MISTRAL is a publicly funded research and training programme, with responsibilities to carry out rigorous research that benefits all of society. We are committed to making a research contribution to the sustainable energy transition and are developing partnerships with a range of different stakeholders to help us do this. A crucial element of this is the way we engage with non-academic interests and exchange ideas about our research findings. This is a neglected aspect of effective research, so we are now exploring the barriers and opportunities to knowledge exchange in the context of energy transition.
MISTRAL (Multi-sectoral approaches to Innovative Skills Training for Renewable energy & sociAL acceptance) is funded by the EU through the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions. It is an Innovative Training Network (ITN) – a programme for training researchers who are early in their careers to evaluate the complexity of social engagement around deployment of renewable energy infrastructure. We aim to conduct research that will have an ‘impact’ on energy transition, so that our research will create real social benefits.
Research that explores social engagement with the development of renewable energy infrastructure gives rise to a range of complex questions. There are many factors that prevent communities supporting local renewable energy projects, including concerns that they have not been sufficiently consulted about the proposals, that they believe the project may cause unacceptable local environmental impacts, or that they believe the community should be given a greater share of the benefits of the project through funding of local projects or creation of jobs. A lack of community support can have substantial consequences for consenting, operating and investment in the renewables sector. MISTRAL is a multi-disciplinary project that aims understand the factors and dynamics that may erode the social acceptance of renewable energy projects, and seeks to improve project design, policy-formulation and implementation of renewable energy infrastructure.
While we believe our research will provide valuable insights into these issues, its ultimate worth will not be realised unless it finds its way to project developers, policy makers, investors and communities, and that they see relevance to their activities. This relies on effective processes of communication; in terms of researchers sharing insights through the channels and formats appropriate for non-academic stakeholders, and feedback from them that highlights those areas that most need further research. Without an ongoing and dynamic process of such knowledge exchange, research cannot effectively change the trajectory of current practice.
Towards better knowledge exchange
Researchers engaging in a more effective processes of knowledge exchange can enhance the interactions between the academic, policy, and practice communities. To understand how such interactions take place, we have developed a series of surveys to find out more about the current state of knowledge exchange in social science research on the energy transition. We first want to know what researchers think about their role the knowledge exchange process, the resources that they have to do this and the things they do to disseminate their research. This survey has already been launched, targeting published researchers in this field.
We are also now launching a second survey, which targets those individuals and organisations that could potentially use social science research on energy transition and asking them about where they gather the knowledge they need for their practice, the resources they have to do this and the way they adapt and apply it to their work. When the two surveys are brought together, we hope that we will be able to identify areas of good practice and specific barriers to knowledge exchange in this field. This will also help us to find the most effective ways to link our own cutting-edge research to the people who will use it to change the way we all work, and to share these lessons with those working in academia and in other activities related to the energy transition.
We will share the insights from these surveys through reports available on the MISTRAL website, and through a free webinar in the Spring of 2021. Whether you work in policy or practice, please consider helping us with this work by completing our survey (the link will take you to a page on our project website where you can read more about the survey, and a link to take you to the survey itself):