Regulatory defection in electricity markets

Graphic by Sarah Harman. Taken from

Electricity systems are undergoing rapid transformation. An increasing share of previously passive consumers is defecting energy demand and supply from the public electricity network (grid) as active ‘prosumers’ while technological and business model innovation is enabling demand-side resources to provide reliable and cost competitive alternatives to supply capacity.

Yet, centralised supply-focused market structures dominated by legacy infrastructures, technologies and supply chains associated with path-dependencies and technological lock-ins continue to dominate. Regulation has been designed around these existing supply-focused markets and structures rather than networks of the future capable of integrating and facilitating smart, flexible systems. Current systems and their regulatory frameworks are struggling to engage and integrate a range of technological, economic and social innovations promising consumer-oriented solutions to environmental problems.

In the UK, the Office for Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) regulates the electricity and gas markets to protect the interest of existing and future consumers. Ofgem acknowledges that ‘moving from a largely centralised, carbon-intensive model to one which will be increasingly carbon-constrained, smart, flexible and decentralised is creating challenges which can only be addressed by innovation’.

In practice, the rapid diffusion of emerging digital technologies such as smart grids, smart meters and the internet of things is disrupting market structures and business models. Progress in automated and machine learning is producing exponentially growing amounts of data which facilitates the deep learning required for more accurate time series predictions. At the same time, distributed ledger technologies such as blockchain provide combined digital accounting and measuring, reporting and verification infrastructures as well as a means of developing and executing smart contracts.

Regulators such as Ofgem are confronted with the need to ‘keep the lights on’ while balancing their primary focus of regulating centralised electricity supply and trading markets with engaging with disruptive innovations. This is reflected in Ofgem’s monolithic, centralised structure, despite its commitment to facilitating smart systems, flexibility and non-traditional business models.

The question is, how can the regulator square grid code written for large-scale generators and wholesale traders with an increasing understanding of and desire to facilitate smart, flexible systems?

Disruptive technologies and business model innovation

In practice, smart, flexible systems imply the bidirectional flow of information which relies on a combination of on storage, demand-side responses, interconnection and energy efficiency increasingly facilitated by emerging digital and distributed ledger technologies. It is evident that existing legal frameworks will need to change to accommodate emerging digital and distributed ledger technologies, but regulators need to proceed with caution and change is inevitably a slow process that needs to take a very wide range of statutory and non-statutory requirements into account. Up to that point, however, the regulators’ discretionary and exempting power can and should be applied (with caution).

In Europe, Ofgem is at the forefront alongside the Dutch regulator (Authority for Consumers and Markets – ACM) in providing ‘regulatory sandboxes’ for microgrids and peer-to-peer trading which facilitates buying and selling electricity locally. These sandboxes facilitate experimentation and innovation without companies incurring or being subject to established regulatory requirements.

Despite Ofgem’s commitment to providing space for experimentation and innovation, missing market rules and high entry barriers encourage innovators to seek alternatives through regulatory defection. Two reports by the Rocky Mountain Institute, one on load defection and one on grid defection sensitised research and policy communities to economic aspects of electricity market defection. Regulatory defection is another aspect of the same issue but it deals with the broader opportunity (and concern) of economic activity shifting beyond particular regulatory spaces and boundaries. Arguments have been put forward that the trend of government withdrawing from energy policy rewards regulatory defection in electricity markets.

Concrete examples of regulatory defection in the electricity market include engaging in behind the meter generation, private wire supply and microgrids. Behind the meter generation is facilitated by a rapid fall in electricity storage costs. Batteries are now available for home installation with promises of 60% savings on electricity bills if appropriately scaled to match on-roof solar PV generation. Behind the meter generation also includes anything else that can be done to limit engagement with the grid, including energy efficiency improvements and reducing demand.

