From idea to project

Although the Newton Bhabha Fund workshop on Clean Energy Research for Rural India is now over there are still a few outstanding posts I want to complete. Our plan is to turn these into a guide for others running these kinds of workshops once we’ve given the participants a few weeks to settle back into their usual routines. Today’s post looks at the theme we covered on day 4 of the workshop when we looked out the resources which facilitating turning ideas into projects.

Clearly a significant factor here is the availability of funding, but we also heard from Stuart Govan, from the Royal Society of Chemistry which co-funded the workshops with the British Council. I’m going to comeback to some of the points that Stuart made in a future post, but to be efficient, here is a link to his slides from the workshop which make it clear how many benefits there are to being an engaged and active member of a professional learned society.

Again, we recognised that the expertise on this topic lay in the group rather than solely with the organisers, so we gave a brief introduction to the general  funding and opportunity map  as we know it in the UK (with a healthy warning that this is currently in a state of flux). This presentation was based on others I’ve previously given in funding workshops but didn’t focus on international development research opportunities. For this we handed over to the group, first creating 5 headings for them to cluster their knowledge of funding schemes :

  • visits and exchanges
  • proof of concept/initial studies/seed funding
  • workshops and networks
  • project funding
  • programme funding

The group produced a wealth of information from both the UK and India. Finding links for all the schemes is going to take some time, but here are a few key funders.

UKIERI – the UK India Education Research Initiative

The Universities themselves  – almost all of those represented at the workshop from both UK and Indian institutions had internal funds which were available for visits.

RCUK – the UK’s cluster of research funding councils have a range of schemes. Coincidentally, the BBSRC launched its India Partnering calls today.

Indian Council of Social Science Research

Although currently closed, the SAGES/PECRE funds from the Scottish Funding Council were mentioned.

Participants were also encouraged to use the “Pathways to Impact” section of RCUK proposals to cost visits and exchanges if international development was a relevant impact area.

Another Indian funder mentioned was the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.

I’m just scratching the surface here of the schemes and funders that the group were aware of – the point is that there is a significant and flexible funding landscape but it is complex – for many schemes you will need partners, so a good starting place is to attend workshops (such as ours) and to ask these questions of your fellow attendees.

For our group the next steps will be a mix of student exchanges, visits and proof of concept funding. If you are interested in engaging with this kind of research, Newton Bhabha (and other Newton Fund iteration) workshop are a great starting point. In the next blog I’ll look at how our attendees became aware of the workshop and why they chose to attend.


The Groan Zone

Our Newton Bhabha Fund workshop (remember, we’re tweeting about the workshop using #CERRI) was carefully planned with the challenges of international development in mind. We began with a trip to rural villages, spent a day debriefing the visit and ensuring everyone understood the ethos of this type of funding. On the third day, when we stimulated idea generation, we spent the morning listening to people who had a wealth of experience linked to our theme of clean energy and rural India. Then it was time to see what this had prompted from our group.

The night before we did an initial “brain dump” in mixed groups so that people could share initial ideas and I encouraged them to be as creative and open as possible. In planning the workshop, we had in mind a framework for the week. At first we would broaden the perspectives of the participants through the visits and early discussions. In the second half of the week we would try to guide them to find a focus and begin to develop some project ideas. (This is explained as part of an interesting blog on Design Thinking and Social Innovation from Elon University.) When I explained the idea to the workshop PI, I added in an area at the point when you switch from Divergent to Convergent thinking – the “Groan Zone”.


I happily introduced this model and told everyone that we expected them to be uncomfortable and that it was fine and all part of the process. We then asked them to start thinking about what their initial ideas were and asked them to put them onto post-it notes so we could find clusters and overlaps.

The ideas flowed – we quickly filled the wall with possibilities. We merrily grouped them into themes and then stood back. People began to cluster and started to develop their ideas into project outlines with enthusiasm. And all the organisers and guest watched with discomfort, as we realised that despite the exposure to the village environment and a morning of hearing from experts, the group had instantly fallen back into their comfort zone. The projects that were emerging were solution led. The board of ideas was polarised into science problems and social science problems. One of the participants noticed this and everyone agreed that it wasn’t why we were here, but people hesitated to move.

A couple of our speakers intervened and said that the research had to start with the need. They stressed that the need was usually caused by complex, overlapping issues which weren’t respecters of disciplines. They urged the group to go back and start with the need of the villagers and communities.

