Posts By / Adrian Newton

Changing governance and research at BU

Earlier today I attended an interesting workshop about research environment at BU, which the University is hoping to strengthen further. One of the topics that came up for discussion was the links with University governance. This has changed markedly at BU in recent years, and I believe that this has had a significant impact on our research environment. In an attempt to understand the broader trends in University governance in the UK, I came across this very interesting piece of research by Michael Shattock of the Centre for Global Higher Education at UCL, which can be accessed here:

I thought this worth sharing, as it provides some insight into changes that have occurred at BU, as well as at other institutions. Some of the key findings are reproduced below. It would be very interesting to explore further how such changes are impacting our research environment at BU.

“Perhaps the greatest transformation in university governance has been the transfer of decision making powers over such policies to chief executives, SMTs and to ‘manager academics’ (Deem et al 2007): inner cabinets answerable to senates have become SMTs, administrators have become managers…. Thus Hogan, in two investigations over 1993 to 2002 and 2002 to 2007, found that 74 per cent of institutions examined in the first and 65 per cent in the second had been subjected to quite fundamental restructuring involving reducing and merging faculties and departments, the creation of devolved colleges or schools and the establishment of  7 new senior officer posts to be filled through public advertisement from outside the university rather than from election from within (Hogan 2005 and 2012). This proliferation of senior posts had always been a feature of the post-1992 universities but Shepherd shows that the number of such posts increased by 40 per cent in the pre-1992 universities between 2005 and 2012 (Shepherd 2012). Between 1994-95 and 2008-09 the proportion of university expenditure on university administration and central services grew significantly at the expense of expenditure on academic departments (Hogan 2011) while Morgan showed that between 2004-05 and 2008- 09 the numbers of professional posts increased by some 30 per cent (Morgan 2010). An important element in the growth of a powerful executive has been that it is not answerable to the organs of academic governance but to a management hierarchy. This hierarchy is constitutionally answerable to the lay dominated governing body but because boards of governors meet normally only four or five times a year and, because the SMT controls the flow of information to it, the board has difficulty in exercising anything like the clear principal agent role that the Financial Memorandum, quoted above, or, in the case of the pre-1992 universities, its constitutional position, implies. Faculty/college deans or pro-vice-chancellors, appointed from outside the institution, are answerable upwards to an SMT rather than to an electorate of academic colleagues. Consultation can be minimal in the appointment of heads of departments/schools. Line management from the top tends to replace previous bottom up electoral processes. The result has been to distance the individual academic from involvement in institutional governance and, in many institutions, to construct a workplace environment quite unlike the environment found in the 1960s and 70s.”

Training course on agent-based modelling techniques

Have you ever heard of agent based models, and wondered what they are? Have you perhaps been dazzled by computer simulations of flocking birds or shoals of fish, and wondered how they are produced? Or perhaps you enjoy computer games involving interacting individuals, such as the magnificent Fifa13. If so, you might be interested in a training course that we are hosting later this year, supported by the Fusion Fund.

Agent-based models (ABM) can be described as a type  of computational model that are used for simulating the actions and interactions of autonomous “agents”. These can be either individuals, such as people or animals, or collective entities such as businesses or other types of organization. The models enable the behaviour of such agents to be explored in relation to the behaviour of the system as a whole. The approach is relevant to areas such as game theory, complex systems, computational sociology, multi-agent systems, and evolutionary programming. They are relevant to a wide range of research domains including ecological and social sciences, and enable the study of how simple behavioural rules can generate complex behaviour. They provide a very useful method for supporting interdisciplinary collaboration.

The course will be led by leading practitioners of this rapidly developing technique, and will focus on the use of Netlogo ( This is an open source software environment, which is both powerful and user friendly, enabling attractive graphical output to be generated readily. The course is open to both staff and postgraduate students  who are interested in learning the technique. While the course will be introductory, it is principally aimed at researchers who already have some experience in modelling, or who can see a direct potential application of this method to their own research. Please contact me for further information – Adrian Newton

