Claire Hawes – Policy Stories and History

Dr Claire Hawes is an early career historian based at the University of St Andrews. Her research looks at the political culture of Scotland in the late medieval and Renaissance periods. She currently holds an AHRC Cultural Engagement Fellowship for her project on The Craftsmen of St Andrews Past and Present.

Participants booklet NEWEST_Page_06_Image_0002

Reflecting on the excellent Policy Stories workshop (and having overcome my awe at the groundbreaking work being done by my fellow attendees) it struck me that history has a somewhat different relationship to policy than the other disciplines which were represented, perhaps not least because our research subjects have usually been dead for a very long time.  History tends not to offer tangible methods of improving the world, or concrete solutions to entrenched social problems. Historians write books and articles rather than creating art or music. We deal in evidence and arguments, not all of which are immediately accessible to others. The ultimate aim of the workshop – to pitch my work on fifteenth-century political culture to busy policymakers responsible for improving the lives of others – therefore appeared to be rather daunting.

In fact the workshop made me think very hard about just how beneficial the fruits of historical research can be to our society. Perhaps most obviously, historians can bring important insight into the way things have been done in the past. Whether we are discussing the dangers of untrammelled corporate power, the causes and effects of mass migration or the complex nature of European politics (to name only three very topical issues) there are historians who have examined the angles, heard the arguments and studied the evidence across different periods of time. My own work often connects to questions that are still being asked today – about the place of cities in the polity or the morality of rulers, for example – and that’s at over five hundred years’ remove. Taking the long view can offer an important perspective on the challenges facing society, by showing how they were met in the past.

History also has a unique relationship to stories. The workshop urged us to think about how we could present our research as a story, surely one of the most engaging ways of convincing people of its value. Historians certainly do need to use narrative to frame their work, and the best historians do this very well. Yet one of the first things we discourage in undergraduate classes is ‘telling the story of what happened’, because we want our students to be analytical in their approach to their source material, and to marshal a solid body of evidence with which to support their interpretation of historical events.

It is this academic rigour which allows historians to uncover the secrets of the past, but we can – and should – communicate the results of our work to as broad an audience as possible. This quite often involves turning our research back into a story again, and allowing people to engage with the highlights, rather than the details. This work is important because history provides a very accessible way of grappling with the big questions of our own time. In thinking about how the power of medieval kings could be limited by their subjects, for example, we raise questions about representation, legitimacy and consent which apply much more broadly. We can do the same for justice, wellbeing, freedom, democracy and myriad other ideas, across time. History therefore has the potential to create the kinds of conversations which policymakers might wish to have with the people they serve, by providing stories which contextualise the big policy questions.

So there is much that historians can offer both to policymakers and to those who wish to engage the public in discussions about the future of Scotland. History’s unique blend of evidence and storytelling means that it can provide not only an excellent medium through which to communicate, but also a treasure trove of precedents and examples which can be shared by all.

Matluba Khan -A different perspective on the issue to ensure children’s right to education

Matluba Khan is a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh. Her research focuses on the development of design guidelines for primary school grounds that can enhance children’s learning. She tweets @mishtush and blogs at matlubaanalysingandwriting.

Matluba Khan blog

Children in their outdoor classroom in Tulatoli Government Primary School, Bangladesh  (Photo: Matluba Khan)

According to the recently published data by UNESCO Institute of Statistics, 1 out of 11 primary school aged children across the world are either dropped out or never entered school. The number is pronounced in the developing countries for example in Bangladesh 11% of the girls and 15% of the boys are out of school. Research is being conducted and different measures are taken by the international and national organizations in order to ensure every child’s right to education, to bring the out of school children back to school. However, the role of the physical environment in children’s learning experience has been rarely considered as a measure in order to attract children towards school. The role of the design of immediate surroundings of the primary schools on children’s education and motivation is seldom given consideration.

