ESRC-Funded Initiative Aims to Harness Social Science to Address Environmental Issues

A new five-year program funded by Britain’s Economic and Social Research Council aims to harness social science to address vital environmental concerns. The Advancing Capacity for Climate and Environment Social Sciences, or ACCESS, Leadership College is tasked with “provid[ing] insights to find fresh thinking and new solutions to support the transition to a sustainable and biodiverse environment and a net zero society,” according to a description hosted by the University of Exeter.

Patrick Devine-Wright, left, and Birgitta Gatersleben

ACCESS is headed by Patrick Devine-Wright, a professor of human geography at the University of Exeter, and Birgitta Gatersleben, a professor of environmental psychology of the University of Surrey, as deputy director.

The interdisciplinary initiative is currently looking for 20 interested individuals from academic and non-academic sectors to be fellows for four-year cohort expected “to work, learn and grow as leaders together.”

“The social sciences,” explained Exeter geography professor Saffron O’Neill, a member of the ACCESS leadership team, “offer essential insights that are needed to effectively tackle the major environmental challenges – from the biodiversity crisis to climate change – facing us today. Yet often these insights are overlooked in favor of, for example, technological fixes: which might seem initially appealing, but which underestimate the social dimensions of policy and practice interventions. The ACCESS Leadership College will focus on and invest in developing this crucial next generation of social science innovators and leaders across academia, the public sector, NGOs and charities, and the business sector.”

The program will center on four work packages underpinned by the themes of ‘Knowledge Co-Production,’ ‘Equality, Diversity & Inclusion,’ and ‘Net Zero Sustainability.’

  •  Map, Assess and Learn from the past experiences of social scientists to catalyze change in policy culture, institutions (e.g., civil service), businesses and civil society.
  •  Empower environmental social scientists at different learning and career stages by providing tailored training and capacity building.
  •  Innovate by creating new ideas and testing new approaches that enable social scientists to play influential, leading roles in addressing environmental challenges.
  •  Champion and coordinate environmental social scientists across the UK and internationally by providing an accessible knowledge/data hub and innovative public engagement tracker.

The first of four Leadership College events, focusing on Health, Well-being and the Environment,’ will be held April 26 through 28 at Dartington Hall in Devon.

In addition to Exeter and Surrey, the core team behind ACCESS includes the universities of Bath, Leeds and Sussex and the Natural Environment Social Research Network (Natural Resources Wales, NatureScot, Natural England, Environment Agency and Forest Research). Partners include Strathclyde University, Queens University Belfast, Cardiff University, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, Manchester University, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and the University of Sydney.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

1 Comment
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

What may be most promising about this potentially very important initiative is the recognition implicitly ‘baked in’ to its founding that effective governance has suffered from the deficit of having too long failed to see the social sciences as a source of illumination for how policy might be defined in a more systemically expansive and integrative manner. Done well, THAT would be a big deal. One example might be to cite the case of medical/health issues. How much effort is expended in pharma labs seeking mechanistic molecular silver bullets for conditions which may have deep and complex roots in the… Read more »

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x