The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) is funded under the Research Councils’ Energy Programme (RCEP) to carry out ‘whole-systems’ interdisciplinary energy research, and to act as a central hub for University-based energy research in the UK. UKERC was created in 2004 under a 5-year award from three Research Councils: the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). A Phase 2 programme of work was supported by the same three funding bodies between May 2009 and April 2014. A third phase of UKERC research will start in May 2014.
This report presents the results of a research project which undertook an analysis of UKERC’s interdisciplinary energy research achievements: its strengths, weaknesses and lessons for the future. The review was carried out internally by staff from UKERC’s Research Co-ordination and Meeting Place teams. The project included a review of the existing literature on interdisciplinary energy research, a facilitated group discussion convened at UKERC’s Annual Assembly conference in July 2013 (n=15) , an online survey of the UKERC research community (conducted between July and September 2013) (n=90), and a number of semi-structured interviews with UKERC researchers, members of the wider energy research community and UKERC’s non-academic stakeholders (conducted between September 2013 and January 2014) (n=18).
The analysis has highlighted many of the benefits and challenges of interdisciplinary research found in the wider research literature – and in energy and environmental domains in particular. Interdisciplinary research faces particular and persistent operational and strategic barriers, for both programme managers and individual researchers. Successful interdisciplinary research involves recognising these barriers, and explicitly and reflexively taking them into account in programme commissioning, design and management, and the findings reported here highlight a number of opportunities for improved interdisciplinary methods and practices for next phase UKERC.