24 Feb 2014

£1.5M community research project to reignite energy debate

A new three-year research project led by The Open University is set to challenge the terms of public debates about energy issues. Stories of Change: Exploring energy and community in the past, present and future has received nearly £1.5million in funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to examine areas of conflict and make space for more diverse voices. The project will explore energy choices through an innovative mix of social science and humanities research, digital storytelling, short films, and other creative work; and will be generating a publicly-accessible collection of stories.

Dr Joe Smith, lead researcher and Senior Lecturer in Environment at The Open University said: “At the heart of the Government’s Climate Change Act of 2008 is a cross-party commitment to cutting carbon emissions. However, research shows that many people feel disengaged from or even hostile towards the changes needed to meet the UK’s carbon reduction targets. Public and political conversations about energy have stalled and we aim to return some momentum by looking in a fresh way at its past, present and future.”

The project will uncover accounts of the relationship between energy, industry and landscape in the English Midlands; it will see how energy resources such as coal and wind have shaped life in South Wales; and it will also bring together existing communities of interest around energy policy.

Dr Joe Smith continued: “We are working to discover and create stories because they offer a popular and engaging route into thinking about possible energy futures. Everybody can gather around stories. We are finding that they help to connect researchers, artists and communities.”

The interdisciplinary project team also includes researchers from the Universities of Sheffield, South Wales, Birmingham, Bath and Exeter and the arts organisations TippingPoint and Visiting Arts. The project is rooted in a body of ambitious partnerships, including government departments, business, NGOs, museums and community groups. Creative partners include a mix of poets, filmmakers, theatre makers, writers and artists. All of them are experienced in helping to give voice to people and/or things that are often unheard.

Notes to Editors

About the AHRC’s Connected Communities Programme:
The project is funded as part of the AHRC’s Connected Communities programme, designed to help us understand the changing nature of communities in their historical and cultural contexts and the role of communities in sustaining and enhancing our quality of life. The programme seeks not only to connect research on communities, but also to connect communities with research, bringing together community-engaged research across a number of core themes, including environment and sustainability. This project speaks directly to several strong themes in the wider programme including: temporal dimensions to notions of community; exploring the potential for arts and humanities to support approaches to engagement with communities; communities as active participants in the research process; collaboration between research and the creative arts and media, and the significance of narratives for communities.

About the team:
The project is being led by Dr Joe Smith of The Open University’s Geography Department. Joe is also leading Story 1 ‘Demanding Times’. Renata Tyszczuk of the University of Sheffield School of Architecture leads Story 2 ‘Future Works’ and Karen Lewis of University of South Wales leads Story 3 ‘Life Cycles’. Axel Goodbody (University of Bath, German Studies) leads on the seminar series ‘Energetic’. The team also includes Rosie Day (University of Birmingham, Geography), Bradon Smith (University of Bath/The Open University, Literature/Geography), Julia Udall (University of Sheffield, Architecture), Nicola Whyte (University of Exeter, History), Zdenek Zdrahal and team (Open University, Knowledge Media Institute) and core-team arts organisation partners Peter Gingold (Tipping Point) and Yvette Vaughan-Jones (Visiting Arts).

About The Open University
The Open University (OU) is the largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning. Since it began in 1969, the OU has taught more than 1.8 million students and has more than 200,000 current students, including more than 15,000 overseas.
The OU is rated in the top five of UK universities for student satisfaction in the National Student Survey, since the survey began in 2005. In 2012/13 it had a 92% satisfaction rating. Over 70% of students are in full-time or part-time employment, and four out of five FTSE 100 companies have sponsored staff to take OU courses.

In the UK’s latest Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 2008) The Open University was ranked in the top third of UK higher education institutions. More than 50% of OU research was assessed in the RAE as internationally excellent, with 14% as world leading.

Regarded as Britain’s major e-learning institution, the OU is a world leader in developing technology to increase access to education on a global scale. Its vast ‘open content portfolio’ includes free study units on OpenLearn, which received 5.2million unique visitors in 2012/13, and materials on iTunes U, which has recorded more than 60 million downloads. The OU has a 41 year partnership with the BBC which has moved from late-night lectures in the 1970s to prime-time programmes such as Frozen Planet, Bang Goes the Theory, James May’s Big Ideas and The Money Programme.

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