Associate Professor at 30!

I haven’t written on this blog for a little while, but what better way to get back into it than to announce a promotion to Associate Professor. Whilst I have always been honest on this blog about the specific privileges that may count in my favour as I embark on an academic career, I still didn’t expect to get to Associate Professor (or Senior Lecturer) at 30. Optimism and hard work can be a potent combination! I’m not sure what it was that got me the job, but publishing lots and doing lots of policy and media engagement probably helped.

The promotion means that I will be moving on from the University of East Anglia after  two productive years of my first lectureship. The Agriculture, Policy, and Development department at the University of Reading is my destination where I will lead work on agricultural innovation and extension, supported by the Elizabeth Creak Charitable Trust. I will be hiring two PhD students from the end of the year to work on agri-tech projects and I look forward to working with them! I also look forward to working with local farmers.

I can’t wait to meet my new colleagues and to ensure that social science plays an important role in the fourth agricultural revolution.

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Social researchers on tour: learning in the Lakes

One of the best things about lecturing is the opportunity to take students on fieldtrips! Geographers and Environmental Scientists can’t fully learn about the world from a lecture theatre and they often gain so much from trying out new things in the real world and from spending time with staff in a more normal environment!

Our base for the week, Derwent Hill in the lovely village of Portinscale near Keswick. Top quality rooms, fantastic food, friendly staff, and an amazing view of Derwent Water. The weather was amazing all week. Thank you so much to the wonderful staff who hosted us.

It’s quite difficult to summarise all of the things we did this week, but I’ll attempt to do so day-by-day (check out #uealakes19 for a full account of our daily movements).

Day 1: Participant observation in Keswick and Natural flood management in Glenridding

A fun day with an introduction to Keswick by the multi-talented Professor Andrew Lovett. We observed the different ways in which the town of Keswick was trying to mitigate against the problem of flooding through hard engineering and natural flood management. We then observed the different ways in which people in Keswick interacted with their environment through participant observation. This is a good method for observing what people actually do, rather than what they say they do via a survey! We then moved on to Castlerigg Stone Circle where Dr Emilie Vrain led an exercise on perceptions of landscape, and then on to Glenridding to hear about natural flood management. Thanks to Danny from the Ullswater Catchment Management Group for his expert insights.

Plus my crew go off-grid:

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A well-earned drinks break on the way home (my fault!)

Day 2: Interviews on natural flood management

I started with a 0600 trip to Dodd Wood to see the Osprey from the viewpoint (I did see it!). We saw the nest again whilst driving out later in the week, but I couldn’t convince anyone to do a project about the Osprey viewpoint. Joe’s birdwatching parents would be disappointed!

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Osprey Viewpoint at Dodd Wood

Students split into groups to conduct interviews with key people involved in natural flood management in Cumbria – farmers, residents, Catchment Sensitive Farming Officers, business owners and alike. The students got a fascinating insight into the different stakeholders involved in flood management and the challenges of implementing solutions (e.g. cost, politics, practicality etc.). We then analysed the interviews back at HQ and discussed the pros and cons of interviews as a method. One of the main learning points was how to manage respondents when they go off on a tangent. As Frances noted, ‘this information is nice to know’, but it isn’t always relevant so it takes a skilled researcher to intervene without disrupting the flow. Getting distracted by someone’s cute dog mid-interview also doesn’t help!

Day 3: Surveys on the West Cumbrian Coast

After designing the surveys the night before, groups went to four West Cumbrian towns (Workington, Maryport, Whitehaven and Cockermouth) to question people about their views on sources of renewable energy, a key industry in the region. Some groups devised cunning tactics – the Cockermouth group channeling their inner Gandalf and standing on the main footbridge into the town to prevent people from quickly escaping them, whilst the Whitehaven group sought out people waiting for a bus who couldn’t quickly run away! Other groups found life much more difficult, particularly in Maryport which wasn’t very busy. Bad luck to Britt, Sollie, Josh, and Talia who endured the quiet town of Maryport. Special mention to Star who wasn’t perturbed by initial rejections and mopped up all the old people at the bus stop who couldn’t get away. We analysed the survey back at HQ again and discussed the pros and cons of surveys as a method. One key learning point was not to be too precious about survey wording if it turned out to be inadequate – a point not lost on Lee ‘of course it’s clear, that’s why I wrote it’ Wright who recognised the need to tweak the wording the day after.