Private wire supply and microgrids require the installation of dedicated physical electricity transmission infrastructure. Private wire enables generators to sell electricity to neighbouring premises without transmitting electricity through the grid. Microgrids take private wires a step further to include a private network across multiple sites and end consumers. These arrangements are complex and require considerable skills and capacity to engage with appropriate network design, infrastructure, installation costs, land and planning requirements and operation and maintenance.

Despite this complexity, regulatory defection is underway through behind the meter generation, private wire supply and microgrid development. For example, Easton Energy Group in Bristol is at the forefront of developing a community microgrid combining solar PV generation with battery storage and dedicated transmission infrastructure as part of their TWOs project.

Energy Service Company (ESCO) business models facilitate defection by shifting the emphasis on the delivery of energy services. Rather than delivering energy in the form of grid electricity or fuel, ESCOs deliver final energy services such as lighting, ventilation or refrigeration. By shifting profitability towards the efficient provision of these services at low energy and environmental costs, ESCOs shift economic activity beyond the scope of electricity market regulation.

Combined, behind the meter generation, private wire supply and microgrids on the one hand, and ESCO business models on the other, require a rethink of how electricity is regulated. Fairness and equity need to be prioritised to ensure that the costs of running the existing infrastructure (which will still be necessary no matter how rapidly distributed systems evolve) will not be borne by fewer and less fortunate consumers that lack the capacity to defect. Therefore, new regulatory approaches are required to ensure that clean energy will be available to all at affordable costs.

Embracing disruption

One way of engaging with change is by embracing the innovations that threaten to usurp the current system. The Chilean regulator, Commisión Nacional de Energía (CNE), considers Blockchain an essential element of fair and sustainable energy markets. Its web portal Energía Abierta, the 1st open data website in South America, uses Blockchain as a digital notary. It allows CNE to certify that information provided on the web portal has not been altered and modified while also leaving an immutable record of its existence.

To this end, CNE issues ‘certificates of trust’ to give greater credibility to the portal. The aim of the portal is to increase levels of trust among stakeholders and the general public that have access to and consume the portal’s data. Another aim is that by using blockchain, greater trust in the citizen-government relationship can be created through more open and transparent governance. Ultimately, CNE expects blockchain to increase traceability, accountability, transparency and trust.

Chile has taken the lead in using blockchain as part of its regulatory framework and other countries should learn from this experience, especially if blockchain is to fulfil its potential in reducing transaction costs and managing complexity. Combining distributed ledger technologies such as blockchain with emerging digital technologies such as smart grids, smart meters and the internet of things can provide a new platform for electricity market regulation with data embodied in electricity at its core rather than electricity by itself.

The problem with regulation, however, is that it is based on experience from the past. Regulating emerging technologies and facilitating beneficial outcomes while limiting potential negative ones requires a fine balance and technological agnosticism. In this context it is necessary to bear in mind that it is not Ofgem’s sole responsibility to alter regulation. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), District Network Operators, the National Grid and combined industry code panels governed by the Competition and Markets Authority and determined by the Secretary of State also have a role to play.

Regulatory defection in electricity markets will continue progressing in the absence of new market structures. Maybe it is time to rethink electricity market regulation in this space along the lines of platform regulation?

This blog has been written by Cabot Institute member Dr Colin Nolden, Vice Chancellor’s Fellow researching in Sustainable City Business Models (University of Bristol Law School).

Colin Nolden

Privacy paradoxes, digital divides and secure societies

More and more, we are living our lives in the online space. The development of wearable technology, automated vehicles, and the Internet of Things means that our societies are becoming increasingly digitized. Technological advances are helping monitor city life, target resources efficiently, and engage with citizens more effectively in so-called smart cities. But as with all technological developments, these substantial benefits are accompanied by multiple risks and challenges.

