The SIA call for game-changing research concepts: insights from the Institute for the Modelling of Social Environmental Transitions

In this guest blog post, Dr Emma Jenkins, outlines how a concept for interdisciplinary research has become a lived reality through a previous SIA EoI open call… 

The Institute for the Modelling of Socio-Environmental Transitions (IMSET) started off as a vague notion of where the field of archaeology is heading and where BU’s Department of Archaeology & Anthropology could make a significant contribution. The core challenges facing the world are summarised in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The problems behind most of these challenges, however, are neither modern nor restricted to the present – some have long histories that set the world on the trajectory it currently is while others are known to have already challenged communities and societies in the past. This is as true of the recent historic past, as it is of the deeper timelines of prehistory. IMSET was conceptually founded on the notion that we can learn from these past occurrences of socio-environmental transitions, and that what we learn from them can be useful for present and future challenges facing the world. Archaeology, anthropology and palaeoecology can contribute the necessary data, whereas computational modelling and analysis can help shed light on the complex dynamics of the interactions and bidirectional impact between people and their ecosystems.

These ideas gathered momentum with the first BU’s Strategic Investment Areas call for Expressions of Interest in 2018. What was but a vague notion to begin with, developed into a proposal to create a multidisciplinary research institute that straddled the fields of archaeology, anthropology, ecology and computer science with the aim of furthering our understanding of how human societies responded to climate and environmental change in the past in order to provide insights into how modern societies can adapt to the challenges facing them. This was a bold request which, to both our surprise and delight, was picked up to be developed into a Full Business Case in 2019 which enabled the creation of IMSET.

The development of IMSET was a team effort. We were one of the first projects to be asked to complete a Business Case and the first to be supported under the SIA call and, as such, we could be described as ‘lucky guinea pigs’! Some of the procedural ‘hoops’ that we needed to jump through were not really suitable for our purposes and we were also met with one or two ‘surprise deadlines’ but colleagues in RDS and the OVC went above and beyond to support us with some of these challenges. We also, all, learnt a lot from this process and our understanding is that the application procedure is much more transparent and streamlined than it was back in 2019. As an institute we have, on the whole, been fantastically supported throughout this journey by professional services staff across BU and our advice would be that if you have an idea, no matter how vague or crazy, you should go for it. If there was one piece of advice we would give, it would be don’t start a new research institute, that is predicated on the need for over-seas fieldwork and international collaboration, right at the beginning of a global pandemic! Otherwise Good Luck!

At BU we are keen to foster amazing, game-changing, transformative research ideas, so if you have one we would love to hear from you. You are invited to put forward your ideas through the current Strategic Investment Areas (SIA) EoI call for transformative research concepts, aimed at providing the dedicated, tailored support to make your research ideas a reality.

To learn more about the call, sign-up now for one of our open briefing sessions or learn more on the staff intranet.

If you would like to learn more about IMSET or collaborate directly with the team, email Dr Emma Jenkins or see their webpages