Day 4: Independent projects day – Keswick, Catbells, Cockermouth, and Windermere

A chance for the students to do their own independent projects. Participant observation and surveys were the order of the day – including a project on perceptions of the Windermere landscape, one on erosion control on Catbells, and another on how mobile phone use differed between environments around Keswick. Kudos to UEA Hockey stars Sollie, Dom, and Georgia for counting the number of people on phones in Keswick. Another group including Kaitlin and Rebecca investigated flood management in Cockermouth, while Zac and Britt explored the impact of tourism on Keswick. Ellie, Frances, and Maud were interested in perceptions of climate change! Thanks to Lee for the wonderful photos from Catbells below. Special mention to Hannah for claiming to have lost her wallet at the Gingerbread shop in Grasmere, before making us return to the shop to find that it was in her bag all along. The extra journey was no problem, however, once Celia had praised the health benefits of the Ginger we had to eat to get us through the monotony of driving on the same road twice in half an hour (we have forgiven Hannah honestly!).

Day 5: Presentations and activities (and Andrew’s birthday cake!)

A bit of free time before presentations was spent either climbing Catbells or kayaking on Derwent Water (sorry for holding everyone up in the Kayak!). A much needed break after an intense week of work!

Then we heard student presentations of their independent projects, some of which were really interesting. Well done to those students who put considerable effort into their fieldwork and presentations! There was then time for a cake to celebrate Andrew’s soon-to-be experienced special birthday.

Summary:

Overall, a fantastic week with wonderful weather. Whilst we learned lots of things about social research methodologies, perhaps the most important lesson was that social research can be done with a smile on your face! And that effort most definitely correlates with reward. We also discovered the tunes of Carlisle FM; a good replacement for Smooth FM, which as Maud argues plays ‘banger after banger’.  Thanks to the Alumni class of 1968 of the School of Environmental Sciences at UEA who contributed to this fieldtrip.  

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Group photo at ‘one of the three or four most beautiful views in Europe’ (Ruskin)

 

Improving food waste recycling in Norfolk: a final year project

Guest blog by Hannah Treacy

Hannah is in her final year of studying BSc Environmental Science at the UEA. Her final year research project, based in Norwich, looked at improving local authority approaches to household participation in food waste recycling. http://www.linkedin.com/in/hannah-treacy

Food waste is a large-scale global problem. It is estimated that every year one-third of edible food is wasted, mounting up to 1.3 billion tonnes of food. A colossal amount equivalent to 21.5 million planes; or 100 million double decker buses; or in food terms: 1.6 trillion loaves of bread!

There are various policies aimed at reducing this ridiculous amount of waste – such as the UN Sustainable Development Goal which says global food waste must be halved by 2030. UK local authorities are rolling out more food waste collection services to households to reduce the amount of food entering the residual waste stream, and potentially ending in landfill.

The study focused on food waste collection services in Norfolk, specifically Norwich City Council who are experiencing low household participation in the scheme; and Broadland District Council who recently expanded their collection service to an additional 3,000 households. Both local authorities tried out a series of public engagement techniques to householders: Norwich’s to improve participation, and Broadland’s to introduce new households to the scheme.

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One of the food waste caddies!

I decided to question householders receiving the public engagement techniques on their food waste recycling habits and opinions of the local authority engagement. The study used questionnaires to target over 700 households across the two local authorities 3-4 weeks after the public engagement techniques were released.

Just to add – these were all hand-delivered and collected by myself and with the great help of my wonderful boyfriend, Harvey. I don’t think my step count will ever be so high – we had walked 20 miles in one day delivering just half of the questionnaires (in the full heat of 2018’s summer). We hit the road again three days later to collect any completed questionnaires and were completely overwhelmed at the response rate – 153 residents had completed the questionnaire! There were some great responses which made for some interesting analysis.

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Enjoying a well-deserved drink after distributing questionnaires!

After collection, the next task was to input all of the responses into an Excel spreadsheet. Here, I produced various graphs and descriptive statistics which gave a great insight into household opinions and habits. On the whole, people who responded were aware of the food waste recycling scheme, and 70% were keen recyclers who put their caddy out every week for collection. Just 16% never recycled, although nearly half of this group were into home composting. I then confronted my fears and started statistical analysis on SPSS, which allowed me to analyse these results in greater depth. I used Value-Belief-Norm theory as a framework to see how biospheric, altruistic and egoistic values faired predicting household behaviour.