The Wannacry attack. The TalkTalk data breach. The Cambridge Analytica scandal. Phishing emails. Online scams. The list of digital threats reported by the media is seemingly endless. To tackle these growing threats, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) was established in the UK in 2016 with the aim of making ‘the UK the safest place to live and do business online’. But with the increasing complexity of online life, connected appliances, and incessant data collection, how do people navigate these challenges in their day-to-day lives? As a psychologist, I am interested in how people consider and make decisions regarding these digital risks and how we can empower people to make more informed choices going forward.

The privacy paradox

People often claim that privacy is important to them. However, research shows that they are often willing to trade that privacy for short-term benefits. This incongruence between people’s self-reported attitudes and their behaviour has been termed the ‘privacy paradox’. The precise reasons for this are uncertain, but are likely to be a combination of lack of knowledge, competing goals and priorities, and the fact that maintaining privacy can be, well, difficult.

Security is often not an individual’s primary goal, instead being secondary to other tasks that they are trying to complete. For instance, accessing a particular app, sharing location data to find directions, or communicating on the move with friends and colleagues. Using these online services, however, often requires a trade-off with regards to privacy. This trade-off may be unclear, communicated through incomprehensible terms and conditions, or simply unavoidable for the user. Understanding what drives people to make these privacy trade-offs, and under what conditions, is a growing research area.

The digital divide

As in other areas of life, access to technology across society is not equal. Wearable technology and smart phones can be expensive. People may not be familiar with computers or have low levels of digital literacy. There are also substantial ethical implications about how such data may be used that are still being debated. For instance, how much will the information captured and analysed about citizens differ across socio-economic groups?

Research has also shown that people are differentially susceptible to cyber crime, with generational differences apparent (although, not always in the direction that you would expect). Trust in the institutions that handle digital data may vary across communities. Existing theories of societal differences, such as the Cultural Theory of Risk, are increasingly being applied to information security behaviour. Understanding how different groups within society perceive, consider, and are differentially exposed to, digital risks is vital if the potential benefits of such technologies are to be maximised in the future.

Secure societies – now and in the future

Regulation: The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force on the 25 May 2018. Like me, you may have been receiving multiple emails from companies informing you how they use your data, or asking your permission to keep it. This regulation is designed to help people manage their privacy and understand who has access to their data, and why. It also allows for substantial fines to be imposed if personal data is not managed adequately or if data breaches are not reported to authorities in a timely manner.

Secure by default: There is a growing recognition that products should have security built-in. Rather than relying on us, the human user, to understand and manage security settings on the various devices that we own, such devices should be ‘secure by default’. Previous considerations of humans as the ‘weakest link’ in cyber security are being replaced with an understanding that people have limited time, expertise and ability to manage security. The simplified password guidance provided by the NCSC provides a good example of this (7). Devices,  applications and policies should take the onus off the user as much as possible.

Education and communication: People need to be educated about online risks in an engaging, relevant and targeted way. Such risks can be perceived as abstract and distant from the individual, and can be difficult to understand at the technical level. I was recently paired with an artist as part of Creative Reactions 2018 (an art exhibition running in Hamilton House 11 – 22 May 2018) to portray my research in this area to members of the public in a different way. Understanding how best to communicate digital risks to diverse audiences who engage with the online world in a range of different contexts is crucial. In this regard, there is much to be learned from risk communication approaches used in climate change, public health, and energy sectors.

Overall, there is much to be optimistic about. A renewed focus on empowering people to understand digital risks and make informed decisions, supported by regulation, secure design and considerations of ethical issues. Only by understanding how people make decisions regarding online activities and emerging technologies, and providing them with the tools to manage their privacy and security effectively, can the opportunities provided by a digital society be fully realised in cities of the future.

This blog has been written by Cabot Institute member Dr Emma Williams, a Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow in Digital Innovation and Well-being in the School of Experimental Psychology at the University of Bristol.