How Web 2.0 might revolutionise our research

Many of you will be familiar with the revolution that the internet is undergoing, with its growth of social networking, web applications, blogs and wikis. What I had not appreciated, until very recently, is what the full implications are for how we go about our research. I am sure that colleagues in DEC and the MediaSchoolare well ahead of the curve on this, but for the rest of us, the penny is perhaps only just beginning to drop. I recently attended a fascinating conference hosted by the European Social Simulation Association in Salzburg. This is a group of researchers united by a common interest in using computer programs to simulate human behaviour, and its implications for human society. This was very much a new arena for me; I was really attending to learn something about the agent-based modelling approaches that are the flavour of the month in these circles. But what most impressed me was the way researchers are now using web technologies to access data to explore in their models. For example, although I’d heard of “crowdsourcing” before, I’d never really seen it in practice, and what it can deliver. I was most impressed by groups using tools such as Twitter, together with mapping applications such as Google maps, to produce highly informative maps showing the movements and wellbeing of large numbers of people. A great example is what the LSE is doing to map happiness – yes, really – Another example, from the University of Leeds, has been using Twitter to map the movements of commuters in and out of the city. What is perhaps most astonishing is that large numbers of people seem keen to participate in these research projects. Potentially useful tools being used by this research community include open source mapping initiatives such as Open Street Map and Maptube, as well as Survey mapper You might find this reference useful if you’re interested in learning more –

UK Environment White Paper update

The following link provides a useful update on the UK Government’s Environment White Paper, including a summary of current activities relating to its implementation. This includes a number of initatives relating both to the green economy and biodiversity conservation.


UK government’s new publication on the green economy

This might be a useful source for those wishing to learn more about the UK Government’s plans for the green economy

‘Enabling the Transition to a Green Economy: government and business working together’ is a new publication which sets out what the transition to a green economy means for businesses.

It is the government’s response to requests from the private sector for greater clarity on what government means by a “green economy”, the policies being put in place to achieve this and how they come together.



Green economy – big research questions?

As you will have gathered from other posts on this blog, we have an opportunity to discuss the development of BU’s research themes at a launch event on 14th December. As a prelude to that, I thought that it might be helpful to start to discuss what the big research questions might be, in the theme of  ‘Green economy and sustainability’. I’ve been giving this a bit of thought over the past few weeks, while ploughing through leading journals looking for materials for our new Green Economy MSc. This is definitely one of those occasions when teaching and research can definitely be mutually beneficial! So, for starters, here are some initial ideas on big research questions that we might consider addressing in future. Comments and further suggestions on these would be most welcome.

1. How should the green economy be defined? It is striking how many different definitions have been proposed in the literature, with little consensus emerging as yet – rather, it is the subject of active debate. A key question, for example, is whether or not a green economy should include economic growth or not. Some commentators have argued strongly that a green economy is a zero growth economy, by definition, coming out of the ‘environmental limits to growth’ argument that began in the 1970’s. But there is very little evidence for such environmental limits restricting economic growth – rather, the global economy has adapted and continued to grow, acting like the complex adaptive system that it undoubtedly is. So, how should we define the green economy? Might it be defined simply in terms of one that prevents biodiversity loss and environmental degradation? Or must there be more to it than that, such as an element of social justice?

2. How might the transition to a green economy occur? What are the key elements of the socio-economic, cultural, political, institutional, technological and environmental context for this transition to be brought about? At the root of the sustainability transition, I think, lies human behaviour – ultimately, it is about understanding how people make decisions in response to external factors. This is an active area of research in social science, psychology, environmental science, and in economic geography, but these communities seem to be rather disconnected at present. There may be scope for a more integrated, multi-disciplinary approach to addressing this question, perhaps employing state-of-the-art tools such as agent based modelling of the behaviour of individual people, communities, institutions, companies etc. As the whole issue is surrounded by complexity and uncertainty, there may also be scope for deploying ‘softer’ tools such as scenario building.

3. How might resilient social-ecological systems be developed? One of the key principles of the green economy is that it links economic activity with its environmental impacts. The concept of social-ecological systems can be helpful in achieving this, by considering human communities and their local environments as part of a coupled system. It is important to understand the factors underpinning the resilience of such systems, particularly in the current era of rapid environmental, economic, technological and cultural change. This understanding is in its infancy. A corollary of this question is: how do social-ecological systems avoid collapse?

Please feel free to add to this list!


