Category / Research themes

Leisure and Recreation (Sean Beer and Scott Cohen)

Author: Sean Beer and Scott Cohen (Tourism)

Alternative name suggestion: Recreation and leisure

Brief theme summary: We view leisure and recreation as an interdisciplinary theme that closely engages associated subjects of tourism, sport, health, events, retail and hospitality, as well as the arts, outdoor pursuits, play and entertainment, amongst others. Central to understandings of leisure is its association with non-work time and work/life balances, although admittedly the boundaries between leisure and work often blur. 

Experience is central to leisure and recreation, in which people may seek to enhance the quality of their lives through leisure’s potential to transform, refresh, recreate, relax and/or escape. Leisure and recreation link to the renewal and development of social bonds, social capital, forms of cultural consumption, creativity and self-development, through both formal and informal modes and at home and away from home. 

Leisure and recreation is also concerned with issues of social inclusion, equity and diversity through policy and practice, as well as socio-cultural and environmental research in relation to its impacts.

Also drawing together notions of hospitable space and the formation of some types of temporary events, leisure and recreation can thus be seen as encompassing a full range of practices associated with the meanings, processes and activities that may enrich non-work time and space.

Scope of theme: what is included? Leisure, recreation, leisure/work balance, tourism, hospitality, events, retail, sport, health and healthy living, physical activity, exercise, play, gaming, experience, entertainment, casual/serious leisure, art, culture, creativity, learning, consumption, pro-sumption, lifestyle, volunteering, adventure, local/global, physical/virtual, transport, movement/mobility, social/cultural/environmental/economic aspects of leisure, fusion.

Scope of theme: what is excluded? For discussion of this please see section on Links with other BU themes under consideration.

Which big societal questions are addressed by this theme?

  • Quality of life: mental, physical, spiritual
  • The Big Society: the relationship between the public, private and third sectors and society, responsibility and individual behaviour within society with regard to many of the big issues of the day such as climate change, health, sustainability
  • Work life balance: the blurring of the edges between work and leisure
  • Equality and access (Gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, wealth, family units)
  • Aging population (A particular issue for the UK and the SW of England.)
  • Multiculturalism
  • Localism and globalisation
  • The growth of the virtual world

How do these link to the priorities of the major funding bodies?

  • Arts and Humanities Research Council, numerous opportunities
  • Economic and Social Research Council, all areas of their strategic priorities; Influencing Behaviour and Informing Interventions, A Vibrant and Fair Society, Economic Performance and Sustainable Growth.
  • Leverhulme, broad, but for example, particularly focussing on surmounting traditional disciplinary academic boundaries
  • British Academy, a wide range of opportunities
  • Nuffield Foundation, many opportunities
  • Esmée Fairbairn Foundation,  opportunities for funded research which helps them in their aim to improve the quality of life for people and communities in the UK both now and in the future
  • Natural Environment Research Council, links between leisure, the natural environment and sustainability
  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, areas such as technology and behaviour interventions.
  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, areas such as food and sustainability.
  • Medical Research Council, collaborative work through programme grant scheme
  • European Union, potential under FP7 and in other areas

Research Excellence Framework Unit of Assessment 26 & 19 (and also others though the emphasis would be more towards the theme of the other Unit.)

How does this theme interlink with the other BU themes currently under consideration? There are a multitude of connections to the other themes.  This is not seen as a disadvantage, we deliberately set out to be inclusive and holistic in our approach rather than exclusive and reductionist.  The approach is underpinned by an intention to look for fruitful areas of collaboration and to be able to showcase the work of colleagues in a variety of ways. 

Thus within Health and wellbeing there are overlaps in terms of quality of life, social inclusion and involvement in volunteering, for instance, but not necessarily in relation to management of health care and health care professionals.  In terms of Environmental change and biodiversity and the Green economy and sustainability the natural environment and human wellbeing are intrinsically linked, as are concepts of sustainability and the action of the individual through volunteering for an environmental charity for example.  The science of biodiversity is not an area that comes within the theme. 

There are synergies with regard to work looking at Aging, relating to access and quality of life, but not directly with specific therapies.  For many people learning is leisure, though work based learning is not.  There are connections with Learning and public engagement, as there are with Entrepreneurship and economic growth, given the role of individuals outside work in things like social entrepreneurship and also entrepreneurship within specific leisure and recreation industries.

For many individuals leisure and recreation is bound up with Technology and design as well as the Creative and digital economies, and whilst this theme is not connected to the intricacies of web design (unless it is your hobby) increasingly people are conducting their leisure lives in virtual worlds, where social connections and connecting is a virtual experience of life, love and even sex, but who is to say that it is any better or worse for that.  All this seems to be underpinned by change and any consideration of Culture and society or Society & Social Change must be a close bed fellow to this and all the other themes.