It was found that biospheric and altruistic values were directly linked to people recycling their food waste. In other words, people were recycling because of the environmental benefits and because other people do. Contextual factors, such as not recycling food waste due to composting instead or finding the process to be a bit smelly were also important influencers for food waste recycling. The hot weather had raised many concerns surrounding hygiene – the heat had brought maggots, fruit flies and even foxes to resident’s food bins!

The second part of my research was to consider how these results can be useful for local authorities. The key messages were that all of the public engagement techniques used (i.e. leaflet, free caddy liners) improved food waste recycling – Norwich City Council reported that both high and low performing areas improved as a result of the campaign. Other factors to consider were ‘nudge’ techniques which frequently remind householders to recycle and using public engagement techniques to demonstrate how barriers can be overcome – such as getting rid of that lovely rotting food smell.

It is very rewarding that my research gave many useful conclusions that will be of use to local authorities. It also opens questions for further research – I am delighted to hear that Broadland District Council are using a similar questionnaire design to reach a larger number of households. And finally, I am most pleased to have obtained a first-class grade in my dissertation!

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Picking up the first-class dissertation after marking!

Marking dissertations – a joy not a chore!

This blog has been a little quiet recently. January isn’t usually an overly optimistic month – dark nights, HMRC tax returns, and the post-Christmas period really do make it the worst month of the year in my opinion, even for someone who ranks Winter as the best season of the year.

I’ve been doing lots of teaching this semester on what makes a good dissertation, including good research design and execution. I’ve been asked by lots of students ‘what makes a good dissertation’ or ‘how do I do a good dissertation’? The simple answer is that the best dissertations identify clear aims, design their research carefully, use appropriate methods, and ensure that their conclusions are based on the data. Sometimes, enough work isn’t put in at the research design phase, which is by far the most important stage of the dissertation. If you set out to answer a question that you can’t answer or for which you can’t possibly collect the data in the time allowed, then you are heading for disaster!

My undergraduate dissertation got a 2:2 precisely because I set out to answer a question that was impossible to answer. I set out to predict the future, asking ‘if the Environmental Stewardship Scheme (agri-environment scheme) would lead to an improved farmland biodiversity numbers by 2020’, writing in 2010. That is a fine example of setting yourself a mountain to climb – there was no possible data that I could collect that would have answered the question. The examiners and I would have needed a crystal ball or a time machine.

The best dissertations do something a little original, but set themselves a narrow focus. This ensures that data collection is manageable and creates a clear focus in the results and discussion. My best piece of advice is to put most of your time into the design phase. Once you know you’ve set yourself manageable tasks, the project will seem a lot easier, although there will be the inevitable setbacks along the way. There always is with research! Although you probably shouldn’t do this in the social sciences, and you certainly can’t with grounded theory, I always advise a ‘backward mapping approach’ taught to me by Professor Sutherland at Cambridge. If you have some idea about what your results might look like, and what you might want to get out of the dissertation, you will know the right questions to ask to help you get there. A map is of no use if you don’t know what your destination is.

Anyway, the reason I’ve written a blog tonight on a delayed late train back to Liverpool is because I’ve received a significant pile of dissertations to mark from our ENV students at UEA. Now some staff might find this marking a bit of a chore, but I don’t; indeed, I’ve offered to do extra ones this year. It’s so fantastic to read about all the interesting work that our students have done. No project is perfect, of course, but then again nor is any piece of academic work. There are the projects where the student hasn’t thought carefully about the research design, but I’ve had plenty of brilliant projects this year where design and execution have been on point. I’ve even got marks of about 75-80 out of my locker, which for those who know me is incredibly rare – grade inflation isn’t my thing, but two dissertations that I marked this year were fantastic. I will update this blog after the marks have been released so that I can give proper praise to the two students in question! I’ve marked dissertations on topics such as food waste recycling, participation in local democracy, coastal flood management in Suffolk, and factors affecting people’s dietary decision-making. It’s been a very varied and interesting year.

To conclude, for all those students knocking on my door with new dissertation ideas, I stress the importance of reading around your topic area and coming up with an answerable, manageable research question. Staff can help, of course, but if you put in the hard yards at an early stage, it will pay off in the end!

