UWE Bristol working with research organisations in Africa and the UK to build capacity for research management and administration

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In an exciting new collaboration, a team drawn from three research organisations in Africa and five in the UK are working together to build capacity for research management and administration at their own universities and beyond. 

Staff in Africa from the University of Cape Town, the University of the Western Cape and the African Institute of Biomedical Science and Technology and, in the UK, from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), and the GW4 Alliance – the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter– are bringing together research development and management expertise to address barriers to north-south and south-south collaborations. 

The project involves an online survey among research managers and administrators (RMAs) across team members’ networks, designed to identify the skills and resource gaps and the operational and infrastructural challenges that RMAs face in both Africa and the UK. The team is very keen to hear from as many people as possible. If you work in this area you can take part in the survey via this link: https://redcap.link/qn5azr70.

By compiling and creating resources for competency-based training and best practice, the team also hope to develop RMAs’ capacity to build and deliver research partnerships professionally and equitably across countries and continents.  For RMAs working in donor countries, a better understanding of the local context in which their partners operate will also help strengthen collaboration and impact.

As well as the knowledge/skills gap scoping study, the project will involve conducting exchange visits, delivering an online knowledge exchange workshop and developing a competency-based draft training curriculum.  The collaboration is also extending participants’ networks and building their knowledge of evidence-based practice, which will support African institutions’ capacity to sustainably deliver research programmes.

The project forms part of the International Research Management Staff Development Programme (IRMSDP).  IRMSDP is an initiative of the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) in collaboration with the UK’s Association of Research Managers and Administrators (ARMA).  Its aim is to enhance south-south and north-south collaborations, build mutual understanding and appreciation of different cultures, and co-create resources that will benefit the wider research management community of practice.  ReMPro Africa, an initiative of the AAS, aims to fill critical gaps in the African research ecosystem to support a vibrant research culture and leadership at universities and research institutions.

This project, SMARTLife – Sustainable Management and Administration for Research: Training across the project Lifecycle – emerged through a rigorous process in which teams were first selected in the UK and Africa and then matched to form six combined international teams.  The project team is being led by Victoria Nembaware of the University of Cape Town and Simon Glasser of the University of Bristol.

The draft curriculum and a report on the project findings will be disseminated through the AAS and the various participating institutions and affiliated organisations.  The team hopes that the participating universities will continue to engage beyond this initiative and build their respective networks to facilitate further collaborations.

Notes

GW4 Alliance: The GW4 Alliance brings together four of the most research-intensive and innovative universities in the UK: the universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter. From the creative arts to the physical sciences, the GW4 Alliance has world-leading scholarship, infrastructure and faculty. The GW4 Alliance aims to cultivate our regional economy, develop a highly skilled workforce and enhance the research and innovation ecosystem for the South West and Wales.

The GW4 Alliance has invested over £2.9m in 93 collaborative research communities, which are addressing major global and industrial challenges, and have generated over £46 million in research income. This means that for every £1 GW4 spends on collaborative research communities, GW4 captures over £15 in external research awards.

Find out more: http://gw4.ac.uk/

Knowledge Transfer Partnership with VQ Communications Graded Outstanding

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A Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with VQ Communications has been graded Outstanding by Innovate UK.

The two year project aimed to embed knowledge of Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to determine how ML/AI can be applied to VQ Communications complex systems to reduce support costs, boost engineering productivity and enable deployment of larger networks at lower cost and higher levels of service.

Mike Horsley, VQ Communications CEO commented: “It is very pleasing to see the investment made and the hard work, expertise and tenacity that the UWE/VQ team placed into this KTP being recognized in this manner.

VQ continues to invest in the AI/ML technology developed during the KTP and we are getting extremely encouraging results. The team has expanded to include an additional software engineer and we continue to work with the UWE team via a professional services agreement.

Advanced technology is difficult; it requires expertise and managed risk-taking. The KTP program enabled VQ to master a new technology and we are very excited about how the resulting new products and services will help our customers solve the problems they face and, by doing so, will enable VQ to further extend its market leadership and demonstrate continuing growth”.

Lead academic Professor Jim Smith, Professor in Interactive Artificial Intelligence, commented: “The partnership has been a fantastic opportunity to develop AI-based solutions together with a company, and the area: (improving video communication tools) couldn’t have been more topical during the pandemic.”

Based in Chippenham, VQ Communications produces software that allows customers to deploy and manage large video conferencing (also known as “Unified Communications”) services. VQ has established a leading market position over the last 15 years and VQ’s current product generation works with Cisco’s Meeting Server products and is being used by customers world-wide to deliver enterprise wide conferencing. VQ is a Cisco Solution Partner with Cisco recommending and selling VQ’s product.

UWE Bristol and VQ communications plan to continue their relationship together and have recently signed contracts to develop their work on the technology further.