Culture and Society (Rosie Read)

Author: Rosie Read (Health and Social Care)

Alternative name suggestion: Socio-Cultural Change, Conflict and Cohesion

Brief theme summary: A rapidly globalising world generates profound economic and social instabilities, opportunities and inequalities. The truly global nature of corporate capital and investment, alongside the large scale migration of populations across the world in search of better opportunities, raises key problems and/or debates in the contemporary world. These developments have been linked to the rise of class and ethnicity-based conflicts and political and religious extremism, as well as the seemingly contradictory role of governments in seeking to encourage growth (via deregulation and privatisation) whilst also needing to guarantee some level of social and economic equality and protection for vulnerable sections of the population (however these may be defined). These problems raise important questions for how to create social cohesion, and specifically the responsibilities of governments, corporations, non-profit organisations and individuals in achieving this.

Scope of theme: what is included? Socio-cultural change, globalisation, conflict, equality and diversity, governance, cohesion, security.

Scope of theme: what is excluded? This theme embraces all strands of social science as well as humanities and the arts. Natural sciences, engineering and technology-based sciences may be outside of this theme in the first instance, but opportunities to collaborate with these disciplines will be taken up where advantageous. This may be potentially fruitful when considering digital technologies, green technologies and the theoretical crucible enabled by complex systems theories.

Which big societal questions are addressed by this theme?

  • How can equality, opportunity and social cohesion within and between different societies be understood and defined, ensured and promoted in the context of globalisation? What role, if any, should governments, multinational corporations, non-governmental organisations, faith organisations and individuals play in achieving this?
  • How are identities and notions of citizenship formed in societies characterised by cultural diversity, inequality and insecurity? What are the consequences for social cohesion, political organisation, solidarity, collective forms of responsibility and protection against insecurity?
  • How can contemporary conflicts in the world be better understood, and thereby addressed or prevented? How can the vast critical scholarship and expertise from the social sciences, arts and humanities be used to analyse and address contemporary conflicts in the world?

How do these link to the priorities of the major funding bodies?

  • ESRC: Strategic Plan 2009-2014. This theme overlaps with four (of seven) of key priority areas for this research council’s funding during this period. These are:  Global Economic Performance, Policy and Management, Health and Wellbeing, Security, Conflict and Justice and Social Diversity and Populations Dynamics
  • RCUK: (1) The AHRC is leading a cross-council research programme entitled ‘Connected Communities’, aimed at creating better understanding of the key societal and economic challenges facing communities, as well as effective forms of intervention. (2) ‘Global Uncertainties’ programme, supported by a range of research councils, including AHRC and ESRC.
  • EU: (1) Key theme of Framework 7 is ‘Social and Economic Concerns’, incorporating a number of foci relevant to this theme, such as regional development, employment issues, safety, security and social and economic issues. (2) Youth in Action Programme, European Commission, aimed at promoting sense of European citizenship and solidarity amongst young people in EU.

How does this theme interlink with the other BU themes currently under consideration? This theme has obvious links with several others under consideration, notably Health and Wellbeing, Entrepreneurship and Economic Growth, Learning and Public Engagement and Green Economy and Sustainability.

Technology and Design (Mark Hadfield)

Author: Mark Hadfield (Design, Engineering and Computing)

Alternative name suggestion: Engineering and Design

Brief theme summary: This covers most of the activity from UOA 15 General Engineering and hence the alternative title suggestion. In view of the national STEM agenda it is important that research within this area is also aligned with current and future education strategies and also with industrial engagement. Academics associated with this theme will be mostly from the School of DEC currently located within the Design simulation, Sustainable Design research and Smart Technology (Biomedical engineering). Alternative theme encompasses our portfolio of engineering in mechanical, material, bio-medical and sustainable design research activities.

Structure is terms of linkages – see mission statements recently posted on the I drive from the relevant research centres within DEC. (I:\DEC\Private\Research\Business Plans\Centre Vision Statements)

Scope of theme: what is included?

Please see vision statements from the I Drive for DSRC, SDRC and STRC

Areas include:

  • Simulated Design Analysis
  • Creative Design
  • Virtual Manufacturing Processes  
  • Design modelling using finite elements, Boundary elements, Computational stress analysis methodology.
  • Vibration and Noise experimentation and theoretical analysis
  • Theories and experimentation of tribology
  • Sustainable Design
  • STEM, General Engineering, Design Education
  • Advanced materials
  • Materials evaluation and characterisation  
  • Biomedical engineering (FES)
  • Applied AI
  • Tribology across general engineering sectors
  • Corrosion and Fretting
  • Surface engineering

New future opportunities such as the Space technology and economy should be embraced given the new EU Space Centre is based in Oxford.