Sweet love for planet Earth: An ode to bias and fallacy

1. Apocalypse, Albert Goodwin (1903.) At the culmination of 800 paintings, Apocalypse, was the first of Goodwin’s works in which he introduced experimental techniques that marked a distinct departure from the imitations of Turner found in most of his earlier works. [picture courtesy of the Tate online collection.]
Ask for what end the heav’nly bodies shine, 
Earth for whose use? Pride answers, “Tis for mine: 
For me kind Nature wakes her genial pow’r, 
Suckles each herb, and spreads out ev’ry flow’r; 
Annual for me, the grape, the rose renew 
The juice nectareous, and the balmy dew; 
For me, the mine a thousand treasures brings; 
For me, health gushes from a thousand springs; 
Seas roll to waft me, suns to light me rise; 
My foot-stool earth, my canopy the skies.” ’
2. A section of the fifth (V) verse in the first epistle of Alexander Pope’s unfinished Essay on Man, (1733-34.)

Alexander Pope, 18th Century moral poet, pioneer in the use of the heroic couplet, second most quoted writer in the Oxford dictionary of quotations behind Shakespeare and shameless copycat. Coleridge suggested this is what held Pope back from true mastery, but It is beyond question that the results of this imitation cultured some of the finest poetry of the era. Yet still, Pope, the bel esprit of the literary decadence that proliferated within 18th Century written prose and inspiration for the excellence of Byron, Tennyson and Blake, to name but a few; spent a large amount of his creative life imitating the style of Dryden, Chaucer, and John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. The notion that Pope (2), and Albert Goodwin (1), such precocious and natural talents, would invest so much time in mastering the artistic style of others is curious indeed, it too, provides a broad entry-point for a discussion on the roles of imitation, mimicry and mimesis in human growth, social and societal development.

You live & you learn

Having now formulated a suitable appeal to emotion, which very narrowly avoids the bandwagon, it is worth noting that imitation, and it’s cousins repetition and practice too, represent the way in which an infant might copy its parent’s behaviour, how a young artist may seek a suitably influential model as a teacher or a musician may seek to imitate sounds and transpose these as a compliment to their own polyphony, are a fundamental component in epistemology; the building of knowledge. This understanding has become increasingly important for my own research, whereby repetition and practice have not only become a primary process in developing my own knowledge but have also been important methodological heuristics for establishing imitation and mimicry as primary, collective responses for human survival during exigent situations.

These responses and the systems within which they exist are inherently complex. In developing a robust framework to analyse and evaluate them in relation to flood scenarios for my research (3 and 4) I have utilised the agent-based model to emulate the human response to hydrodynamic data. If you have ever dealt with a HR department, any form of customer service, submitted an academic paper for publishing or bore witness to the wonders of automated passport control then you will be privy to the sentiments of human complexity, as well as our growing dependence on automation to guide us through the orbiting complexity of general life. Raillery aside, these specific examples are rather attenuated situations on which to base broad assessments of human behaviour. The agent-based model itself, a chimera rooted in computational science, born from the slightly sinister cold-war (1953-62) era overlap between computer science, biology and physics and so by implication possessing the ability to model many facets of these disciplines, their related sub-disciplines and inter-disciplines; can provide a panoptic of the broader complexities of human systems and develop our understanding of them.

3 (above) & 4 (below). Examples of the agent-based model designed for my own research. The scenario shown is for human response to flooding in Carlisle. The population at risk (green ‘agents’) go about their daily routine until impact from the flood becomes apparent, at which point individuals can choose to go into evacuation mode (red ‘agents’.)

Academically, you may suggest that “these are bold claims!” (others certainly have!) tu quoque, I would retort “claims surely not beyond the horizons of your rationale or reasoning?” Diving deeper into the Carrollian involute of my research to underpin my quip (and readily expose myself to backfire bias) 12,000 simulations of the Carlisle flood case study with the aid of various choice-diffusion models to legitimise my computerised population’s decisions, have yielded a 66% preference for the population of Carlisle to interact with their neighbours and base their decision making on that of their social peers as opposed to following direct policy instruction. Broadly, this means that most of the computerised individuals respond to the flood by asking those around them what they are going to do, following their lead, imitating their evacuation decisions, mimicking their response to the flood.