View the VQ Communications case study here.

The KTP scheme is a UK-wide programme helping businesses to improve competitiveness and productivity. With the help of graduate talent and access to UWE Bristol academic expertise, a KTP can help your business to transform and solve problems to achieve goals.

To find out more about KTPs please visit our website.

Book Launch: Roads, Runways and Resistance – from the Newbury Bypass to Extinction Rebellion

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Senior Lecturer in Transport and Planning, Steve Melia, has written a new book called Roads, Runways and Resistance – from the Newbury Bypass to Extinction Rebellion. It spans a 30-year story of the most controversial issues in transport, and the protest movements they spawned.  His research included 50 interviews with government ministers, advisors and protestors – many of whom, including ‘Swampy’, were speaking for the first time about the events they describe. It is a story of transport ministers undermined by their own Prime Ministers, protestors attacked or quietly supported by the police, and smartly-dressed protestors who found a way onto the roof of the Houses of Parliament.

The research project which led to the book was partly funded by UWE, although most of the interviews and writing were done in Steve’s own time.  It also produced two academic journal articles, which inform the book’s conclusions in a ‘light touch’ way.

The book will be launched virtually in a webinar on the 26 January 2021. The webinar will be introduced and chaired by Prof. Graham Parkhurst.  Steve will tell the story of the main events described in the book, and also reflect on the tensions between academic research, direct action and writing for the general public, before opening for questions and discussion.

Register a place here

More about the book can be found here or watch this short video:

Steve Melia is a Senior Lecturer in Transport and Planning in the Centre for Transport and Society. His research interests focussed on behaviour change (particularly in the context of climate change), changing transport policy and the interaction between transport and spatial planning.  He invented the term ‘filtered permeability’ and the concept of the ‘paradox of intensification’.  His PhD concerned the potential for carfree development in the UK.  He has advised UK Government departments, local authorities, political parties and the UK Climate Assembly in 2020. 

Navigating reduced hours careers: experiences of male and female executives and senior managers

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Navigating reduced hours careers: experiences of male and female executives and senior managers is a research project led by Professor Susan Durbin (UWE), with Professor Jennifer Tomlinson (Leeds University Business School) and Stella Warren (UWE) for the Human Resources, Work and Employment Research Group in the Faculty of Business and Law at UWE, Bristol.

The challenges of greater gender balance at senior management levels and on corporate boards are faced by businesses worldwide. Working hours are critical to career advancement and women rather than men tend to seek a reduction in hours at career defining life course stages. Despite previous research that shows women experience a lack of progression in their career when they reduce their working hours, until now there has been very little research focusing specifically on executive/senior management careers of women and men in relation to reduced hours working.

The most widely utilised form of flexible working in the UK is part-time, however this tends to be mostly in low paid, low skilled occupations and although part-time work has grown in professional occupations, this cannot be said for managerial roles where in fact less than 4% of jobs are on a part-time basis.

This has significant consequences for the utilization of women’s skills, pay and career opportunities across the life course.

As researchers who specialise in women’s careers and in tackling gender inequalities in the workplace and labour market, Sue Durbin and team believe that making reduced hours working available at senior levels would enable more women to step forward into senior roles. We also believe that this opportunity should be open to men. Women’s work, especially when performed on a reduced hours basis, is under-valued and not enough women are making it into senior roles. For most women, and some men, having the opportunity to work the hours that would enable them to have a work/family balance could be key to their future prospects and benefit the wider businesses in which they work.

The support of employers is key to making this happen. This research project enables us to get in touch with senior men and women working on reduced hours basis and to explore why and how they reduced hours and what that means for their senior careers.

The project began in November, 2019 and is funded by the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust. Recognising the rise in the use of flexible working arrangements at the organisational level, and a drive for more inclusive workplace cultures, what are the prospects for navigating executive and senior management careers while working reduced/part-time hours? When individuals at senior levels do work reduced hours, what are their experiences of work in terms of job quality and growth potential, and how do the experiences of reduced hours working compare and contrast between male and female executives and senior managers? Furthermore by focusing exclusively upon executives and senior managers, this research explores the experiences of organisational leaders who have reduced hours and the strategies they employ to manage a demanding position requiring leadership and visibility while working less than full time, and the extent to which they feel they can act as role models for others seeking to advance careers on a flexible basis. The project addresses this important research gap to better understand how male and female senior managers navigate flexible careers and how gendered assumptions might impact their careers.

We are working with seven external partners who have offered their support to the project. All have a keen interest and take active roles in the promotion of gender equality in organisations. They know the importance of gender diversity at all levels of organisations and the business benefits this can yield. Crucially, they are able to help us to access and interview the rare and hard to reach executives and senior managers who work on a reduced hours basis, in the UK.