Scope of theme: what is excluded?

Large engineering laboratory studies due to space/equipment limitations i.e.

  • Engine lab for thermodynamic and energy studies
  • Fluid mechanics
  • Controlled noise measurements
  • Large/heavy manufacturing studies

Materials fabrication and development

Which big societal questions are addressed by this theme?

  • Hydrogen economy
  • Low carbon energy
  • Quality of life issues such as environment and high value services
  • Strategic advancements for SME’s
  • Governmental vision and strategy of industrial support
  • Energy efficiency

How do these link to the priorities of the major funding bodies? The nature of funding linked to this research theme depends on industrial collaboration for most income streams. Generally enhancing academic relationships with industry such as business breakfast events, short courses etc provides the foundation of opportunities listed below.

Direct industrial collaboration.

EU grants: people exchange (Madam Curie). Project grants including, technology (robotics), energy – energy savings, sustainable development, industry and industrial – manufacture, materials, research in practice – measurement methods, nano-technology, transport and construction – aerospace and space technology.

EPSRC including CASE studentship, areas include: Materials, mechanical and medical engineering,Process, environment & sustainability programme funding plan, platform grants and networks
Royal Academy of Engineering: staff mobility grants include the areas of robotics, sustainable design, complex systems
AHRC including Science and Heritage linkages

Medical Engineering:
MRC
NHS
DSRC
Welcome Trust

Leverhulme Trust – high profile, impact general research

TSB – industry joint funding for design prototype etc
KTP  – Advanced materials, nanotechnology, electronics, high value manufacturing, energy generation, healthcare, transport, Space.

How does this theme interlink with the other BU themes currently under consideration? Health and Wellbeing: through biomedical engineering research such a muscle stimulation, prosthesis design and modelling, environmental design, design of products/services at the health sector.

Recreation and leisure: links to sports design analysis such as swimmers acceleration monitoring (PhD student), Olympic ethics on Paralympics runners.

Society and social Change: human interaction use of technology.

Environmental change and biodiversity: environmental impact study of products and services.

Green economy and sustainability: Product innovation, green technology such as micro CHP, efficiency use of product and services such as RNLI. 

Aging: Innovation of products to improve the quality of life of the elderly.

Learning and public engagement: sustainable design and education.

Entrepreneurship and economic growth: Commercialisation of products and as the pop-up tent, flood barrier. Patents from research projects e.g. Robotics and biomedical engineering.

Ageing (Sarah Hean)

Authors: Sarah Hean (School of Health and Social Care) on behalf of the Older Person, Children and Diverse Groups Programme (OPCD) of the Centre of Wellbeing and Quality of Life (CeWQoL)

Alternative name suggestion: Wellbeing and Quality of Life of Older People OR Wellbeing and Quality of Life across the Life Span

Brief theme summary: The theme focuses on intergroup communication as a means of enhancing older people’s quality of life.  Two dimensions are highlighted specifically: social and mental wellbeing.

Social wellbeing:  The theme focuses on reducing social isolation by enhancing older people’s communication with peers, community, health/social care professionals and other service providers (we view service providers as all professionals that may enhance the QOL of Older People and do not confine this to health and social care professionals alone), in order that their voice is heard in social policy. Professionals, working in multiprofessional, interagency environments, and who offer client-centred services, need to effectively communicate with each other and the client to ensure the quality of life of the older person. This theme explores how these processes can be better streamlined, understood and developed.

Mental well being: The mental/cognitive well being of older people is also a theme focus, considering particularly the experiences of older people living with dementia and the associated concepts of vulnerability.

We promote a humanistic approach that puts an emphasis on the lived experience of the older person, embodying their life goals and values.  Hereby, older people, form part of interprofessional, interdisciplinary or interagency teams rather than the passive recipient of their actions.  The theme therefore also focuses on developing these interprofessional teams through exploring and developing Interprofessional training that promotes an understanding of the value maps of both other professionals/agencies and the older person themselves.

Scope of theme: what is included? Research is often related to applied social science type research and service evaluations.

Developing rigorous theoretical models to guide research and practice in the theme is central.

Quantitative research: secondary data analysis of service records and cross sectional and longitudinal surveys. 

Qualitative research:  a range of perspectives (phenomenology, grounded theory etc) through focus groups, interviews and practice observations.  Practice development/service enhancement methodologies are also relevant.

