Think Tank

To stimulate innovative thinking and project ideas, our regular Think Tank events bring together researchers and partners from across the University and community to explore concepts that cut across all our themes.  This approach allows us to synthesise across fields, and to be dynamic; changing over time to tackle the big questions in environmental and sustainability science.

For more details on the ESI Think Tank series please contact Mark Plummer, ESI Senior Administrator.

Processes of invention and innovation play out across biological, social and technological systems. These processes can be broadly termed as ‘adaptation’ and are central to determining how complex systems respond to environmental change - from molecular evolution underpinning the emergence of novel phenotypes to the structures of social networks that enable rapid transformational change. We will seek to understand and characterise the structures in social, political, biological, cultural, technological and economic ‘systems’ that facilitate effective adaptation to change and the achievement of sustainable futures.

The structure of biological systems, from organisms to ecosystems, has emerged through the process of evolution and natural selection to maximise the efficiency of energy transformations. Many societal and economic challenges associated with environmental change also relate to energy acquisition and material and resource use. How do we learn from the properties of biological structures and processes to develop more efficient material cycling systems? How do lessons from the natural world help us design more effective technologies and economies? How do insights from research on natural processes apply in social and cultural contexts?

This workshop is designed to explore current research and synergies between academics working at Exeter across all disciplines, especially those of business geography and law. There will be three short talks by leading academic researchers and time for discussion about overlaps and future work. All those with an interest in the field are welcome to attend.

Prof Jane Wills who led the Think Tank said: "The subject is genuinely interdisciplinary, as can be seen by the mix of people present and it is unlikely that so big a group of such diverse actors has been assembled anywhere in the country to tackle this problem."

The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership and Cornwall Council have officially launched Cornwall’s ‘Environmental Growth Strategy' which aims to encourage businesses, communities and individuals to work together to increase environmental, social and economic prosperity in Cornwall. A first of its kind, environmental growth is focused on helping nature to do more for us. Realising this ambitious goal requires creative solutions to environmental problems and an evidence-based approach to decision-making. This think tanking brought together people working on the strategic implementation and practical side of environmental growth, with University Academics, to discuss how we can facilitate environmental growth activities in Cornwall.

This Think Tank, hosted by the Cross-Campus Social Science Group at ESi and ECEHH, reflected on the intersections of social and natural sciences, exploring links between the health of the environment and the health of humans. It facilitated dialogue between colleagues who research planetary and environmental health with co-benefits for the health of people and their communities, and colleagues who ressearch the ways in which human health and wellbeing is shaped by and shapes environmental factors. At the intersection of these different starting points, questions were asked, such as: how can we balance the health of the environment and the health of humans? What are key relationships and interconnections between the two? What are the gaps in making these connections and what is needed to fill these gaps? A particular interest was to interrogate 'trade-offs' and challenges that arise at this intersection. The Think Tank was attended by staff across ECEHH, ESI, Geography, Renewable Energy, Biosciences, Mathematics and Camborne School of Mines as well as external delegates from Cornwall Council and the Eden Project. A blog on some of the Think Tank's actions will follow shortly.

Through this interdisciplinary expedition, our collective challenge was to explore the contribution that academic knowledge can make to conversations about the future of the landscape focusing specifically on the Trelowarren estate as a microcosm for the exploration of interdisciplinary points of contact and exchange.