To help, Neil quickly drafted a set of questions:

  • Who are you helping?
  • What is your impact?
  • How will you do this?
  • How will you communicate and engage people in your project?

Everyone went back to their ideas. Slowly, and with some inital difficulty, the need became the priority. The projects were set to one side as the group used the expertise of the guests and the personal experience of village life in the room to deepen their understanding of the need. We nudged one or two groups to take a look at their constituents – we’d noticed that one was devoid of social scientists and another had only one physical scientist. In one of my favourite moments of the workshop so far, a social scientist was “kidnapped” by one group who needed her skills and perspectives. We finished the day with a quick overview of each project and suddenly we started to get excited about what was emerging. Clearly these ideas have the potential to grow in proposals so I won’t share details here but they are now strongly aligned with the principles driving GCRF.

I wanted to write the post about our “near-miss” because there is so little information about the workshop running process that it can be easy to think that they all run like clockwork. We are spoilt here by having someone (me!) who’s only focus is the workshop facilitation and it was still challenging to work out how to intervene and to understand what had caused the slight deviation from the path we’d tried to set up.



I think what happened is that the complexity of the rural environment is such that we all felt a little overwhlemed by the scale of the challenge. Faced with so many unknowns, people retreated a little from the “groan zone” into the comfort of their expertise and disciplines.


img_5143The problem with this is that the really beautiful ideas were past this point. We pushed the group out of their comfort zones and better ideas emerged. I’ll be honest about how surprised I was that this didn’t happen naturally, but it’s important to share this to give future workshop leaders an insight so they can look out for the same moment with their groups.


Some advice is to “shine a light” onto the idea generation and development process regularly in the early stages. We had three separate whole group idea sharing slots so we picked up on the limitations of the early projects quickly. We got everyone to put all their ideas onto the wall (using post-its) so the clustering of ideas around disciplines was immediately evident. Neil and the guest experts kept sitting in with the groups whilst the ideas were forming to challenge and guide them. Without these interventions it would have been difficult to spot the issues.

Overnight, the ideas have developed and new ones have emerged. There are now six ideas in development and they are all truly needs-led so the principles of ODA-compliance are embedded from the start. (In the next post I’ll talk a little about the ODA compliance that we discussed as well as sharing some of the resources we’ve found to fund the network and ideas in future.)

Today the group are expanding on their ideas and we’ve given them some new questions for guidance:

  • What are the gaps in the idea/stakeholders or team’s skills base?
  • What are your first steps?
  • Who needs to be involved?
  • What resources will you need?
  • What else is happening in this space? (Do an initial literature search)

Tomorrow is our final day. The focus will be on building ownership of potential projects so everyone leaves with a clear plan and we’ll also think about the best strategies for maintaining the network. And I may cry a little as this has been a very special experience.


Walk in my shoes (or at least see my shoes)

As I mentioned in the last post, as part of our  Newton Bhabha Fund workshop, taking place in IISER, Pune  (remember, we’re tweeting about the workshop using #CERRI) we visited a number of rural villages to meet villagers, community leaders and officers from Maharashtra Arogya Mandal (MAM), an NGO. Yesterday we ran a debrief and Q&A session to help maximise the value of the visit and as part of this I asked the group to share the value the trip had had.

Welcome, Maharashtra India

This is a short summary of those discussions. As the workshop goes on I’m sure the value will be felt in different ways, but for now here are the intial reactions. Please note that we only spent a few hours in the villages so no-one is claiming that we’ve got any depth of insight into the experiences of the villagers. However, even though we haven’t walked a mile in the shoes of the people we met, we have perhaps “seen their shoes”.

We asked these questions about the key influences of the visits:

  • what sights and conversations have had particular impact?
  • what key moments have changed or developed your thinking?