Members of our OPCD programme apply their expertise in user involvement, social capital, social isolation, social networks, working with vulnerable groups, mental health, Dementia, Complementary Therapies, Interprofessional working and Education to this theme.  We focussing these skills on improving:

  • the outcome of Wellbeing and Quality of life
  • the population group of Older People.

To give a flavour of the types of project that fit under this theme, see below:

Previously funded Projects in Programme

  • Evaluation of the Mid Essex Memory Assessment and Support Service Care (Programme themes: Dementia, Older people) (Funder: NHS)
  • Evaluation of a Women worker in Criminal Justice System ((Programme themes: mental health, intergroup communication) (CoFunders: NHS/Criminal Justice System)
  • Evaluation of the South West Mental Health Assessment, Advice and Reports in Court Proceedings Pilot ((Programme themes: mental health/ intergroup communication)(CoFunders: NHS/CJS) 
  • Evolving theory in interprofessional education seminar series CROSS INSTITUTIONAL (Programme themes: Intergroup communication; Funder: ESRC)   

Current Funded Projects in Programme

  • Exploring the impact of friendship clubs on social isolation for the older age group”  – commissioned by. 2008-2011;  (Programme themes: Older People, social wellbeing) (Funder: Brendon care)
  • Knowledge Transfer Partnership: Building a business/social enterprise model to support older people self funding their own care (CROSS SCHOOL: HSC-BS))(Programme themes: Older people, intergroup communication) (Funder: ESRC/ HTB)
  • Exploring older people’s experiences of wellbeing and financial literacy during an Economic Down Turn (CROSS SCHOOL: HSC-BS) (Programme theme: Older people, quality of life, intergroup communication) (Joint Funders Institute of chartered accountants Scotland, Bournemouth Foundation)

Bids submitted

  • Interagency working London: evaluation of Focus teams liaising between Medium Secure Unit and CMHTs: (Short listed tender interview completed, Awaiting outcome: Programme theme: (Mental health, intergroup communication) (Funder: NHS)
  • Economic impact of social organisations: SW form: shortlisted for interview: Sarah Hean, John Fletcher, Charlie Monkcom (CAB) Presentation July 2011 CROSS SCHOOL (HSC-Tourism)(Programme theme: Older people, quality of life, Mental health, intergroup communication)(Funder: Big Lotttery. SW Forum)(Awaiting outcome)

Bids planned for term ahead:

  • Dementia bid: mapping the care pathway from the perspective of the patient: CROSS INSTITUIONAL (Programme theme: Older people, dementia) (Funder ESRC)

Scope of theme: what is excluded? Drug control trials or laboratory trials are out of our remit.

Which big societal questions are addressed by this theme? The Big Society promotes a move away from state support for social action to an increased reliance on community involvement and support of these activities.  This places particular pressure on third/voluntary sector organisations to fill the gap left by the with drawl of state funding and services.  These organisations are finding it increasingly important to be accountable for the social and financial impact of any state funding they do still receive and they need to develop their organisations financially to be increasingly independent of state funding.  In an increasingly ageing population, those third sector organisations supporting older people are particularly vulnerable.

This theme explores both the social impact (specifically on the quality of life of older people) and financial implications of these services.  We anticipate that novel interagency partnerships between the private, public and third sector will be key to the way the Big Society is managed and that the theme will contribute to this by developing an understanding of these opportunities and how they work.

How do these link to the priorities of the major funding bodies? The theme is congruent with the RCUK, cross council theme of Ageing: Lifelong Health and Wellbeing: realising economic, social and health gains of healthy ageing while reducing dependency, costs and inequities later in life.

By way of example, the funded project exploring the quality of life during and economic downturn and financial literacy in older people highlights the economic gains of health and wellbeing in older populations.

The currently funded KTP is developing a business model for older people self funding their own care.  This is particularly relevant to reducing dependency and costs in the older population

The evaluations/tenders that fall under this theme are increasingly being asked to address the links between cost effectiveness and social impact.  Our tenders on the a) economic impact of social organisations b) interagency working: London respond to this trend through a focus on cost effectiveness of wellbeing interventions, the financial impact of social interventions and the social impact of financial investment.

The research councils, the ESRC, specifically emphasises the importance of interdisciplinary working.  Thematically and operationally our bids to date are interdisciplinary: crossing school, professional, academic discipline, academic institution and public/private/third sector boundaries.

How does this theme interlink with the other BU themes currently under consideration? Links with the Health and Wellbeing theme.

Health and Wellbeing (Heather Hartwell and Ann Hemingway)

Authors: Heather Hartwell and Ann Hemingway (School of Tourism and School of Health and Social Care)

Alternative name suggestion: Wellbeing and Quality of Life

Brief theme summary: Wellbeing as described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in its constitution (2006) denotes ‘health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. However, the concept is not new for example Aristotle described wellbeing in terms of ‘ataraxia’ (inner peace) and ‘eudaimonia’ (a feeling of wellbeing, happiness, contentment, pleasure, satisfaction and living the best life possible).Within the field of happiness economics, where the concept of subjective wellbeing is defined as life satisfaction, it can be both uni- or multi-dimensional. In other words from an economic standpoint, subjective wellbeing can be defined and measured as both satisfaction with life in general (uni-dimensional) and satisfaction with different aspects, or domains, of life (multi-dimensional). Happiness, although challenging to assess, as people will derive differing amounts of pleasure from the same experience, resonates with the ‘set-point’ theory of wellbeing where each individual is thought to have a set-point of happiness given by genetics and personality. Life events may deflect above and below but in time hedonic adaptation will return an individual to this initial point. The theoretical framework for interpretation is the theory of ‘Subjective Wellbeing Homeostasis’ (Australian Unity, 2010), which proposes that everyone has a genetically determined ‘set-point’ for well-being that is internally maintained and defended, similarly to how body temperature is managed. Currently, the wellbeing debate anchors on two general perspectives: the hedonic approach, which defines wellbeing in terms of pleasure attainment; and the eudaimonic approach, which focuses on meaning and self-realization. The latter resonates with an emerging conceptualisation of public health which is to reject the model of ourselves as mechanics that diagnose and fix what is wrong to organic metaphors where we understand ourselves as ‘gardeners’, enabling the growth of what nourishes human life and spirit.

Scope of theme: what is included?

The cross university wellbeing theme currently with 113 staff registered has identified the following foci of activity:

  • Quality of life, wellness, wellbeing
  • Public Health
  • Health behaviours, physical activity, nutrition
  • Economic wellbeing
  • Health systems
  • Assistive and enabling technologies
  • Wellbeing in the workplace, learning environment, caring environment
  • Social inclusion and cohesion
  • Use of Media to influence Public Wellbeing
  • Emotions
  • Human right and ethics

 

Scope of theme: what is excluded? Infectious diseases.

Which big societal questions are addressed by this theme? Behavioural and lifestyle factors are major contributors to ill health and death some are well known such as unhealthy diet and lack of exercise however some are less obvious such as social isolation which is associated with increasing the risk of mental illness and coronary heart disease. A strong evidence base is required that will change the focus of our ‘National Sickness Service’ to one of prevention. In the Public Health White Paper, 2010, the emphasis is on research that can demonstrate new and cost effective ways of encouraging healthy behaviour.

The current fifth wave of public health identifies three main challenges:

  • How can the social and commercial changes which have conspired to make overweight/obesity more ‘normal’ be reversed?
  • How can the social inequality gap be reduced?
  • How can the rise in the levels of depression and anxiety with the associated loss of mental and emotional wellbeing be addressed?

How do these link to the priorities of the major funding bodies?

AHRC – Lifelong Health and Wellbeing (LLHW) is a major cross-council initiative supporting multi-disciplinary research addressing factors across the life course that influence healthy ageing and wellbeing in later life. 

ESRC STRATEGIC PRIORITIES 2011-2015 – There are three refined primary strategic research objectives, which will guide future funding from the ESRC, in light of the comprehensive spending review – health and wellbeing would be incorporated within:

  • Influencing Behaviour and Informing Interventions – Create a better understanding of how and why people and organisations make decisions, and how these can be managed or influenced.

EU – FP7 Activity 2.2 Fork to farm: Food (including seafood), health and well being – Understanding consumer behaviour and consumer preferences as a major factor in the competitiveness of the food industry and the impact of food on the health, and well-being of the European citizen.

National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Funding stream on applied research focusing on dementia prevention, diagnosis and care and specifically on promoting the wellbeing of sufferers.

How does this theme interlink with the other BU themes currently under consideration? This theme will link with recreation and leisure (serious leisure and physical activity), society and social change, green economy (slow travel), and aging.

Currently, there is much interest from local and national colleagues, for example locally, Dr Adrian Dawson (Director of Public Health) and social enterprises such as BH Live and Active Dorset. Nationally, the Department of Health and the Royal Society for Public Health are engaged with the HEIF Wellbeing in the Workforce project. A horizontal wellbeing theme links the relationship between research and policy and hence provides an opportunity to demonstrate impact.

