for Environmental Policy, Faculty of Natural Sciences.

Dr Gbemi has worked as the lead researcher in a range of projects in both academic and industry, covering emerging strategies for decarbonising energy intensive industries, including serving as a member of the BEIS strategy board for the Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy. In this blog post, Dr Gbemi writes about her experiences taking part in Evidence Week in Parliament earlier this year.

Evidence Week is an annual event held in the UK Parliament and organised by the charity Sense About Science. Evidence Week brings together academics and parliamentarians to share ideas about research and policy, promote scientific understanding and increase the visibility of researchers.

I was excited about the opportunity to present my research on achieving cost-effective industrial decarbonisation during Evidence Week 2021. I had previously attended training by the Forum such as a policy engagement seminar in 2019 and a policy engagement development opportunity with Institute for Government in 2020. Both these pieces of training played key roles in preparing me for the event especially in communicating complex science and engaging with policymakers.

Preparing for Evidence Week also involved recording a three-minute video where I introduced myself, my research, the need for industrial decarbonisation, and the key findings of my research with tangible examples and discussed how to monitor progress in decarbonising industry.

Emissions from industry currently contribute 40% of global CO2 emissions and 16% of UK CO2 emissions. These figures underlined for my audience the importance of the work my research group is engaged in, synthesising cost-effective ways to accelerate the adoption of new ideas for industrial decarbonisation. We need to make the UK’s transition to net zero cost-effective for society, government, and industry.

The industrial sector is not only a big emitter but plays a crucial role in developing low carbon solutions for other sectors of the economy like transport, electricity and agriculture, therefore achieving net-zero in industry is key to achieving net-zero for the UK economy.

Dr Gbemi speaking with Tobias Ellwood, Chair of the Defence Select Committee
Dr Gbemi speaking with Tobias Ellwood MP, Chair of the Defence Select Committee at her Evidence Week stall.

One critical finding of my research is that no single technological solution can decarbonise industry. A distinctive and complex combination of several technological solutions will be required for every particular industrial plant, site, or cluster. There are no ‘one size fits all’ solutions to the challenge of decarbonisation.

Another finding is creating or adapting existing policies to allow new industrial business models to be trialled can accelerate the transition faster and more cost-effectively than creating policy interventions to directly increase the uptake of technological solutions.

Dr Gbemi, speaking with another parliamentarian.
Dr Gbemi, speaking with another Parliamentarian.

Progress in getting the UK’s industrial sector to net zero can be monitored by periodic reports on emissions and fuel use in this sector which can be tabled and reviewed in parliament.Parliament could then evaluate what is the necessary budget to be spent on interventions for this sector alongside the emissions reduction/ uptake of alternative solutions and the creation of clean industrial products.

On the day in parliament, I hosted an exhibition ‘pod’ to share insights and resources with MPs and peers and answered questions. I had on average three minutes to share research findings with each visitor to my pod. MPs, peers, and their staff were very receptive to my research findings, and some of them booked a one-to-one to discuss further. It was a good experience for me, and the interactions were greatly appreciated by both sides. MPs, peers and their staff had a positive attitude towards input from scientists, which I found really encouraging.

An excellent opportunity like Evidence Week provides a platform for researchers to inform and shape policy with scientific evidence, and I encourage academics and researchers to attend.

Recent engagement with policymakers

 

PhD students: Our experiences working in the government’s Open Innovation Team

By Tamzin Bond, Department of Chemistry and Amy Wilson, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering 

From January to April 2021 two laboratory-based PhD candidates, Tamzin Bond from the Department of Chemistry and Amy Wilson from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering joined HM Government’s Open Innovation Team (OIT) on placement as policy advisors. OIT is a cross-government unit that works with academics and other experts to help generate analysis and ideas for policymakers.

Over the course of the 3-month placement, the two Imperial PhD candidates worked on a range of policy projects, stakeholder events, and internal team development projects.

Here they both tell us some more about their experiences:

By Tamzin Bond, a PhD candidate from the Department of Chemistry

As a lab-based researcher, stepping into the role of a policy advisor within government was something completely new to me. However, much to my surprise OIT tasked me with real-world, live policy work from the get-go! Throughout my time with OIT I worked on a Deep Dive – an in-depth review of research and international case studies – for a major area of reform that will be delivered to multiple policy teams within a ministerial department. Unfortunately, the work has not been made public yet and so I can’t give any more specific details!

Tazmin Bond, a PhD candiate from the Department of Chemistry
Tazmin Bond, a PhD candidate from the Department of Chemistry

Whilst the topic of the review was something completely different to my research area, I found that working on the project provided me with the very thing I love about research; the chance to deliver meaningful work that will have a real impact on society. Conducting a Deep Dive review meant that I was really able to get to grips with the policy area. It was also interesting to interact with senior academics in a way in which I am not used to. This approach is somewhat unique to OIT. OIT will organise interviews, workshops and roundtables with leading academics and then use this expert insight to inform policy decisions. This isn’t something many policy advisors have the luxury of doing as part of their day-to-day role. For the project I worked on we engaged with over 50 academic experts from across the world. A favourite moment of mine was then relaying this information to the Chief Scientific Advisor for the ministry!

I am hugely grateful to OIT for allowing me this opportunity, and The Forum for all their support to make doing the placement possible. The opportunity to gain first-hand experience in the policy arena has been invaluable and the chance to work with such an innovative team as OIT was even more so. I couldn’t recommend taking up a placement with them more; not only are they highly experienced policy advisors, but they’re also incredible people to work with.

By Amy Wilson, a PhD candidate from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering 

During just three months I was fortunate to be involved in a range of policy projects that developed not only my communication skills, but my ability to produce concise and well-evidenced recommendations to policymakers. Interviewing academics and other experts, consolidating contrasting arguments, and fine-tuning the prominent themes were all part of the ‘delivering policy at pace’ style of OIT work. The evidence I collated and presented was then used by the respective departments, presented to Ministers, and informed the policymaking process.

 

Amy Wilson, PhD candidate at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Taking a short break from my PhD research to join OIT and work on government projects that are at the forefront of the policy agenda has been a highly rewarding experience. I would strongly recommend to anyone thinking about a policy career after their PhD to take a look at the OIT placement scheme. While you don’t usually directly work with Special Advisors or Ministers, you are able to get great exposure to the life of a civil servant and a career in government. Not only because you will very swiftly learn the ropes of a role in government, but because the OIT team is a highly motivated and inclusive team of policy advisors.