(People discussed this in groups so I’ve left the summaries in this format – I’m aware that some will need some clarification or expansion so I’ll add these as I get more information from the groups)

  • I’ve got a real picture of life in an Indian village
  • recognise the food-water-energy nexus
  • seen their low expectations from life
  • need for low cost and maintable technology
  • seen the gap between the rural schemes launched and how they are implemented
  • seen a lack of awarness and priority setting


  • importance of a holistic approach – need to blend technology + skills + business plan
  • importance of working with teachers and education
    • develop a proper syllabus on corruption
  • each village is different and one size will not fit all
  • can we find a fine balance between providing development in a culturally balanced way, yet still providing an acceptable minimum?
    • do we need to define a minimum acceptable “village standard”?
  • equity and participation (gender/caste etc)


  • awareness
  • demand driven technology
  • exploring opportunities for development
  • empowerments


  • to look at energy beyond electricity access
  • LPG stoves – differential adoption
  • villagers interviewing the researchers
  • lack of water for irrigation and sanitation
  • health situation and awareness


  • one graduate, religious festival
  • Chullahas
  • challenge for maintenance of tech
  • toilets (as store house)
  • self help groups

In the next post I’m going to share some of the advice we get from the experts who are coming along to the workshop to speak on day 3  (a previous post looked at how we briefed them.)

Rural Development and Cold Spaghetti

(If you’re mystified by the title of this post I explain it below.)

This blog is part of a series on the Newton Bhabha Fund workshop, taking place in IISER, Pune September 4-8th (we’re tweeting about the workshop using #CERRI)  On day one of the workshop we visited a number of rural villages to meet villagers, community leaders and officers from Maharashtra Arogya Mandal (MAM), an NGO. I’d like to take a moment here to thank Sagar Mitkari from MAM for his time on Monday explaining the role and history of his organisation and for helping to arrange the visit to the villages and the Muktangan Tribal Girls Hostel.


You can read more about MAM here:

The connection with MAM and the visit was organised by Dr Priyadarshini Karve, one of the workshop organisers and the Director of Samuchit Enviro Tech. Priya’s additional role today was to help us to debrief the group, combine experiences (we split up to visited different villages and there is wider experience in the group of other parts of India) and help us begin the process of idea generation. The debrief was an essential part of the early stages of the workshop, as the village visits stimulated a lot of thinking but also some areas of confusion. We spent the afternoon with Priya identifying our new questions and taking advantage of her huge experience.

We split the group into three subgroups taking care to mix people from the four constituent groups on the course (UK/India/Social Science/Physical Science) and from the three visits. We worked for an hour on the following questions, then Priya answered the emerging questions.

  1. Broaden and Share your Perspectives (this was discussed in the groups)
    • within your group, what else do we know about rural India?
    • what do you think we need to know?
    • what was different about the villages visited yesterday?
    • …and what is different about other rural Indian places?
  2. Seek Clarification (this was the basis of discussion with Priya)
    • what is missing from your understanding?
    • what needs clarification or expansion?
  3.  Identify Key Influences (this was captured at the end to gauge the value of the visits)
    • what sights and conversations have had particular impact?
    • what key moments have changed or developed your thinking?

Rather than give a detailed overview of the problems and ambiguities identified I will select a few and share Priya’s advice. I’ll group some of the questions as they were covered with a single answer.

What do you see as the barriers?

The human element – they may say XYZ when they mean ABC. Problems which are categorised in one way may be something very different = social and economic barriers are easily confused (people can say they can’t afford something rather than admitting they are intimidated or uncomfortable with it). People need to have better understanding of the implications of their decisions (i.e. health impact of cooking with wood fires indoors). Superstitions are still influential, but mobile and television is building awareness of modern lifestyles.

How do we ensure things keep on working when India is changing so quickly? And what if our work impacts in others ways – perhaps by creating conditions which mean people are more likely to leave their villages?

There is rapid urbanisation which is affecting village communities but we also see reverse migration with people preferring to return to village life. Don’t think too much about the how specific individuals might act. Think about how whoever will be living in the village in the future – focus on creating liveable conditions. Also recalibrate your description of yourself – I moved from thinking of myself as someone in rural development to thinking about how I support people to deal with climate change using technology. This reframing can help you focus on what’s important. 

There’s so much diversity, even in the three relatively close villages we saw. How do we come up with ideas which can be widely applied?

Don’t try to – there will never be a single solution, but there is more scope to think in terms of a menu of options for people and to put effort into developing methodologies which will help people identify the right solutions or develop their own.

Why aren’t there more skills development programmes to help people use technology more effectively? Why don’t they use the skills they have to engage with technology? (This was prompted by a trip to a village which had broken technology but there were engineers in the village.)

Must take their aspirations into account. Sometimes programmes are offered but not taken because seen as low status – seen as poor relation to university degree or type of training available in cities. Once people are trained to be engineers and start being paid well for this, they are unwilling to work for nothing in the villages. Think about whether you would do your job for nothing when you get home from work…

There is a need for awareness raising, but in some cases there seems to be awareness but no change in behaviour. What can we do about this?