Extrapolating beyond the confines of Carlisle, there are a great number of agent-based models that have explored the syncytia of human behaviours relative to systematic changes in their environment. Contra-academe and being a big fan of the veridical, I am happy to proclaim that my own model is a much wieldier alternative to the majority of those ‘big data’ models and so aims to demonstrate behavioural responses to events at a suitable point of balance between realism and interpretability. The agents represent individuals as close to reality as possible, they are defined by characteristics that define you, they and I – age, employment status etc. they are guided by self-interest and autonomously interact with a daily routine of choice that Joe public might undertake on an average day; they are (deep breath) meta-you, they and I as far as possibly mensurable, they do the same things, take the same missteps; even make the same mistakes* digitised and existent in an emulated environment replicant of ours.

(* not those kinds of mistakes.)

The cut worm forgives the plough

Veering this gnostic leviathan of an article away from the definite anecdotal and the convolvulus of complex system analysis, to what may well turn out to be a vast underestimation of reader credulity; the meat and water of this article has essentially been to provoke you into asking:

  • To what degree can choice, imitation, mimicry, influence be separated out from one another?
  • If the above is possible then how might they be measured?
  • How can these measurements be verified?
  • If verifiable then what implications do the outcomes carry?

Oliver Sachs suggested that mimicry and choice imply certain conscious intention, imitation is a pronounced psychological and physiological propensity universal to all human biology, all are traceable to instinct. In ‘The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis, Alan Turing suggested how the various patterns of nature, spots stripes etc. could be produced from a common uniform state using reaction-diffusion equations. These equations are an important part of the algebraic family that form fractal geometry (patterns!) and the very basis of the agent-based model is a simple pattern equation known as the cellular automaton. Indeed, if you were to feed a chunk of algebra, let’s say to represent the geometric dimensions of an arbitrary but healthy and fully-formed leaf, into a graphic computer program and press go, a recursive pattern will form, and that pattern would represent the algebraic dimensions of the leaf (5.) These kinds of patterns are considered complex, the automaton, despite its rather complicated name, is a mathematically simplified way to represent complex patterns on a computer.

5. From nature to Timothy Leary in 3 small steps.

The patterns of agent diffusion within agent-based models could then be inferred as being
inherently representative of nature, natural process guided simply by the rules that naturally define our daily existence as defined by the automata and the demographics assigned to the agents within the agent-based model. The implications of all this fluff is that agent-based models can provide a good analogue for just that, natural process in addition to acting as an analytical tool to determine factors that may deviate those processes, providing an insight into the possible effects of affecting these processes with attenuating circumstances such as intense urbanisation, varying political climates and resource shortages; all key in the progression of human vulnerability and risk.

In terms of verification, envisage the situation where a flood is impending. You are broadly aware of flood policy and in the immediacy of impending situation you become aware of your neighbours beginning to leave their own homes or locale. Do you ask them why? Do you follow them? If so, why? If not, why not? Whatever your answers to this heavily loaded scenario may be, they will doubtlessly be littered with ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ and this is fundamentally the obstacle policy faces in trying to ameliorate the fact that it is bound by more ‘ruban rouge’ than the Labour party directive on Brexit, is as apprehensible as the Voynich Manuscript and is as accessible as those two references compounded. Tools are required to test and visualise the compatibility interface between humans and policy before it is implemented. This will diversify and dilute it, making it more accessible; else it will forever be voided by its own hubris and lack of adequate testing. Whether the agent-based model can provide this panacea I am unsure, though one hopes.

An ode

So then, as this ode approaches the twilight of its purpose, having made it through the tour d’horizon of my research and personal interests, turgid with their own bias and logical fallacies (indicated at points, primarily to serve the author’s thirst for poetic liberty) I propose, a middle ground between pessimistic and optimistic bias, to the reader that you might embrace, and consider critically, the bias and fallacy that percolates through the world around you. In a world of climate change denial, where world leaders sharp-shoot their theses to inform decisions that affect us all and where it seems that technology and data has begun to determine our values and worth, it has never been more important to be self-aware and question the legitimacy of apathy for critique.

The ever-prescient Karl Popper suggested in his ‘conjectures and refutations’, that for science to be truly scientific a proposed theory must be refutable, as all theories have the potential to be ‘confirmed’ using the correct arrangement of words and data. It is only through refutation, or transcending the process of refutation, might we truly achieve progressive and beneficial answers to the questions upon which we base our theories. This being a process of empowerment and a sociological by-product of the positive freedom outlined by Erich Fromm. The freedom to progress collective understanding surely outweighs the freedom from fear of critical appraisal for having attempted to do so?  à chacun ses goûts, but consider this, in the final verse (7) of his Essay on Man, the final verse he ever wrote, Alexander Pope originally wrote that “One truth is clear, whatever is, is right.” By Popper’s standards, a lot of what ‘is’ today, shouldn’t be and this should ultimately leave us questioning the nature of our freedom, what exactly are we free to and free from? à chacun ses goûts?

‘All nature is but art, unknown to thee; 
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see; 
All discord, harmony, not understood; 
All partial evil, universal good: 
And, spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite, 
One truth is clear, whatever is, is right?
7. A section of the tenth (X) verse in the first epistle of Alexander Pope’s unfinished Essay on Man, (with edited last line for dramatic effect (1733-34.))
This blog was written by Cabot Institute member, Thomas O’Shea, a 2nd year Ph.D. Researcher at the School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol. His interests span Complex Systems, Hydrodynamics, Risk and Resilience and Machine Learning.  Please direct any desired correspondence regarding the above to his university email at:
Thomas O’Shea

Read Thomas’ other blog in this series:

Dadaism in Disaster Risk Reduction: Reflections against method

Grey Britain: Misery, urbanism & neuroaesthetics

Under her eye: Communicating climate change more effectively

My name is Adriana Suárez and I’m a 3rd year PhD Student at the School of Geographical Sciences. I am working on community based water management in rural areas in Chile, where I am from.

I came back from fieldwork two months ago and in a way, I am still getting used to being back in Bristol as it is easy to feel a bit lost when you are swimming in a sea of data.  It was an intense fieldwork experience as I spent five months in Chile doing interviews with different participants, collecting documents and texts, and doing participant observation. The method I am using is called Institutional Ethnography, a method of inquiry developed by feminist sociologist Dorothy Smith and which has not been used yet in natural resources management.

My aim is to learn from rural communities who are involved in water management as a way to explore a form of management that is different to the usual way in which water for human consumption and sanitation is provided in urban areas. For example, in most cities like Santiago and Bristol, water is provided by sanitary companies which capture, purify and deliver water to our households. They also collect waste water and treat it to then return it to rivers so it can be used again in other activities. Usually, sanitary companies are for profit corporations that make a profit out of this service.

However, the way drinking water is organised in rural Chile is very different as in these areas the State works in partnership with the community. In this model, the work is done with a social aim and not as a way to make a profit, as opposed to the work of sanitary companies involved in the provision of water to urban areas. On the one hand the State is in charge of investing in the construction and provision of the infrastructure needed to capture, accumulate and distribute water, such as water tanks and a network of water pipes that distribute water to each household. On the other hand, the community is responsible for managing the system. This work includes repairing any breakages, leaks and charging water tariffs to keep the system running.

Coming back from fieldwork is not an easy task and I felt like I had many questions and concerns I needed to discuss with others. I realised I also needed to engage with my data in as many ways as possible, and that meant not only in academic ways. This is why I have been looking for opportunities to engage in conversation with other PhD students as well as with people who are not doing research or are not involved in academia. The ‘Research without Borders’ festival has offered me an opportunity to do this in a non-academic way, and to think of ways of talking about my research I had not considered before.