PhD researchers in the Dragon’s Den

A message from Clare Dean (thanks, Clare!), one of our postgraduate researchers, about a recent workshop that she attended along with some of her colleagues, with a focus on developing science-related business skills.

“Post graduate researchers from the School of Applied Sciences recently attended an ‘Environment YES!’ workshop in Oxfordshire. Environment YES! and Biotechnology YES! are NERC and BBSRC funded initiatives to teach early career scientists how to transfer research and innovation into viable business ventures. Attendees at these workshops listen to presentations from professionals who have made the leap from science into business, learning about everything from marketing to financial planning. See:

Over the course of the workshop, teams from each attending university developed a business plan for a hypothetical product which had to be based on plausible science. At the end of the workshop each team was given the opportunity to present their business plan to board of mock venture capitalists, in a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style pitch. Based on these pitches, two teams were chosen to compete in a final to select the best business plan. Bournemouth University team created Ωmega Worms Ltd. a company who has developed a novel rearing technique for mealworms which induce them to synthesise omega 3. The business plan was to sell these mealworms as an omega 3 supplement to manufacturers of aquaculture feed, reducing the manufacturer’s reliance on oily fish as a feed ingredient, and thus their connection with unstable wild fish stocks.

The five members of the Bournemouth University team were Justine Cordingley, Clare Dean, Sui Chian Phang, Natalia Tejador and Kathryn Ross. All team members felt that Environment YES! was an extremely valuable learning experience.

 “With so much national focus on business and the economy it was a really useful exercise in thinking about how our research can be both profitable and solve environmental problems.”  – Justine Cordingley

 “This was an excellent experience which allowed us to strengthen a range of skills such as team work, time management, communication and presentation skills. Also it gave us the chance to learn about setting up a company and patenting products. It was enlightening!”  – Natalia Tejedor

Environment YES! And Biotechnology YES! run every year and are open to PhD and post doc researchers working in biological sciences. This year’s Bournemouth team would thoroughly recommend that members of the Applied Science community get involved in future workshops”.

Donella Meadows and systems thinking

One of the great joys of developing new teaching material is discovering the work of others, whom you knew nothing about. I’m currently reading ‘Thinking in systems’ by Donella Meadows, one of those names I’d been dimly aware of, without actually having read her work. Now I’m doing so, it’s a revelation; I have never read anyone write so clearly and entertainingly about systems thinking. She is probably best known as lead author of the seminal book ‘Limits to growth’, and was also a member of the ‘Club of Rome’. The article I have been recommending to my students is one of her best-known, and focuses on leverage points in systems – in other words, how to bring about change. Strongly recommended; I’ve put the link below. As a taster, here are a couple of quotes from her ‘Thinking in systems’ primer:

‘Managers are not confronted with problems that are independent of each other, but with dynamic situations that consist of complex systems of changing problems that interact with each other. I call such situations messes… Managers do not solve problems, they manage mess’ [R Ackoff]


‘You think that because you understand ‘one’ that you must therefore understand ‘two’ because one and one make two. But you forget that you must also understand ‘and’ [Sufi teaching story]

Welcome to the Green Economy and Sustainability blog

‘Green economy and sustainability’ is one of Bournemouth University’s (BU) newly defined research themes, and this blog has been created to support its development. The main aim of initiating this blog is to share information and to foster inter-disciplinary collaboration across the University. So, please get involved! Any member of BU staff who wants to add their own posts directly to this blog can now do so; please just make a request for access to the Research Development Unit, who will then set you up with an account.

Some brief items of news to kick us off. We are delighted that BU’s new MSc Green Economy has formally launched this October, with an initial cohort of 11 students. This is a novel departure for the University, being entirely distance-based in delivery, enabling students to study from anywhere in the world. As part of the course, students will have the option of undertaking either a research project or a work-based placement during their studies. So, if you have any ideas of projects that you would like to see them do, please get in touch.

There is also a Sustainable Business Exhibition happening right here in Bournemouth on 10th November, at the AFC Bournemouth stadium. This is free to attend:

Also, on the 20th October, the Carbon Management Centre of Excellence established by Mouchel in partnership with Bournemouth Borough Council is holding an event in BU’s Business Centre. The event will be showcasing successful carbon reduction projects in the property, transportation and waste sectors. It also will include a number of innovative new technologies that could deliver carbon reduction in the future. To register please email


Green Economy and Sustainability (Adrian Newton)

Authors: Adrian Newton (Applied Sciences)

Alternative name suggestion: None

Brief theme summary: The development of a green economy, or an economy that is environmentally sustainable, has become a political and socio-economic imperative. Key drivers include the need to reduce carbon emissions to reduce the risk of climate change, overexploitation of resources and widespread environmental degradation, which is eroding the natural capital on which human wellbeing depends. The transition to a green economy represents a substantial challenge to society, particularly in the current era of rapid environmental and socio-economic change.

Scope of theme: what is included? This is a strongly inter-disciplinary theme, which could potentially connect with many other areas of academic endeavour within the University. Key elements include reduction of carbon emissions; renewable energy; recycling and waste management; sustainable use of natural resources (eg water, fisheries, ecosystem services); ecotourism; urban planning and green infrastructure; transport; environmental justice etc. 

Scope of theme: what is excluded? Any element that does not consider the environmental impacts of its actions, and that does not attempt to reduce this impact.

Which big societal questions are addressed by this theme?

  • How may the transition to a green economy, or sustainable lifestyles, be made?
  • What are the environmental limits to growth?
  • How can natural resources be exploited sustainably?
  • What are the ecological footprints of different economic activities?
  • What are the factors influencing the resilience of social-ecological systems?
  • How can human society adapt to environmental change?
  • How can global poverty be alleviated without compromising the earth’s life support systems?
  • How can the risks of climate change to human society be averted?

How do these link to the priorities of the major funding bodies? Many of these issues are now featuring in calls from each of the UK research councils (eg through the LWEC programme), and from the EC.

How does this theme interlink with the other BU themes currently under consideration?

There is a strong potential link with Environmental change and biodiversity, but also potential to develop links with Health and wellbeing, Recreation and leisure, Culture and society or Society & Social Change, Creative and digital economies, Entrepreneurship and economic growth, Technology and design. I would also highlight the importance of understanding human behaviour, which relates to psychology.

Environmental Change and Biodiversity (Adrian Newton)

Authors: Adrian Newton (Applied Sciences)

Alternative name suggestion: None

Brief theme summary: We are currently experiencing a global biodiversity crisis, with high rates of species extinction and widespread habitat loss resulting from human activities. Other forms of environmental change include degradation of ecosystems, pollution, overharvesting of natural resources, spread of invasive species and anthropogenic climate change. Together, these pressures are having a significant impact on the ecological processes on which human life depends.  

Scope of theme: what is included? Biodiversity loss, extinction of species, environmental degradation, loss of ecosystem condition, habitat loss, environmental pollution, climate change, depletion of natural resources. Human responses to the biodiversity crisis, including sustainable use of natural resources, protected areas, ecological restoration. Effectiveness of management and policy responses. Impacts on ecosystem services and human wellbeing.

Scope of theme: what is excluded? Any element that does not have a significant environmental component.

Which big societal questions are addressed by this theme?

  • How may extinction risk be assessed?
  • What is the current rate of biodiversity loss?
  • What are the likely effects of climate change on the world’s ecosystems and associated biodiversity?
  • How vulnerable is the earth system to biodiversity loss?
  • What are the likely effects of environmental change on provision of ecosystem services, and human wellbeing?
  • Are there tipping points in ecological processes?
  • Are there thresholds of environmental impact beyond which recovery is impossible?
  • How resilient are ecological systems to environmental change?
  • Will the earth system be able to support human society in future, if the biodiversity crisis is not addressed?
  • How can the biodiversity crisis be addressed?
  • What are the risks of ecosystem collapse?

How do these link to the priorities of the major funding bodies? Many of these issues are now featuring in calls from NERC (eg through the LWEC programme and the BESS programme), and from the EC.

How does this theme interlink with the other BU themes currently under consideration? There is a strong potential link with the Green Economy and Sustainability, but also potential to develop links (particularly on ecosystem services) with Health and wellbeing, Recreation and leisure, Culture and society or Society & Social Change, Entrepreneurship and economic growth.