Villagers are people, just like us. We all know what we should do and what is good for us, but do we do it all the time? No! The same psychology applies. We stick with our habits and so do they. Don’t judge them.

Why do so few government schemes work?

They are conceived in Delhi, sent to state capitals, then to districts then to the block level. At this level they make decisions about what to do and then the village leaders decide how to implement. This is a long chain and the initial decision is far removed from the people affected. There can be social pressure from the villagers to keep the decisions on track, but incompetence and issues like caste will derail things.

Having said this there are examples of things being turned around in villages by people pressure. If word of this could spread, people might be inclined to apply similar pressure. Finding local champions who are respected and influential will also help. Teachers can be very powerful.

What is the energy consumption behaviour in the villages?

There is some data about this in limited projects – I’m involved in one to assess this and the way energy is imported and exported to and from the villages. Some of these studies have uncovered important information which show that villages create more wealth for India than they receive in support and benefits.

Shouldn’t we be tacking the bigger societal problems, particualrly around gender and caste inequalities? 

Although these have a negative impact on our work it would be a HUGE job to change them. You need to focus on what you can change and can do. I can’t see this or many other barriers going away. Work around them.

How far to people plan ahead? Can we get them to see the benefits in the long-term of some of these developments?

Depends on nature of their lifestyle. If agricultural will think in terms of farming cycles – until the next harvest. If “hunter-gatherer” will think about where next meal is coming from. It’s difficult to change unless their lifestyles start to be affected.

It feels like there is a need for more data and better access to data that exists. (Questions about soil and water testing, information on energy usage, geomapping and other data sources.)

There is a need for this particularly if it would be produced with a visual summary to help people engage with it. Pilot projects on soil and water testing have happened but it’s patchy – led in one case by a teacher who gathered and analysed samples from students when they returned to their home villages. Over 5-6 years this has built into a map of a region. Engaging people with the data is a key issue as this will help drive better data in future. 

To paraphrase Priya, she encourages our researchers to focus on what they can do and not be disheartened by what they can’t change. She has learnt that a lot of developments and initiatives come and go, but if you stick to what you see working, you will make progress. She uses the local influencers effectively and she’s defined herself in terms of what is needed and what she can do, rather than what she she was initially interested in.

In the next post I’ll summarise the value of the village visits.

*Finally, thanks to Andrea Buck at Swansea University for the title of this blog. Andrea and I had a conversation about how to drive change in universities and she described it as being a little like a bowl of cold spaghetti. You see the one strand that you want to pull out, but as you tug you realise it’s all stuck together and if you pull really hard it jumps out the bowl and hits you in the face… I love this metaphor and the expression “cold spaghetti” enters my head on a fairly regular basis. Of course it doesn’t imply anything about either Swansea or Edinburgh Universities which are both paragons of effective and efficient decision making…

Time and Space – collaboration seeds

This post comes from the beautiful campus of IISER, Pune where we are running the Newton-Bhabha Fund workshop this week. After travelling for 20 hours we arrived in darkness so this afternoon ( we were asleep all morning as the transition from UK to India time is in progress…) was our first chance to look around.  After a quick check of the training rooms we’ll be using later in the week (which are perfect) a few of the early arrivals took a wander around the campus and a conversation in one of the coffee bars prompted today’s post.

Cricket on campus at IISER, Pune. Photo by Sara

IISER, Pune is a campus based institute with accommodation so it’s reasonable to expect that there will be people around at the weekend, but we came for coffee in one of the academic buildings. We may return to the topic of working hours later in the week when I write up some reflections on the various facets of cultural difference which a workshop like ours will throw up.  Aside from this, what struck me was the contrast with an afternoon earlier in the week when I attempted to get a coffee on our Kings Buildings campus. There are a number of cafes but it took three attempts to find one which was willing to serve me at the totally unreasonable time of 3.45pm on a Tuesday. The restrictions on catering when the undergraduates leave reduce the opportunities to meet people from other schools and institutes either by chance or design.

I don’t have anything against departmental cafes. I “grew up” in one which had its own tea-room open for 2 hours a day. This restriction meant that during these times, the whole community mixed – students, researchers, academics, technicians and administrators. I still maintain that the loss of said tearoom was instrumental in the closure of that department some years later and it must have had a pretty instant impact on communication between different communities.

