Valuing Nature in Policies and Decision Making

In a guest blog Amy Binner, one of our placements in the Valuing Nature Placement Scheme, discusses her research and the first day of her placement at Defra.

How can academics, environmental economists, modellers, and programmers get to grips with the needs of government, policymakers, or practitioners who use their research? 

Moreover, how can we do this when there are many different "users" each with their own questions, objectives, and needs?

Along with my colleagues at CSERGE, I am in the business of developing sophisticated models, such as the aptly named The Integrated Model (more affectionately referred to as TIM), a model that, after much hard work, links climate, land use, greenhouse gas emissions, water quality, biodiversity and recreation across space and time. Pretty neat, right? And it doesn’t end there, we programmed TIM so that it can find the “best” places to alter land use (for a given objective), for example it can answer questions like...

Where are the best places to plant new woodland to gain the largest recreational benefit?

What if I want to reduce carbon emissions and avoid reductions in biodiversity?

What we really want to do is transform TIM into a user friendly tool for decision making, one that can be used to address key real world and policy focused questions.

But how can we do this???

If only I had the time and opportunity to listen to different users. I could learn about what questions they are trying to answer and how they currently go about it. Perhaps TIM could help. 

Better still, it would be amazing if I could spend time with the people who actually use our research, observe how they use it, and work with them to co-develop more practical decision making tools.

All I would need is the time, money and support to do it...which is exactly what the Valuing Nature Placement provides!


My first day at Defra

Today was the big day, my first day in Defra.

Suddenly, I really did feel like a little girl nervously preparing for her first day at school, in a haze of excitement and fear.

What would it be like? Would I fit in? Would I understand the jargon? But more importantly, should I take lunch? Where would I get coffee? What if everyone had his or her own mug? I knew these were silly things to get caught up in, but throwing yourself into a new environment can be scary and overwhelming.

I set off, dressed in my new Defra compatible uniform; goodbye academia jeans and ankle boots, hello shirt, skirt and black shoes. As I sat at the reception, waiting to be escorted through security, a woman asked me if I was Jane Doe from Nestle - the disguise was working! This helped me to relax a little.

Moments later I could see the friendly face of Julian, my placement facilitator who showed me around the figure of eight labyrinth of Nobel House and pointed out the coffee shops and staff kitchen areas ...of course everyone has their own mug ...but that's ok. I can get a mug.

The office is organised into teams, within which there is an open plan hot desk setup, which is nice because it means there is space for me and I can talk to new people every day.

There isn't much time to settle in though. Julian and I have been busy planning in the run up to the placement and we have keenly scheduled back to back meetings for the rest of the day. Thankfully we started off with some familiar and welcoming faces.

At the end of my first day, my mind was buzzing with new information, ideas and a half formed mental blueprint of Defra's new structure. It was brilliant and busy a great day.

I thought it would be interesting to visualise my meetings using word clouds generate from my notes. This is the word cloud from my first day.