I also committed to preparing a stall at a public engagement event in Colston Hall on the 9 May 2018, in which I would develop an activity about my research. Someone had suggested me to use a cut out of James Bond to exemplify the gendered patterns of water management in my research. However I wasn’t entirely convinced I could develop a meaningful activity with a real-size cardboard image of Daniel Craig.

So, as I was getting – or not – ready to present my project in an engaging and fun way, I received an email from the Cabot Institute inviting me to participate in the Under Her Eye fellowship program which involved participating in a conference taking place on 1 June 2018 in London. I quickly went on their website and did a bit of research and I soon realised this was an opportunity I could not miss! This conference is about communicating climate change effectively by encouraging collaboration between scientists and artists. Moreover, Margaret Atwood will be the ambassador of this conference! I applied immediately and was thrilled to hear I had been chosen to participate.

Scarborough. Image credit Adriana Suarez.

Last weekend we met in Scarborough with the Invisible Dust team, who are organising the conference and I met the rest of the participants who were from different universities across the country. It was an incredible experience and it opened my eyes to new ways of collaborations I had not considered before. It was an intense and productive weekend, dedicated to improve our presentation skills, to think about engaging different audiences, about communicating and about how to affect change. It was inspiring and thought provoking, and it was a sharing experience among people I had never seen before, but with whom I shared values, dreams and concerns with.

We were invited to think about an activity we would like to develop during the conference and we came up with an idea to involve the public in a sensory experience that would take them all the way to Chile, to explore how avocado production is competing with a rural community and their human right to access water. I had never thought I had a creative facet, but now I’m starting to think I might not know everything about myself yet, which is quite refreshing. The whole weekend in Scarborough was a discovery, an exploration of our own research and of ways in which to look at it from different angles, from creative approaches and involving others in reflecting about it too, which was an invaluable gift.

I did not realise how meaningful the connections made with the other young women participating in this fellowship would turn out to be. We introduced ourselves with a nice ice-breaking activity in which we started drawing connections that would then help us develop conversations around topics that mattered to us such as climate change, gender, vegetarianism and curry. Our love for chocolate and coffee also came up, together with our concern about the risk of losing them as we found out from Sarah Mander’s presentation. Sarah works @TyndallManc and explained the ways in which the UK is working to meet the commitments it has taken to reduce carbon emissions and help combat climate change. She mentioned that if the global temperature rises to 4C we would be losing chocolate and coffee.

Later, we had Laura Harrington’s presentation which I thought was very personal and generous. She talked about her research in landscapes and her interests in geomorphology, especially in the peat bogs of Cumbria/Northumberland. She showed us a video with different takes on the landscape she was working on and I could feel I was there, almost a part of it.  She was doing art by recording sounds on a wet day, filming the dripping and melting of snow and the drenched soil which made me feel cold. It was interesting to see the amount of patience and endurance she had to have to be able to film these scenes for hours, waiting, looking and absorbing the landscape through all her senses. I was surprised she enjoyed being there as I thought I would have only been able to stay in those conditions for a little while, comforted by the idea of soon going back to a warm and dry place. She put sensors, cameras, and films under the ground to see how they became part of the landscape after some time there, being exposed to these harsh conditions. It felt intimate as she was telling us what went through her head and what she wanted to do with the equipment. I admired Laura’s conviction and the way in which she would not listen to scientists’ advice when telling her “there is nothing to see here”. These suggestions did not prevent her from going to Finland in winter time and experiencing the landscape for herself.

She praised procrastination, as it is a place where imagination and creativity can emerge, which made me think about how much I fear procrastinating, without really valuing the precious gifts that leisure time can offer.