The common thread between these two reflections is that with a small investment of time and a dedicated space which isn’t someone’s office, it’s possible to have a different kind of conversation. Getting to know someone in broader terms than their research interests will help you make decisions about working with them (and in some cases the type of person they are can be a more important consideration than the skills they bring.)

The coffee room we found here was in a building shared by Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology and there were a number of groups chatting and working together. Our tea-time (chai-time?) conversation began with an inevitable winge about access to catering out of undergraduate term time, then overlapped with a chat about new university buildings and sites and the migration of departments to new locations. Both of these situations link to our theme this week because a lack of shared social space and the geographical isolation of part of a university’s community are both detrimental to developing new links and collaborations because they take away chances for us to gently get to know people who are different from us.

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, the programme for the workshop includes a lot of time where the attendees will be discussing ideas and developing possibilities. We’ve kept invited speakers to a minimum for a five day workshop and selected those who can also provide a mentoring role whilst they are with us. As well as allowing the participants to talk about their research interests, we’re also trying to create a relaxed and open atmosphere where more wide-reaching topics are covered. An initial decision to have an evening programme of formal activities is currently on hold – our hope is that we won’t need to nudge people into finding things to talk about and that our problem will be ensuring they get enough rest!

The projects that are likely to develop from the connections made this week will be complex and challenging. Success will depend on many factors, but those involved are only likely to commit to this challenge if they trust the people they’ll be working with. Building trust takes time. Isn’t just about complementary skills and experience, more about finding common ground whether in terms of interests, values or outlooks to life. These things can’t be expressed in a 2 minute introduction in the way people will describe their research at the start of the week. We need time and space to discover new people and then more time and space to decide if they are a good match and balance for us before we invest even more time and space in building links.

I’m not naïve about the complexity and tensions involved in estates planning and aren’t suggesting that decisions are made with the objective of undermining collaboration. Everything is a compromise in university management, but this week I’ve been aware that the seeds of future projects lie as much in the random conversation about university cafes that close at 3pm (and where that takes us) as they will in the conversations about whether your data and my methodology are complementary. When we meet for dinner later I suspect much of the chat will be about the journeys we’ve had here and what attracted us to the workshop and in listening to people’s stories we’ll start to get a sense of their attitudes to life.

Here are some facets of peoples’ outlooks which may emerge in these general ice-breaking chats.

Attitudes to risk – are you someone who always see the problems and potential disaster around every corner or do you generally accept that everything will be ok and even if it goes wrong you’ll probably work out a solution?

Attitudes to rules – is it all about doing things the right way with tried and tested procedures that are familiar, or getting to the right end point whilst not worrying too much about what path is taken?

Attitudes to other disciplines – are you interested in other topics and open to developing research ideas which are influenced by others (do you welcome trespassers?) or do you want to do more with your own research in partnerships where everyone has a defined roles (and doesn’t cross the fence)?

So, if you aren’t priviledged enough to come to a Newton Fund workshop (and a post later in the week will explore why people do), try to find a little time this week to talk to someone different and let them get to know you. My conversations in the last few months have brought me around the world. Where might yours take you?

Sharing expertise – briefing the speakers

An important part of any workshop which seeks to inspire emerging research leaders to do great things are the messages from more established researchers. We have invited a range of speakers to the Newton Fund workshop running in Pune, India this week  and this blogs will explain how we briefed them as well as sharing some of the insights I’ve gained from watching previous speakers at collaborative building events.

Photo by cohdra ( at MorgueFile

The first step is to make it clear that the event is not like other research conferences or meetings. The audience does not sit relatively passively through each day, engaging with the speaker through questions and breaks, but largely sitting and listening. On this programme the attendees will spend a significant proportion of their time developing links, exploring ideas and developing projects. Given that these projects will be both interdisciplinary, involve far distant collaborators and have an international development focus, and that each of these aspects presents additional challenges, one role of the invited speakers is to ensure that researchers learn as much as they can about how to manage these kinds of projects, as well as being inspired by what others have done.

We’ve therefore briefed the speakers in a different way, making it clear to them that the “how” is the focus whilst the “what” provides context, and also asking them to stay with us for an entire day and provide mentoring during the initial idea generation stage. We’ve also asked all the guest speakers to complete the same summary slides as the participants (as described in the previous post where you can download our template) and added these to the course booklet.