Key dates are:

  • May 27th (cross university meeting with the Director of Public Health)
  • July 6th (Innovation in Wellbeing Conference, HEIF Wellbeing in the Workplace project)
  • July 13th (cross university meeting with BH Live)

In addition, this theme will build on the work of CeWQoL, with its many local, national and international partners, and is a vertical stream within HSC, as it is within the School of Tourism through the Centre for Events and Sport Research.

Just to note: 

  • BU has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Royal Society for Public Health, a powerful and strategic leader within this discipline.
  • BU is part of the Healthy University network.

Entrepreneurship and Economic Growth (Dean Patton)

Author: Dean Patton (Business School)

Alternative name suggestion: None

Brief theme summary: The theme provides a multi-disciplinary forum for researchers and practitioners in the field of entrepreneurship and small firm development and for those studying their impact upon local, regional and national contexts in which entrepreneurs emerge, innovate and establish the new economic activities which drive economic growth and create new economic wealth and employment.

Scope of theme: what is included?

  • New Venture Creation
  • Entrepreneurial Strategy and Organization
  • Entrepreneurial Marketing
  • Internationalization and International Entrepreneurship
  • Regional, National and International Growth Studies
  • Leadership and Entrepreneurial Behaviour
  • Entrepreneurial Finance and Accounting
  • Government Policy related to Entrepreneurship and economic Growth
  • Technology and Innovation
  • Business Incubation
  • Corporate Venturing
  • Family-Owned Businesses
  • Minority Issues in Small Business and Entrepreneurship
  • Social Entrepreneurship
  • Small Business Operations and E-Commerce
  • Entrepreneurial skills and management Development

Scope of theme: what is excluded? It does not include enterprise when the term is used to indicate income generation activity from consultancy and other third stream activity that takes place within the public sector and, particularly, HEIs.

Which big societal questions are addressed by this theme? Entrepreneurship is all about the practices of exploration, experimentation and trial and error that lead to the development of new, novel and innovative practices, processes and products.  As such the subject can lend itself to many of the big themes within society informing technological development and contributing to novel solutions that improve environmental performance, reduce energy usage, increase the quality of life for an aging population and make UK PLC more competitive.  Therefore entrepreneurship is an overarching subject that lends itself to multi-disciplinary research that underpins growth and development in other disciplines.

How do these link to the priorities of the major funding bodies? Taking the RCUK themes there are some obvious parallels in the theme Living with Environmental Change the focus is on ‘understanding how people respond to environmental change, including economic responses via, among other things, new business models’.  The theme on Digital Economy seeks to ‘understand how new technologies impact upon business and their processes’.

Within the ESRC there are obvious links between Entrepreneurship and Economic Growth with their identified themes relating to Technology and Innovation and the Global Economy and indirect links to Environment and Energy, Health and Well Being and Social Diversity

The EPSRC is more difficult to address but there are opportunities under ‘Better Exploitation’ and more indirect work might be undertaken within the themes ‘Digital Economy’ and Healthcare’.

How does this theme interlink with the other BU themes currently under consideration? There are various opportunities to link this theme with others identified as entrepreneurship can be applied across industrial sectors, can be undertaken on behalf, or by, individuals at various life-cycle stages and has the potential to impact upon the context and culture of communities.  My own preference would be to focus the agenda upon the start-up and growth of firms that make a contribution to the economic development and societal welfare.  As such I would view the research theme as having a focus upon business and economics and, therefore, relating to other business sectors, for example, ‘creative and digital economies’ and the ‘green economy and sustainability’.

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.

Culture and Society (Barry Richards)

Authors: Barry Richards (Media School)

Alternative name suggestion: This theme definitely needs a new title – the present one, and the suggestion of ‘Society and social change’, are so broad as to be meaningless. Once we know the theme summary we can come up with an appropriate title. See below.

Brief theme summary: Sorry, I can’t offer anything here as I think it depends on the research agendas of the 35 people who have signed up for this theme. My suggestion would be for a meeting of these people to try and identify a shared agenda. This will probably leave a handful of people without a home, but that will be the cost of having a theme which is not a catch-all. Answers to all questions should follow from the agreed agenda. Happy to play a part in facilitating this.

Learning and Public Engagement (Jon Wardle and Richard Berger)

Authors: Jonathan Wardle and Richard Berger (Media School)

Alternative name suggestion: Learning (as Public Engagement might be better suited to being a cross-cutting theme)

Brief theme summary: Learning is undergoing a revolution globally as a world full of the unexpected realises a need for ingenious, indefatigable lifelong-learners. At the heart of these new directions lie exciting new media, new design, new teaching approaches, new business models and new ideas.

