My research analyses contemporary sociotechnical transitions, playing close attention to the policies, practices and politics of change. It furthers our understanding of why and how technology and policy change takes place in response to big environmental problems such as climate change, focused on two empirical strands: low energy housing, and the commodification of carbon. My current more specific research interests are about innovation in infrastructure, and standards as sites of innovation (see, for example, a recent paper in Economy and Society about climate change and financial accounting standards).
One example of an original contribution I have made to scholarship is in establishing that the ability of ‘innovation niches’ (small-scale sites of experimentation with new ideas and technologies) to act as nodes of learning is severely constrained in conditions where organisations with strong environmental values are central to these niches (EPC, 2009; TASM, 2008; EPA, 2007). I found in my research that there is simply too much at stake for problems with low carbon niches to be widely disseminated. Instead, the actors involved concentrated on publicising what worked well. Such actions are readily understandable in the context of theories of policy change, environmental politics and policy discourse, where knowledge and power are closely interlinked.
Developing new ways of seeing things and finding common (often neglected) ground between disciplines is a major motivation for my research. I lead the interdisciplinary Environment and Society Research Group in the School of GeoSciences at Edinburgh, you can find out more about us by reading our blogs, eg on Environmental Governance, and Earth Observation and Spatial Analysis.
You can see an example of some of the climate change research that I do in the following video of a lecture I gave in the Edinburgh University 2012 Our Changing World public lecture series.
I am a Co-Investigator on a four year EPSRC project ('IDEAL: Intelligent Domestic Energy
Advice Loop'; 2013-2017), working with computer scientists
using smart sensor data from 600 homes to better understand energy
behaviours at home. Our aim is to use fine-grain data on energy consumption in the home to infer behaviour, and thereby provide more effective tailored feedback. Some of our IDEAL study homes will be at the Derwenthorpe Housing Development in York, and we are working with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and selected residents at Derwenthorpe on an associated research project (2014-2017) to investigate energy feedback.
I am also a Co-Investigator on a second EPSRC project TEDDInet ('Transforming Energy Demand through Digital Innovation'; 2013-2017) - a network project designed to maximise the outputs and impact of over 20 smart grid related projects funded by the EPSRC.
I am currently a Co-Investigator on an UK Research Council Energy
Programme large grant called 'Heat and the City'. We are investigating
the scope for district heating in Edinburgh and Glasgow, using ideas
from science and technology studies, politics and sociology. I have been most closely involved with the residential component of Heat and the City project, researching the recent implementation of district heating in two social housing developments, one in Edinburgh and one in Glasgow.
These projects build on previous work I have done on low energy
housing, looking at the role of pioneering low energy or 'zero carbon'
housing in catalysing policy change in the UK (see Publications). Here I use theories of sociotechnical change and policy discourse to examine
policy and technology changes in the late 1990s, furthering our understanding of why pioneers got
involved and what effect they had.
Policy outreach and fostering research impact is an integral part of the work that I do. Examples of activities and reports stemming from my research on low energy housing and smart grids include:
My research on a Nuffield Fellowship (Fungible Carbon; 2008-2013, with Professor Donald MacKenzie) involved empirical investigation of carbon markets, carbon financial accounting, and forest carbon. Building on my PhD (2005) on UK low carbon housing transitions, during the Fellowship I further developed the integration of theories of policy change and environmental politics from Human Geography, and theories of technology change (actor-network theory, sociotechnical transitions) from Science and Technology Studies. Using these literatures I have developed new insights from original empirical research on, for example, the role of professional accounting organisations in the day-to-day operation of carbon markets (Antipode, 2011), discourses of carbon offsetting (EPA, 2009), the politics of carbon offset technologies (NPE, 2011), and the role of standards in processes of innovation (Economy and Society, 2014).
Examples of my policy outreach roles, activities and reports in this research field include:
I teach at a postgraduate level. Currently I run an interdisciplinary Course 'Human Dimensions of Environmental Change and Sustainability', which attracts 40-60 Masters students from across the University. I supervise Masters dissertations on a range of topics including low energy housing, environmental policy innovation, carbon accounting and ecosystem services. I have three PhD students at the moment (see PhD students), with three having successfully been awarded their PhDs in late 2013/early 2014.