This is an excerpt from the email Neil sent to the guest speakers:

The aims of the workshop are to bring together a variety of physical and social scientists from India and from the UK to stimulate new ideas and to build new connections in rural energy research. The talk/discussion on the 6th is an opportunity for the participants to learn from some experts who have already worked on successful projects in rural India. So for your contribution, I would suggest the following…

(i) Basic description of a prior project or projects you have worked on

(ii) Select and highlight whatever you think is most important from the following points: insight into practical considerations, unexpected pitfalls, learning from failures, things you would like to have known before starting, what kind of people are needed in a successful team and how do you build that team, how to get funding, other important points.

(iii) Answering questions and discussion.

My suggestion would be to keep (i) and (ii) to around 20 – 30 minutes maximum so that there is plenty time for (iii). It’s difficult to know in advance exactly what the group will be most interested in, hence making sure there is plenty of time for questions and discussion. Clearly some outline of the project itself is important to set the context and give an example of what can be achieved, however the participants will be particularly looking for ideas and insight that they can use in their own project ideas. This means that generic issues that might be relevant to any project will be of particular interest.

The number of external expert speakers that day now looks to be five. As well as the presentations/discussions from the experts, we also plan to include you in some of the ongoing project idea generation so that the participants can benefit from your insights and feedback on their own ideas. We would therefore hope that could join us for the full day.

My plan is to write a post based on the advice and expertise we hear next Wednesday and I’m really looking forward to learning about international development themed research as well as gaining some insights into the research culture in India. I can’t exaggerate how influential an experienced researcher can be when they give honest and constructive advice tailored for researchers who are just starting to collaborate or lead projects.

As an example, this is a blog on confusion I wrote in my previous role about a talk from Professor Barry Smith  at Welsh Crucible, where he spoke about leadership in collaborations in his capacity as the AHRC‘s Leadership Fellow for the theme of Science and Culture. Barry’s insights have subsquently inspired me to develop a workshop on this theme which I’ve run repeatedly. Although Barry’s talk stands out for me as we are talking about collaboration, I’ve heard from many, many researchers over the years on this theme and distilled some of their wisdom elsewhere into advice on first steps in collaboration.

The next blog post will hopefully come from Pune as we get ready to start the workshop!

Building connections – briefing the participants

As part of the series of blogs documenting the Newton Fund workshop I’m involved in, today we’re looking at how we’ve briefed the speakers who will be visiting the event and the participants who will be introducing themselves at the start of the workshop. As I’ve written this it’s expanded beyond a single blog so I’ll start with the participant introductions and add in the speaker briefing later.

Photo by Sam Hakes ( at

This is a critical part of the preparation for the workshop as the energy and momentum we will need to make progress towards collaborative discussions will evaporate if everyone has to sit through lengthy and detailed descriptions of the minutiae of people’s research interests. With multi-disciplinary groups (as we will have) the purpose of the participant introductions is to provide an overview of skills, experience and interests that will accelerate the “getting to know you” stage and help us all start to see potential connections. I’ve seen these introductory presentations run at Crucible* events over many years and they work really effectively when the following principles are understood

  • Convey the essence of what you do in a single phrase (if you don’t control this, others will do it for you when they say “you should talk to the soil guy” or “the laser woman might be interested in this as well”)
  • Don’t make ANY assumptions about people’s understanding. LIDAR, ELISA and SSRI might roll off your tongue but they will either distract or disengage listeners from outside your field. (And don’t assume that disciplines far from yours are particularly guilty of this, whereas all the terms you use are in common parlance – you ALL do it and no, they mostly aren’t)
  • Similarly, make sure you explain your research so that those in other disciplines can see connections with their own work. Even better, talk about what limitations could be overcome through collaboration and how your work might be of value in partnerships.
  • No-one can cope with more than about 45 minutes of introductions, so stick to the time you’ve been given, however challenging that is. You might think that it won’t hurt to overrun by a minute or so, but the accumulation of these will eat time allocated for other things AND your audience may not take kindly to you ignoring the instruction that they followed.
  • Be as visual as you can. People generally remember pictures and schematics rather than text. If you need to animate a diagram or scheme, you can, but…
  • Don’t put too much information on your slide/s. If you’ve been asked to introduce yourself using a single slide that’s because this is the level of detail we want to hear. It’s not an invitation to use 12 font and cram every corner.
  • Be enthusiastic about your research – I’ve put this as a final point but it is the MOST important aspect. If you love what you do and think it is vital, then that energy will be evident and people will invest their own energy and time in you. If you appear to barely be able to get out of bed to talk about it, some might think twice. This doesn’t mean you have to jump around like a children’s entertainer – just let us see how much your work matters to you.