My Ph.D. research thrives to investigate the role of the design outdoor primary school environments in children’s motivation and learning. Bangladesh is one of the first countries to sign the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), 1989 and the first National Child Policy was written in 1994 which emphasizes on the whole development of the child in primary and secondary education. In Scotland, Curriculum for excellence emphasizes on the opportunities for children and young people to enjoy first -hand outdoor experience. However the immediate outdoor environment of the primary schools i.e. the school grounds are needed to be designed in a way that can support a child’s whole development and first-hand experience of the curriculum contents. The objective of my Ph.D. research is to formulate some guidelines for the design of primary school grounds that can help educators and design professionals in their decision making for improving the school ground.

The research aims at providing evidence for policy makers at national and international levels for their decision making regarding attracting children towards school and improving the quality of primary education. It adopts an experimental action evaluation research strategy which includes the design and development of a school ground in a Government Primary School in Bangladesh where the children used the designed school ground for learning of the curriculum content and other activities. Data were collected before and after the intervention which will be compared in order to find out the impact of the design on children. The interactions of the children with the designed outdoor environment are studied to explore how design influences children’s behavior.

But how can I communicate the findings of my research to the policy makers? With the aim to know the answer to this question I applied for the training on ‘Policy Stories’. The two-day training provided useful information on pros and cons of policy stories, for example, how does policy get made- actors, constraints and voices that are heard, tips and hints on effective strategies to communicate the research, how ideas are put forward and evidence-based policy making. The story-telling workshop was a fun way to learn how to tell the stories of Ph.D. research that can surpass academia to reach a diverse audience. The training also offered the opportunity for telling the stories of our research. Some of us made a policy pitch which encouraged discussion on the floor and the researchers were benefitted with useful comments and suggestions from the experts and colleagues about how the story can be told in a more effective way.

I have got my answer in the workshop and I look forward to apply what I learnt in order to inform the national and international policy-makers to ensure a better learning environment for children, the future leaders of the world.


Fiona Munro – drivers and impact of renewable energy in Scotland

Our first blog post comes from Fiona Munro. Fiona is a third year PhD student in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Glasgow. Her research focuses on the drivers and impact of renewable energy in Scotland. She tweets @FionaRMunro1.

Fiona Munro
Fiona Munro

Many parts of Scotland are being transformed as renewable energy resources are being exploited through new developments and infrastructure. These developments have a range of impacts on communities. Scotland has a significant amount of potential onshore and offshore renewable energy available for capture largely located in the rural and remote regions. Some of this potential renewable energy has been developed and contribute to the increasing amount of energy from low carbon sources in the UK, aiding in the UK reaching its greenhouse gas emission targets. These targets include the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 34% by 2020 and a further 80% by 2050 based on 1990 levels. Scotland has a target of 100% of electricity demand (or equivalent) in Scotland to be sourced from renewable sources by 2020.

My PhD research is uncovering the drivers and impacts of the shift to renewable energy. In particular, I investigate the implications from developing renewable energy which tend to be located in rural areas that then needs to be transported to places of high energy consumption, urban centers. I focus on Scotland and look at three case studies from across the electricity system: production (North Yell Tidal Scheme, Shetland), transmission (proposed Shetland-Scotland mainland electric grid interconnector), and storage (Cruachan Pumped-Hydro Scheme).

My research is exposing the new power dynamics and implications from the way in which Scotland is developing its renewable energy. These developments can have major positive and negative impacts on associated communities depending on how it is developed. Policies and targets are driving the shift to renewable energy particularly at the national and international levels. Policies can often have unexpected implications and knock-on effects. This research will inform policy makers who need to better understand the drivers and impacts of developing renewable energy to improve the benefits from development.

I personally greatly benefited from attending the Policy Stories course. It aided me in developing my skills in influencing policy-making through better communication of my research. I will carry these skills forward past my PhD and into my career, where I plan to make a meaningful contribution to communities in aiding their development towards sustainability.