Social science methodologies in conservation: a response

Today we published a response to an article which purported to respond to a special issue of papers on the use of qualitative methods in conservation science (Methods in Ecology and Evolution), which I had been involved with. To be clear, the response paper from Moon et al. is less of a direct response, for it mainly criticises the special issue for not doing what it never claimed to do (ah good old academia!), but is nevertheless a useful additional paper for those wanting to use social science methodologies in conservation. But straw man alert, straw man! Many of the criticisms of Moon et al. erect a straw man – they criticise the special issue for only providing a limited number of social science methods and say it risks narrowing the field. No, the special issue never claimed to be comprehensive. It is unclear why anyone would think it was, unless as Moon et al. have done, it’s used as a tactic to create a false argument that can more easily be knocked down. I’m off to find a paper on tigers so that I can critique it for not talking about lions.

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The purpose of the original special issue, led by the dynamic Nibedita Mukherjee and others, was to present a how-to guide for conservation scientists about a range of qualitative methodologies, which we accept may have been better termed ‘social science’ methodologies (as some of the methods could produce quantitative data). The audience of Methods in Ecology and Evolution are generally natural scientists who will have received less social science training than others who you might expect to be using these methodologies in conservation. As such, we didn’t want to bore readers with discussions of philosophy, which would feel out of place in an instrumental journal, but we wanted to provide accessible guides to help build knowledge of how to perform the methods. From initial feedback to the special issue, I am comforted that the papers have been useful for those who haven’t, for example, used interviews or focus groups before, which can be powerful methods for conservation decision-making. The focus group paper has been highly cited for example. Social science methodologies should be accessible to all regardless of disciplinary background and should definitely not be the sole haunt of a ‘properly trained’ social scientist (whatever that is). We never said philosophies weren’t important, but that is a discussion for another day, something which Moon et al. now provide.

From the tone of our response, you may have gathered that I wasn’t best pleased with having to respond to an article that was more of a supplementary paper to the special issue (but submitted under the guise of a response), rather than being a direct response. We all could have done far more useful things with our time! {in response to a comment, I am happy to clarify that the time-wasting comment is more me being disgruntled with the process used by Methods in Ecology and Evolution, which asked us to do a first response, and then a second response to a significantly changed second version of their response. It would have been better for MEE to wait for the final response before asking us to respond. We did not have to respond but did so to highlight the original purpose of the special issue and to identify areas where we felt Moon et al. had misunderstood its arguments}.

My favourite thing about the Moon et al. ‘response’ is definitely when they criticise the special issue for using the terms ‘social science’ and ‘qualitative’ interchangeably (a fair point), but then insert the word ‘social science’ into a former quote by one of the author team, replacing the original word ‘qualitative’ in the process. It’s obviously easy to do!

Indeed, I question the response mechanism used by Methods in Ecology and Evolution in this case, which seemed to allow Moon et al. to see our initial response to their response, and then change it based on seeing reviewer comments, but also having seen our response to their criticisms. Now I am all for criticism, but I draw the line at helping others to criticise my own work. Essentially, this is what such a system does – if responding authors are able to see the original authors’ response to their response, change their line of attack because they realise it was initially bonkers or easily defended against, then the original authors end up giving ammunition to the responders. Madness! Next time I face such a scenario, we will say nothing of substance in our initial response to the response, so as to give nothing for the other set of authors to work with, and then throw something sassy in at the end. A much better system, instead of going through various time-consuming rounds to improve the initial response, would be simply to reject the initial response if it isn’t very good. Or disallow it for not being a response.

Anyway, enjoy our fairly pointless response to the non-response! I’m off to do something useful…

Defra’s Sustainable Intensification Platform – revisiting my old postdoc

I was given my first postdoctoral role in November 2014 by Professor William Sutherland and Dr Lynn Dicks at Cambridge, with Lynn adopting the senior author role for most of the resulting publications. Our funding to do empirical work only lasted until November 2015 – as we publish our last paper today, I recap our findings. I’m very proud of the whole team for such a productive year’s worth of outputs:

Here’s the list of five papers:

Rose, D. C.,Sutherland, W. J., et al., Dicks, L. V. (2018). Integrated farm management for sustainable agriculture: lessons for knowledge exchange and policy, Land Use Policy, Full text (OA)

Rose, D. C., Parker, C., Fodey, J., Park, C., Sutherland, W. J., and Dicks, L. V. (2018). Involving stakeholders in agricultural decision support systems: improving user-centred design, International Journal of Agricultural Management 6 (3-4): 80-89, Full text (not OA)Summary blog , Key Figure

Rose, D. C., Morris, C., Lobley, M., Winter, M., Sutherland, W. J., and Dicks, L. V. (2018). Exploring the spatialities of technological and user re-scripting: The case of decision support tools in UK agriculture, Geoforum 89 pp. 11-18, Full Text (Open access)