Understanding how to educate people for today’s politically, technologically and socially changing world is of critical importance as the ways in which people learn throughout life within educational institutions, the workplace and informal settings is of major significance for the future development of the UK and countries around the world.

Similarly, academics are increasingly being asked to show how their work has a societal benefit, and to explain their research to those outside Higher Education. Public Engagement is not a by-product of research, it should be at its core. As Kingsley Amis wrote:

“[I]t cannot be said too often that education is one thing and instruction, however worthy, necessary and incidentally or momentarily educative, another” (1998: 236).

As Bournemouth University moves forward, it must continue to provide an education not just for its students, but for other constituencies. BU is s justifiably proud of the learning, and public-engagement, which happens on and off campus, and we work hard with other stakeholders around the world to make learning seductive, engaging and effective. This effective learning is not just the result of an accidental whim; it takes research and reflection, practice and people, across all our schools and within inter-disciplinary research teams.

Allied to these agendas, we want people to consider, question and debate the key issues which impact society, and so we are constantly looking for new ways to encourage people of all ages and from all walks of life to be informed, inspired and involved in learning and research.

Scope of theme: what is included? – creativity; curriculum development; democracy; e-learning; engagement; life-long learning; literacies; politics and power; production and practice; public sphere.

Scope of theme: what is excluded? – careers guidance; e-commerce; intellectual property.

Which big societal questions are addressed by this theme? – how can learning be improved in schools, colleges and universities?
– can new media technologies facilitate new forms of learning and engagement informally and formally?
– how can those in work gain formal qualifications?
– are there emerging new literacies that need researching?
– What role can learning play in addressing issues of poverty, social mobility and civic engagement?
– What is a University in the 21st Century?

How do these link to the priorities of the major funding bodies? The major research councils (RCUK) now have a commitment to public engagement and impact. For example, members of the AHRC peer-review college are required to assess bids on the grounds of public engagement and impact. Submissions to RCUK are increasingly planning for more public events and exhibitions to disseminate their work.

Similarly, large charities such as The Wellcome Trust, have a wide public-engagement mission, regarding the communication of science and health issues.

Learning is also a key priority for policy makers, particularly at the axis where education and new media meet. In recent years there have been a number of government reports commissioned into young peoples’ use of new media (see Byron 2008).

A number of organisations are now focusing on new media and learning. The Higher Education Academy’s subject centre, Art, Design and Media (ADM – HEA) funds research in both public engagement and learning, as does the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), here with a more direct focus on technology. Other bodies are also active such as The Sector Skills Council for the Creative and Media industries (Skillset) who fund research which brings together education and industry and the Leverhulme Trust who are interested in social mobility and improving attainment in Schools.

BU has had some success with these organisations, but a defined research theme could mean our activity in this area could potentially be far more strategic, ambitious and wide-ranging. It is clear then that our own students’ work should have impact too. It is hoped that such a research theme would draw in and facilitate all of those in the BU community.

How does this theme interlink with the other BU themes currently under consideration? This research theme would cut across all schools, and should engage staff who have a particular interest in public engagement and learning.

This theme’s focus on new media and new technology could have alliances with other themes such as Culture and Society or Society & Social Change, Creative & Digital Economies and Technology & Design.

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.

Health and Wellbeing (Carol Bond)

Authors: Carol Bond (Health and Social Care)

Alternative name suggestion: None

Brief theme summary: Personal health and wellbeing. Understanding personal concepts of health and wellbeing, especially for people who face additional health challenges. How healthcare systems and healthcare professionals can develop to support health and wellbeing.

Scope of theme: what is included? Concepts of health

Concepts of health in people who have additional health needs

Health care professionals (education, development, ethics, attitudes, culture, power)

Experience of people with additional health needs (i.e. living with long term conditions and disability)

People’s experiences of healthcare (systems, providers, treatments, care) – and using this to improve systems and care

‘New’ technologies  in health, such as use of the internet, web 2.0 etc by people to support their own health needs and self management

Scope of theme: what is excluded? Medicine / Development of clinical procedures (focus should be on better understanding the ‘patient’ experience and using this to improve care)

Which big societal questions are addressed by this theme? How can publicly funded heathcare systems (the NHS) cope with the increase in people living with long term conditions

How can people be supported / encouraged to take more responsibility for managing their own health

How can the NHS achieve its aims of creating a ‘revolution for patients – “putting patients first” – giving people more information and control and greater choice about their care’  

How do these link to the priorities of the major funding bodies? Not stated.

How does this theme interlink with the other BU themes currently under consideration? If the theme is Society & Social Change rather than culture and society I can see a link with this theme in the area of changing public expectations of health services and societies attitudes towards health (e.g. disability,  body image, mental health) and the way that society impacts on personal health and wellbeing. There are also links with Aging, as a lot of people experience new health challenges along with the aging process.

Champions Answer the Call!

Several champions have stepped forward to help define the BU Research Themes.  You may recall I asked for people to help frame these themes and encouraged as many people as possible to step forward with their thoughts.  In fact the more views we have for each theme the more debate we can generate. 

To help this debate we are posting the detail from the templates on a special part of blog – the Themes page.  I encourage everybody to engage and to comment on the text as it is posted.  If you feel inspired then fill in a template as well!  The more people that get involved with this debate the stronger the definition of each research theme will be.  So please have your say!

For the template, please see my previous Research Themes post.

Matthew Bennett

PVC (Research, Enterprise and Internationalisation)

Research Centres at BU: What is the way forward?

Research organisation is a vexed question.  How should we organise ourselves to maximise our research potential and foster innovation and collaboration while boosting our collective output?  Over the course of my career I have seen and participated in many different forms of research centre or grouping, from informal clusters of academics sharing ideas over coffee, to formally defined research centres.  The key to the success of all these different centres is meaningful intellectual interaction leading to a sense of purpose and output; not just talking shops, but ones focused on talk and action!  Some of the most successful centres I have seen consist of little more than a couple of established academics – say a Professor and a lecturer – and around them they have built through their own funding bids a fluid team of talented post-docs and research assistants who create the energy and drive as they push to develop their own career and often land that first lecturing job.  The role of the Professor is simply to guide and channel this energy, writing the applications to retain or employ new ‘bright things’.  This is the model I understand best with Professors leading from the front and generating their own research teams.  There are a few examples of this within BU, but not many, and I would like to see many more in the next few years.  It is a model that drives research growth and develops critical mass without a dependence on established posts.  It is also common in most research active Universities across the World.

At BU we have in recent years ‘forced’ research centres into existence, insisting that every academic belongs to a centre.  They have become establishment structures often at odds with academic groups and departments, which have a broader focus, often led by frustrated field marshals unable to inspire or direct the troops within them.  This was all elegantly brought out in the review undertaken by Professor Adrian Newton a few years ago.  A key point here was that structures for research were often at conflict with structure for education, yet at the heart of BU’s future is the duality of education and research feeding from one another in a creative fashion.  It is one of the reasons why one of the out comes of this review was a focus on academic groups or departments which combine both research and teaching.  The question needs to be asked therefore about what to do with our structure of research centres?

I have almost finished visiting all twenty five of BU’s current Research Centres and the picture is very mixed.  While some are clearly vibrant units where academics are working together to create exciting output both in education and research, others are dysfunctional neither meaningful academic networks, nor effective leadership vehicles.  Added to this mix we have the term Centres of Research Excellence, prevalent in the Strategic Plan of a few years a go.  But we never actually defined what these where and none where officially recognised, although several aspire to the crown.

To my mind there are two alternative ways of approaching the issue of research centres.  The first is based on silo-free, organic academic networks in which academic staff are free to choose where, and with whom, they work and collaborate both on education and research.  Research clusters or centres will form where there is real synergy and research output.  In this model the key is to create an environment where this can happen – where staff can mix freely and find collaborators easily both within and beyond BU and we are actively tackling this at the moment through the Collaborative Tools for Academics Project.  In this approach research would be manifest simply through output produced via the big BU Research Themes we are currently defining and not through static structures of centres or clusters.  Academic Groups and Departments would off course remain and may or may not map on to these organic, output driven clusters of academic talent.

The alternative model is to maintain and/or re-fresh our current structure of centres.  Effectively to reinforce the imposed structures which currently for some prescribe and limit academic freedom and collaborative potential.  Despite these issues it is perhaps a more inclusive model since everybody belongs somewhere, but our recent history suggests that this model limits collaboration and innovation.  There is also a hybrid model in which we recognise a few – literally one or two – Centres of Research Excellence defined clearly by a performance threshold based on output, income, reputation and research impact.  Such status would have to be won and could also be lost if performance declined.  The rest of our research would be defined via a fluid series of clusters and centres which could form and re-form as academic interaction changes over time as with the first model.

Which ever of these models we favour, and for what its worth I am inclined to either the former or the hybrid model, it is essential that we see centres of activity in the broadest sense combining both research and education.  That conflicts with academic groups based on line-management are minimized, but that we create an environment where silo-free collaboration across BU is a reality not just a dream.  So as part of the re-think around the Research Strategy at BU I am interested in hearing from you on this broad topic and look forward to your comments.

Matthew Bennett

PVC (Research, Enterprise & Internationalisation)