Why research integration matters
Transdisciplinary approaches have real potential to advance infrastructure research
For the NIS to succeed, ICE believes that it must:
This statement is to be welcomed; but it does not go far enough in addressing some of the contextual issues that will need to be addressed, researched and analysed if the huge investments in infrastructure in forthcoming decades are to be successful.
Firstly, the natural environment within which infrastructure investment sits is under great and increasing stress as a result of climate change, resource security and globalisation and expansion of trade. This contextual set of systems must be brought into the system of systems analysis proposed by ICE in order for investments not to have a counter-productive effect on the natural environment. DAFNI, part of UKCRIC, is taking this approach.
Secondly, investment in infrastructure is to provide value added services for people, so any analysis must put outcomes that affect people, and their environment, at the centre of any studies or proposals. The Person-Environment-Activity Research Laboratory, or PEARL, is scheduled to open in 2021, also as part of UKCRIC. PEARL is a unique facility that will explore the ways in which people interact with their environment. It will provide the wherewithal for researchers to discover what activities people want or need to do, and the ways in which the environment helps or hinders them.
The value propositions must be assessed on a broad basis with this focus on people and their environments in mind. A Mission Oriented UK Industrial Strategy, led by Professor Mariana Mazzucato and Lord David Willetts, to which UKCRIC contributed and gained value from, is one approach to be considered. Unless all parties with a stake in the outcomes are involved in the design of infrastructure interventions, this broad-based value assessment will be difficult to achieve.
Thirdly, whilst the mention of sustained research and development in the ICE statement is to be welcomed, it does not go far enough in encompassing all R&D activities currently underway. These are not only taking place in the digital domain as is implied. UKCRIC, which has a holistic vision of infrastructure research, is bringing that joined up thinking to the attention of government, and that incorporating this thinking in R&D and exploitation of the outputs is essential. If the knowledge created is to be used holistically, taught in a transdisciplinary way in our universities and used by practitioners in designing, constructing and operating infrastructure interventions, then joined up government and governance at a range of scales, national city, city-region and community is also essential.