Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Fifth Report


The challenges

219. Professor Gordon MacKerron, SPRU, identified three challenges as key to social science research in the renewable electricity sector:

    The second challenge, both 'top down' and 'bottom up', […] is then to develop better understanding of the ways in which Government may act with greater urgency in the promotion of renewable and other sustainable energy developments, while acquiring and retaining sufficient political legitimacy for the urgency to be translated into long-term and effective action.

220. Research conducted on government renewables policy ranges from analysing the effectiveness of the Renewables Obligation, and alternative mechanisms, to the deployment of microgeneration technologies. Professor MacKerron pointed out that the social science community makes efforts to engage with many of the institutions that undertake policy research and development, such as the Sustainable Development Commission, as well as "the traditional activity" of conducting research projects.[226]

221. Social science researchers are contributing to examining the interaction between public perception and the planning regime in at least two ways. First, political scientists and sociologists are analysing how the planning process, now being revised, could achieve both legitimacy and speed. Second, through programmes of research such Beyond Nimbyism, funded by ESRC, researchers are examining public views and how they might impact on the way in which the deployment of renewable technologies evolves.

222. We recognise the importance of the social sciences in supporting the deployment of renewable electricity-generation technologies. We welcome ESRC's continued involvement in the Research Council Energy Programme.

223. A key strand of social science research is developing real and practical policy questions. This research is often designed to have impact either in the short term or to influence the climate of opinion. When asked whether, when examining a particular policy issue, social scientists develop potential policy solutions, Professor MacKerron replied:

    The answer is: yes, on the whole. One feels slight diffidence about allowing experts to be too much in control of policy. One can make a contribution; there are others, such as yourselves, who have contributions to make as well. Yes, if I was not clear, I am sure it is the case that all that research is designed to think about practical policy solutions as well as simply to raise the questions.[227]

224. Social scientists make a valuable contribution to developing and reviewing government renewables policy. We would advocate that social scientists undertaking policy-related research consistently develop practical policy solutions, and that the Government draw upon their expertise whenever it is engaged in the development of renewables policy of social or economic importance.

225   Ev 379-380 Back

226   Q 281 Back

227   Q 284 Back

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