Better decision making takes time and tenacity
“The pathways to impact for this research reflects the reality of research impact. It has not been a perfectly planned nor linear process... What we have done along the way is to ensure that we were out there making other scientists and influential communities aware of our work.” - Professor Ian Bateman, CSERGE, University of East Anglia
Professor Ian Bateman’s research has achieved a level of policy impact that he truly did not imagine. After years of research into methods for sustainable decision making he found himself sitting in Whitehall in front of senior Government officials being told that his research was going to fundamentally shape the direction of the Natural Environment White Paper published in June 2011.
Professor Bateman is Professor of Environmental Economics at the University of East Anglia and part of the Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment (CSERGE). He is currently the principal investigator for Social and Environmental Economic Research (SEER). SEER is a £2million, multi-disciplinary, five-year ESRC-funded large grant to develop a working computational model for a decision making process called the Eco-Systems Service Approach that considers the direct and indirect impacts of land use change. In December 2011 Professor Bateman was recognised for his work when he was awarded a prestigious Wolfson Research Merit Award by the Royal Society. “This has been a slow burn,” he explains. “I have been working on this area of research on and off for about 20 years. It began as something I fitted in between my official research. I published some papers and my first big break was receiving a grant under the Rural Economy and Land Use programme (RELU) in 2006.”
The story of Professor Bateman’s pathways to impact is a perfect example of how long it can take for research to filter through to the right users and have a tangible impact, especially innovative ideas that fundamentally challenge the way things are done.Professor Bateman’s research looks at land use, particularly the total effects of any particular change such as agriculture changes or climate change. It begins with the premise that most decisions are fundamentally flawed and don’t consider all of the multiple consequences of a single decision. The research team has developed a computer model, which inputs longitudinal and cross-sectional data on UK land use collected over many decades. This data can then be used to create alternative scenarios where the total effects of policies and environmental changes on wide ranging areas such as the market value of land, farming income, recreational habits, housing stock, and wildlife can be better understood.
This model gives decision makers the ability to make more fully informed decisions as they are better able to understand the “ripple effects” of their decisions.
“The potential of this model is far-reaching. Effectively it can look at all the major impacts of any decision. We are using it to look at the environmental impacts and market value of land use but it has much wider applicability. It represents a fundamental shift in decision making across the board,” explains Professor Bateman.
However, it would be misleading to believe that Professor Bateman has sat around waiting for Government to come knocking at his door. As well as academic conferences and papers, he has made sure that his research is accessible to a wide range of audiences. Professor Bateman and his team regularly use the UEA press office and make themselves available for broadcast and press interviews.
Over the course of different research projects Professor Bateman has developed and nurtured links with Government departments. It was through these links that Professor Bateman was asked to lead the economics on the National Eco-System Assessment. His position on this committee then led to greater exposure of his research and meetings with various government departments including the Treasury, Department of Business Innovation and Science and Foreign Office, to discuss his research.He says, “Over the years I have really learned a lot about the importance of getting your research out to the policy world in formats that they find accessible. RELU was very focused on targeted dissemination. They sent us all over the place and organised conferences in places where decision makers turn up. They developed a series of policy focused research summaries, used film as channel for dissemination, and did a lot of public engagement. I continue to employ many of these techniques.”
Professor Bateman also runs the NERC Valuing Nature Network. Set up in 2010 the network aims to stimulate collaboration between a range of science communities and key stakeholders concerned with the value and sustainability of the natural environment. It seeks to embed science-based understanding of environmental processes into the valuation of ecosystem services.
“The pathways to impact for this research reflects the reality of impact. It has not been a perfectly planned nor linear process. It has taken time and a couple rounds of funding to develop the idea into something that we could show worked and could put in front of decision makers. What we have done along the way is to ensure that we were out there making other scientists and influential communities aware of our work,” concludes Professor Bateman.
Institution:University of East Anglia