The introduction that you give at events like this is very different from talks you might give at conferences or seminars. To help our participants deliver the type of introduction we think the event needs, we’ve put together a slide template which we sent in advance. If you are organising this kind of event, we’d recommend you do the same and we’re happy to share our template here.

Newton Fund Edinburgh IISER intro slide template

To help people start to prepare for the workshop we’ve collated all these slides in advance and they form the heart of the workshop booklet which was circulated electronically in advance. Printed copies will be available when we arrive so people can annotate as they listen to the introductions and we hope the conversations will flow!

International Researcher Development

On Saturday I’ll be joining Professor Neil Robertson from our School of Chemistry to travel to Pune, India and deliver a workshop funded under the UK-India Researcher Links scheme funded by the British Council and Royal Society of Chemistry. Entitled “Translating Clean Energy Research to Rural India” the workshop will bring together researchers from the UK and India, working in social and physical sciences to understand the challenges of bringing clean energy technology to rural villages and introduce them to a range of experts who will explain how they have overcome these challenges. My plan is to blog throughout the week on what we’ve done, sharing the good practice that emerges and making the process as transparent as possible to support other researchers and researcher developers. I’m grateful to Neil and other colleagues at Edinburgh for being so open to this idea.

This initial post will share how we planned the workshop and what we’ve done to get to the point of departure. I should make it clear that I came into the organising team very late – the funding had already been awarded. Neil and his co-applicants Dr. Jamie Cross (University of Edinburgh), Prof Satish Ogale (IISER, Pune) and Dr. Priyadarshini Karve (Samuchit Enviro Tech) developed the concept and aims of the workshop; my role has been to think about how these can be successful achieved.

Drawing on my experiences from Scottish, Welsh and other Crucibles as well as workshops on collaboration and intercultural working, I started with the aims from the proposal:

  • To introduce physical scientists to the real-world use of energy technologies in rural India. (A visit to selected villages in Maharashtra at the start of the workshop to inform the subsequent presentations, discussions and problem-solving activities of the workshop.)
  • To introduce social scientists to the latest progress in emerging technologies to raise their awareness of immediate and future technological approaches to pressing problems.
  • To facilitate communication and network building between physical and social scientists.
  • To identify short-term projects for immediate impact to consolidate new partnerships that develop during the workshop.

Although an outline for the workshop formed part of the application, I made a couple of changes – principally building in more time for participants to explore and develop ideas and bringing forward their presentations to each other by a day.  It’s worth noting that Neil and his co-organisers have built the whole concept of the workshop around an initial day spent visiting a number of villages in Maharashtra so that the researchers on the workshop can truly appreciate the context in which their ideas need have have impact and the challenges presented by the environment. I think this will have a dramatic and positive impact on the outputs of the week, and I suspect a very personal impact on all of us. If you are reading this and planning your own international development workshop look out for a blog at the start of next week where I’ll try to capture the day and what it meant to us all.

Back to my planning – I structured the workshop around a set of daily themes which helped me to ensure we had a clear flow to help with briefing speakers and attendees:

  1. Setting the scene and understanding the context
  2. Getting to know fellow participants
  3. Generating ideas, learning from experts
  4. Selecting and developing ideas
  5. Reviewing ideas, the programme and sustaining the network

Having done this and produced a brief outline programme I sent it to a few people who had previously attended Researcher Links workshops (many thanks to Dr Ankush Aggarwal of Swansea University and Dr Hu Du of Cardiff University for their feedback) and made further adjustments to maximise the time for participants to understand each other and start developing their ideas. I wanted to minimise the danger of the momentum that will grow during the workshop being lost once people returned to home institutions and their considerable responsibilities. Although they will be at an early stage, I’ve also included a day where we review the ideas so that further work on them is done with a clear understanding of how they will be evaluated.

The outline programme is here but this is a flexible starting point which we expect to develop during the week once we get to know the participants, hear from the speakers and gauge the demands that the course is making on those attending. In the next blog I’ll explain how we briefed the speakers and attendees.

Translating Clean Energy Research to Rural India Initial Workshop Schedule