Eye-opening and thought-provoking: This year’s ACCESS Summer School by George Warren 

Published on 28 September 2023

George Warren

ACCESS Knowledge Exchange Fellow at the University of Surrey


The ACCESS Summer School, hosted at Dartington Hall in Devon, was a very engaging and thought-provoking experience that will live long in the memory of all delegates, myself included.

Our guest speakers provided invaluable advice from a wide spectrum of experiences on how best to engage with research projects, training and policy. Alongside these keynote talks, the opportunity for reflection, idea development and networking among early career climate and environmental social scientists was a unique and valuable experience which will aid our current research, as well as our future endeavours. 

The summer school kicked off with an interesting insight into the ACCESS project from the project directors, Patrick Devine-Wright and Birgitta Gatersleben. They outlined how we as environmental social scientists can have a valuable impact on research, training and policy. As a new Knowledge Exchange Fellow on the ACCESS Project, it was inspiring to see the import given to social sciences as they relate to the environment. It was clear over the three days that there is a real desire among social scientists and those in the policy space to engage with one another to work together to address many of the environmental challenges we face today. 

One of the most unique characteristics of the Summer School, and the wider ACCESS project, was its focus on the three Guiding Principles. These underpin the ACCESS project work packages: environmental sustainability, equality, diversity & inclusion, and knowledge co-production. A series of interactive sessions, led by Sarah Hartley, Steve Guilbert, Kate Burningham, Sarah Golding and Stewart Barr were incredibly helpful in aiding us to reflect on the content of our research, how we do it and the work we produce. In addition, Charles Ogunbode’s critical reflection on past international research projects further demonstrated the importance of these principles whilst also highlighting some of the difficulties you might encounter in trying to integrate them successfully.  

Charles Ogunbode's session on Day 2

As well as encouraging us to reflect on our research practice as environmental social scientists, Kate Burningham, Sarah Golding and Gary Kass also challenged us to evaluate who we are as researchers. What is our disciplinary identity? How do we as social scientists interact with one another when coming from quite diverse backgrounds? It was fascinating to hear how some delegates clearly defined themselves as archaeologists or environmental lawyers, while others, particularly those whose research is more interdisciplinary, referred to themselves in broader terms or aligned themselves to specific topics of research that formed the focus of their PhDs or post-PhD research. 

Several speakers, including Pete Bailey, Gary Kass, and Jess Phoenix outlined and elaborated on the research-policy nexus from their own experience. Here, they spoke to delegates about the ways in which we as academic researchers can make our findings policy relevant. They described the types of roles that exist within government and other policy-facing institutions and highlighted opportunities for engagement. This was followed by a reflective exercise, with peer support, looking at how best to overcome challenges in our own research. This was particularly useful and relevant for delegates approaching the end of their PhDs who are thinking about the potential impact and relevance of their research. 

Workshop activity with people forming a lineOf course, the ACCESS Summer School was not just about research, policy and training: it was also about having a great time! We had plenty of opportunities to network and chat in the glorious September sun. Highlights included a garden tour led by Head Gardener, Neville, and an extremely difficult climate and environment pub quiz organised by Chris Jones.  

Workshops in the gardenIt was a genuine pleasure and privilege to attend and meet delegates from so many different continents, working on a wide range of environmental topics; from fisheries to plastic waste; to domestic heat use to engaging people in nature. I hope everyone who attended found it as inspirational and energising as I did. I hope we all stay in touch, and I look forward to more opportunities to connect in the future.  

The ACCESS Summer School 2023 was organised by Birgitta Gatersleben, Kate Burningham, Sarah Golding and Kirstie Hatcher. A big thank you to our hosts (Dartington Hall), speakers and contributors: 

Pete Bailey (Environment Agency), Stewart Barr (University of Exeter), Patrick Devine-Wright (University of Exeter), Steve Guilbert (University of Exeter), Sarah Hartley (University of Exeter), Chris Jones (University of Portsmouth), Gary Kass (Natural England/University of Surrey), Charles Ogunbode (University of Nottingham) and Jess Phoenix (University of Exeter, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs)