What happened at the ACCESS Winter School 2023? Blog by Sarah Golding

Published on 28 February 2023

Sarah Golding, ACCESS Knowledge Exchange Fellow, University of Surrey

“I had a fantastic time at the ACCESS Winter School. After having to postpone the event from September 2022, it was wonderful to finally meet our delegates and get together for three days of interactive sessions, networking, and reflections. Our invited speakers – from academia and the public sector – enthusiastically shared their experiences and top tips for increasing the visibility and impact of environmental social sciences.

We facilitated a variety of sessions and activities that explored how to communicate the value of delegates’ own work beyond their immediate disciplines and project partners. Saffron O’Neill hosted a thought-provoking session about social media, and together with Hannah Hayes and Sylvia Hayes, debated the pros and cons of engaging with Twitter as an environmental social scientist. Our Early Career Researcher panel – Christy Hehir, Jasmine Lee, Kavin Narasimhan, Gerardo Torres Contreras – shared their experiences of working in inter- and trans-disciplinary teams, engaging with different publics, and working with public and civil servants.

Delegates were encouraged to think about flows of knowledge and how social science evidence can be mobilised and used in different contexts. Peter Lefort spoke about different types of relationships and connections within networks and prompted us to consider how knowledge and other resources move through a network. Unable to join us at the last moment, Anna Lorentzon kindly produced a video for delegates, highlighting some of the ways in which social science evidence is used within government departments and agencies.

We also had sessions focused on broader skills and practices that social scientists might need to develop, beyond their research skills. Gary Kass discussed the capacities and competencies that can support more effective inter- and trans-disciplinary working. Chris Jones shared his experiences of generating real-world change from research projects, and suggested delegates work towards building long-term collaborative relationships with non-academic partners. Generating impact takes time and requires collective effort.

Finally, it was great to showcase – and get feedback from our delegates on – how we might operationalise the ACCESS Guiding Principles of Sustainability, Knowledge co-production, and Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). For this session, I was joined by the rest of the Guiding Principles team: Stewart Barr, Kate Burningham, Steve Guilbert, and Sarah Hartley. We discussed the importance of social scientists incorporating these principles into our research and knowledge exchange activities. Delegates then reflected on how these principles might be relevant in their own work, where potential tensions might lie, and how they might adapt their ways of working – and those of their colleagues – in future activities.

It was such an honour to be involved in organising and hosting this event for our delegates. We were so impressed by the enthusiasm and energy they brought to the Winter School – from engaging in the interactive sessions to walking around Windsor Great Park in the pouring January rain! They are working across a variety of environmental challenges including nature recovery, food and water security, sustainable development, and net zero societies. Our inspiring delegates are contributing to the future of the environmental social sciences, and I hope they valued their time with us and each other at Cumberland Lodge as much as we enjoyed hosting them!”

The ACCESS Winter School 2023 was organised by Sarah Golding, Birgitta Gatersleben, Kate Burningham and Kirstie Hatcher (University of Surrey). The organising team are hugely grateful to all our speakers and contributors:

Stewart Barr (University of Exeter); Steve Guilbert (University of Exeter); Sarah Hartley (University of Exeter); Hannah Hayes (University of Exeter); Sylvia Hayes (University of Exeter); Christy Hehir (University of Surrey); Chris Jones (University of Portsmouth); Gary Kass (Natural England / University of Surrey); Jasmine Lee (British Antarctic Survey); Peter Lefort (University of Exeter); Anna Lorenzton (Environment Agency); Kavin Narasimhan (Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy / University of Surrey); Saffron O’Neill (University of Exeter); Gerardo Torres-Contreras (University of Sussex)

Read more about the Winter School