‘Big Ideas’ Sustainability Research Workshop

In March 2023, STACEES hosted a sustainability research workshop in collaboration with Research Business Development (RBD) in Lower College Hall. The workshop engaged the participation of over 80 researchers coming from a broad range of disciplines across 15 academic schools at the University of St Andrews.

The goal of the full-day event was to develop cross-disciplinary research questions on the topic of sustainability, with a view towards fostering ambitious and innovative collaborations among the University’s research community.

The workshop comprised a series of structured networking sessions as well as informal networking breaks and a buffet lunch. Throughout the day, contributions from the Principal’s Office brought inspiration and supportive encouragement, with presentations from Ian Boyd (Chair of the ESB), Tom Brown (VPRCI), Ineke De Moortel (Master). Contributions from the Development Office and Research and Innovation Services teams brought furtherencouragement, advice, solidarity and signposting.

The networking sessions followed a rotating table-based system, with the morning seating plan assembling colleagues aligned with a specific UKRI research council around one table (and in some cases, two tables!). During this initial phase, all table groups kicked off discussions with an accessible conversation-starter question: ‘What is a big sustainability research challenge within your council’s remit?’.

The organizing team from STACEES and RBD wanted to support researchers to ‘think big’, taking loose inspiration from the UKRI ‘Big Ideas’ initiative, which seeks to spark exciting, adventurous and transformational ideas. We provide a basic overview of this scheme below; for full details see the UKRI website.

The theme of ‘thinking big’ guided the remainder of the day’s workshop discussions. Following lunch, participants moved freely between tables, with a small team of ‘idea champions’ remaining at each research council-aligned table from the morning session. The afternoon table groupings, now intermixed with colleagues aligned with multiple councils, expanded and developed the field-specific sustainability questions through the question: “How can your field improve and address these challenges through cross-disciplinary collaboration?”.

A final round of discussions saw the idea champions from each table take to the floor in turn to pitch a freshly generated ‘big idea’ to the whole group. After a day of intensive discussions, it seemed only right that the workshop draw to a close following some relaxed networking, with refreshments. Some participants reportedly continued discussions further in the pub!

The STACEES and RBD teams are grateful to everyone who contributed to and participated in the workshop, helping to make the day enjoyable, exciting and fruitful.

UKRI ‘Big Ideas’

The UKRI ‘Big Ideas’ initiative is a route through which members of the research and innovation community can engage with different UKRI research councils to inform their future plans and priorities. It is not a funding opportunity, but instead aims to collect and develop a bank of ideas that funding councils can draw from, in order to:

  • help drive forward existing priorities
  • shape future strategy and the wider research landscape

The ‘Big Ideas’ initiative is branded differently by the various UKRI research councils:

The above overview the ‘Big Ideas’ initiative is based on the scheme information available on the relevant research council websites at the time of writing (in December 2023). Please note that our overview is not exhaustive. For full details of this UKRI initiative, see the UKRI website.

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