Rose, D. C., Bruce, T. A. J. (2017) Finding the right connection – what makes a successful decision support system?, Food and Energy Security, Full Text (Open access)

Rose, D. C., Sutherland, W. J., Parker, C., Lobley, M., Winter, M., Morris, C., Twining, S., Ffoulkes, C., Amano, T., Dicks, L. V. (2016) Decision support tools for agriculture: Towards effective design and delivery, Agricultural Systems 149 pp. 165-174 Full Text (Open access)

Plus this one from Lynn’s research on a different work package:

Dicks, L. V., Rose, D. C., Ang, F., Aston, S., Birch, A. N. E., et al. (2018). What agricultural practices are most likely to deliver ‘sustainable intensification’ in the UK?, Food and Energy Security, Full text (OA)

Plus a media article written on our work:

Farmers Guardian/Arable Farming, In support of a better decision, https://www.fginsight.com/vip/in-support-of-a-better-decision-19322

Take-home messages

Although we had two tasks, one related to decision support system uptake, and the other on integrated farm management practice, there is one common theme. This relates to the importance of involving farmers, advisors, and other stakeholders across the supply chain, in the design of technologies and concepts that ultimately aim to influence practice. Through the user-centred design of technologies, and farm management practices, we can ensure that they are relevant, useful, and practically implementable. For me, this is why it is so great that Defra are actively seeking to co-design new agricultural policies post-Brexit. There are many historical examples of poorly designed technologies and ‘management-speak’ rather than ‘farmer-focused’ policy concepts, and our work gives real impetus to co-design approaches which seek to enable stakeholders to shape research and policy trajectories. I look forward to working with Defra as part of a new ESRC project led by Dr Ruth Little at Sheffield which seeks to understand how agricultural policies can be better ‘co-designed’. I also look forward to developing my research on the social impacts of new technologies on-farm, which are so often forgotten in the rush towards greater productivity.

Do get in contact with me on david.rose@uea.ac.uk if you wish to discuss any of this work or if you would like to access any of the papers (though most should be open access).

 

BBC World Service interview – don’t forget the coal miners!

For regular readers of this blog, you’ll know that I’m an optimistic academic. The remainder of December is going to be filled with various talks and exciting conferences and all paper writing has finished for the year! 2018 has been great – I set myself a ridiculous target of having 10-15 papers accepted in the year. Looking at my paper wall outside my office, I’ve managed to get 13 papers accepted, with 2 book chapters, one technical report, and some other bits of writing elsewhere! Despite the fact that some of the papers are editorials/letters, it’s still been a very productive year! Definitely time for some time off, however! I should have three papers coming out online this month, so stay tuned for them! One is on Integrated Farm Management, one is on Responsible Innovation of Agri-Tech, and the other one is a pointless response to a non-response (fun blog coming about that experience!).

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In other news, I was very excited to do my first media interview this week. I’ve always been rather nervous of such requests in the past, because I write better than I talk (I get super nervous), but I thought I’d say ‘yes’ to a request from the BBC World Service. I’m glad that I did – my tip to all budding academics is to say ‘yes’ to as much as possible, even if you are nervous of the new experience.

The World Service was doing a segment about the COP meeting in Poland and asked me to discuss science communication and how policy is made. Listen for yourself here from 32.30 onwards! Many of the questions related to whether you can mitigate climate change while still having an economy dependent on coal – obviously not and I was quite clear about this in my first answer!

But I am sympathetic to the fact that there are many millions of brave men and women throughout the world who work down coal mines or in other fossil fuel industries. You don’t have to tell me how brave they are working in such difficult conditions – I never met my Grandad because he was killed down a coal mine. These brave skilled miners work hard every day to put bread on the table for their families. Now, that is no excuse for propping up a polluting industry (the world changes after all!), but it should provide environmentalists food for thought. We cannot demand instant closure of mines without thinking of the people who work in them. Transitions to a low-carbon economy must be just and we must remember that these miners have dignity. For many decades, society sent them down dangerous mines and told them that they were providing a great service. Now some overly zealous environmentalists refer to them as villains of the world. This is unfair.

We must think about how we create just and dignified transitions, thinking about how we support, re-skill, and provide short-term welfare for those who might lose out from such transitions. Poorer countries will need more help from the developed nations who caused the problem. People are only going to want to do something about climate change if it makes their lives better, not worse!

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Anyway, listen for yourself and let me know what you think!