After this intense afternoon, we went for a nice walk into the TEC Campus, a beautiful place where we would get our own room, and space to walk, to meet, a great Canteen and friendly staff who were all the time accommodating to our needs. On the Friday, we worked on different ideas, especially about what makes as curious and thoughts we wanted to develop. We had an interesting talk by Julie Doyle, professor of media and communications at Brighton University. We worked on a critical reflection on media types, and on examples of effective and ineffective ways of communicating climate change. We also discussed the gendered aspects of some media depictions, we saw ways in which irony was used to spark discussions and we talked about different art forms and exhibitions that can reach audience’s attention while entertaining them and also offering a hopeful message. We mentioned the importance of responsibility when communicating climate change impacts, especially when talking to younger generations, so that we avoid making people feel disempowered.

We then had a Skype workshop with Gayle Chong Kwan in which we talked about the changes people can make in food consumption, and how we can all relate to food, which was one of the things that came up in our first ice breaker exercise. This was a great workshop in which we became active participants in the preparation of the Microclimate Banquet taking place at the Conference in June.

Gayle showed us pictures from the late XIX century were ice was brought from Norway to London as customers demanded ice for food preservation, for making ice cream, and for medical use. She also showed pictures of cattle in jails, as a way for us to imagine how meat production and food supply was organised in the past. This was a great prompt for starting a conversation on the impacts we have on the environment by consuming fruits that are grown in faraway lands, or products that travel long distances to get to our tables, like the avocados from Chile.

After lunch, we had the valuable input of Sarah Cartwright who taught us several tips for communicating effectively and present our ideas with confidence. We learned about the importance of breathing, of concentrating in our body and grounding ourselves so that we can be assertive and authoritative. Many of us were impressed with the fact that the content of our presentations is only 7% of what counts to make an impact. The rest of attention is related to our body language, the way we speak, and the tone of our voices. We learned tips for warming our vocal cords, making eye contact and on what to do with our hands. It is surprising that we hardly ever get advice on how to communicate our research, which makes me think of the important challenges that academia faces when researchers try to connect with people located in other spheres of knowledge such as the arts. These so called “soft skills” are generally overlooked and we spent more time working on our content than on the way we deliver it and the impact we make.

After this we split into two groups and we developed in 15 minutes, a 5 minute presentation in which we would use these suggestions to structure our talk. We all received very valuable feedback on our presentation style and were able to see what we were doing well and what things we could improve.

That night we watched the short film ‘Pumzi’ by Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu, a sci-fi short film that pushes us to think about alternative futures. We also watched/heard Sabrina Mahfouz’s potent poem on climate refugees ‘‘The Environmental Refugee Holding Centre (ERHC)’.

Under Her Eye group of fellows.

Towards the end of the weekend we worked on learning how to make our ideas happen by applying for funds, doing a proposal pitch and looking for funding sources. This was practical advice on how to concretise our ideas.This weekend has boosted my curiosity and my practice of reflecting on the what, why, how and why of climate change action and communication. Moreover I made 14 new friends who I will be working with in the next six weeks leading up to Under Her Eye. It has been inspiring and a luxury to take time off to explore and celebrate the role of women taking action on climate change, and I appreciate the opportunity to have been part of this experience.

This weekend was a gift, as I could dedicate three full days to pause, reflect, write and share ideas and dreams with like-minded women. This time, when experienced, becomes an avenue for exploring our own abilities but also for creating in collaboration with others possibilities for transformation and hope, which are essential when communicating and engaging audiences in climate change action.
This blog was written by Cabot Institute member Adriana Suarez, who is a PhD Candidate in Environment, Energy and Resilience at the School of Geographical Sciences. She is exploring community based water management in rural Chile through Institutional Ethnography, a feminist method of inquiry into social relations.

Adriana Suarez

Twitter: Adri_H2o

‘Under Her Eye’ is curated and produced by award-winning arts science organisation Invisible Dust and supported by the Wellcome TrustEuston Town BIDCreative ScotlandMooncup and Arts Council England.