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Enhancing Research Impact on Mitigation and Adaptation to Climate Change

Final Report Summary - ERIMACC (Enhancing Research Impact on Mitigation and Adaptation to Climate Change)

The ERIMACC research aimed to better understand how to enhance the societal impact of research in the field of climate change governance through action research with researchers who produce knowledge for climate change governance (CCG researchers). This required:

1. developing a better understanding of research impact mechanisms through trial and error with CCG researchers;
2. testing impact methods with CCG researchers;
3. evaluating and consolidating the knowledge about research impact with CCG researchers and the wider community.

These aims were in majority achieved. I was able to work closely with CCG researchers at the host organisation (the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds) who were producing CCG knowledge for policy making through the regional Centre for Low Carbon Futures and the national Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy. I discussed with CCG researchers and stakeholders the design and implementation of impact activities such as conferences. I regularly evaluated the choices and challenges in the research co-production processes (in which researchers interacted closely with policy makers and other stakeholders to steer the research process) with the CCG researchers in order to make lessons learnt explicit. I also studied in detail how the product of one project, the economics of low carbon cities for the Leeds city region, was received by the local authorities in the region.

However, while I helped to design and implement many research impact activities, it was not possible to maximise the learning from these activities together with the CCG researchers. The action learning method I selected in the ERIMACC proposal, learning histories, assumes active participation of the project participants in formulating the lessons learnt and the production of an accessible record of this learning, which maximizes the embedding of research findings in the target audience. This method requires considerable time effort on the part of the participants, i.e. the CGG researchers. I found that even a brief evaluation was often difficult due to time pressures on CCG researchers. In general there is more and more pressure on academics to deliver research results, do teaching and supervision of students, participate in academic management, and acquire research funding. This leaves no 'spare' time to experiment with and reflect on new approaches to 'deliver' research impact. I believe this is the main reason why I was not able to implement the Learning Histories method.

Less easy to assess is the extent to which traditional views on delivering impact were a barrier to implementing this action research. If research impact is considered an add-on activity to be executed after completing the research, as is still the dominant view, then there would be no need to engage with stakeholders in intermediary steps. Equally, if scientific results are considered useful for policy contexts without a need for translation, then there would be no need to engage with stakeholders during the research process. In my discussions about impact activities, I did find such tensions between scientific criteria and dissemination or stakeholder requirements. For example, the questions to stakeholders in defining choice preferences for a low carbon pathway planner was to such an extent restricted by the experimental design criteria set by micro-economics standards that I felt it would not reflect their true opinions.

Since it was not possible to implement fully the learning cycle explained above to study micro-processes of research impact, I decided to spend the remainder of my time focussing on macro-aspects of research impacts: stakeholder engagement, science-policy arrangements and interactions, research use in policy. This research made best use of emerging opportunities for collaboration and built onto my existing expertise, as evidenced by previously published papers. I was able to use these possibilities because ERIMACC provided the funding for conference attendance, study visits and meetings, and the employment of research assistants. Maintaining and expanding this network has proven crucial for finding employment post-ERIMACC.