  • Flexology – flexible working specialists in the recruitment of professional part-time and flexible working roles and the design and implementation of flexible working practices
  • Workwell – a HR and people change consultancy, providing support in the areas of HR/people support, flexible working, project management, strategy, stakeholder management and research
  • Teach First – a charity that was set up to address educational disadvantage in the UK and is currently extending the uptake of job share working at senior levels
  • Bristol Women in Business Charter Community Interest Company – supports the operation of a city-wide Charter recognising and supporting progress on gender equality in city businesses.
  • Timewise – an organisation that was founded to tackle the lack of quality part-time jobs and to encourage more organisations to open up to both men and women jobs on a flexible basis, at all levels of organisations
  • Fair Play South West – the women’s equality network for the South West of England, researching and consulting women on their aspirations and barriers to achieving them and campaigning for change
  • Moon Executive Search – undertakes executive recruitment for senior management and board level roles and other highly skilled candidates.

The project is being conducted through virtual interviews with male and female executives and senior managers working reduced hours in organisations across the UK private sector.  Interviews began just before ‘lockdown’ (March, 2020). Importantly, the interviews also explore the impact of the pandemic on interviewees’ careers, including working from home, their views on this new way of working and its potential future ‘normalisation’, organisation readiness for lockdown/working from home and the general impact of covid on the individual and their ability to work from home.

The project will culminate in an end of project event (September/October, 2021), involving all research participants and partner organisations, key business leaders, policy makers and groups set up to support gender balance in business. At this event, we will present the key research findings and discuss recommendations for best practice, alongside a panel of business experts and policy makers who are keen to promote the social and business benefits of reduced hours and wider policies on flexible working.

If you would like to know more about the project and/or would like to take part in an interview, please contact sue.durbin@uwe.ac.uk

UWE Research into the impact of driverless vehicles – Capri Project

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For the past three years researchers from the Centre for Transport and Society, University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), have been involved in the Capri project, looking into the impact of autonomous vehicles. Dr Ian Shergold has given a summary of their recent findings in the post below:

Capri was a practical, evidence-led research project that has broadened the UK’s knowledge of the short, medium and long term impacts of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) and helped inform the future direction of CAV development and implementation.

Capri was an industry-led consortium comprising 17 partners, including UWE, partly funded by Innovate UK and the Centre for Connected & Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV).  Funding was awarded though a competition to sponsor projects that would deliver technical solutions for CAV that provide real-world benefits to users as well as identifying commercial benefits. It has paved the way for the use of CAV to move people around locations such as airports, hospitals, business parks, shopping and tourist centres.

Capri ran from 2017-2020, and built on successful earlier research studies and live trials of autonomous vehicles involving UWE and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL), namely the Venturer and Flourish projects.

The UWE team working on Capri was led by Graham Parkhurst, Professor of Sustainable Mobility and Director of the research Centre for Transport & Society (CTS) at the University of the West of England in Bristol. Over the last three years he has been joined by colleagues in CTS, in particular Dr Daniela Paddeu and Dr Ian Shergold to carry out a range of social and behavioural research on CAV.

Over the three years of the study four different kinds of research have been undertaken.

  • The project began for CTS with focus groups to find out what members of the public think about the possible benefits and difficulties presented by autonomous shuttle pods, leading up to a one-day ‘codesign workshop’.  This event brought together over sixty members of the public, alongside technical experts and academics, to explore how systems based on pods might look, how they would operate and where they might be deployed.
  • The CTS team also undertook surveys of public willingness to use automated shuttles amongst users of two of the types of facility in which the vehicles could be deployed; a university campus and an airport.
  • The centrepiece of the project were the live demonstration trials in Bristol and London, where pods were safely run in fully autonomous mode. In Bristol the team undertook two experiments which were amongst the first of their kind, exploring how passenger perceptions of trust and comfort were influenced by where they sat in the vehicle, how fast it went, and whether there was a safety steward on board or not.
  • In London the team undertook observations and surveys with members of the public, not only those experiencing the vehicle, but also people who were interacting with it as pedestrians and cyclists in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Most people, throughout the research, showed good levels of trust in the technology, would be willing to use it, thought it could be useful to others as well, and depending on the circumstances, would be willing to pay to use it. We found people willing to share if services would remain convenient and safe.

There was also a wide range of social, environmental and practical concerns that need to be taken seriously, and to which the team do not yet have all the solutions.

However, the experiments showed that people became more favourable following an experience of actually riding in one of the shuttles. And this was particularly true for car drivers, who started off the most cautious of our participants, but became the most positive.

As to direction of face in the vehicle and how fast it went they found that trust in the system was slightly lower at a higher speed and when facing backwards to the direction of travel, so users are sensitive to the design of vehicle and the driving characteristics.

Interestingly though, people who travelled in a shuttle without a steward on board were just as trusting as those who travelled with one. This is an important finding as the whole point of an autonomous vehicle is that it doesn’t need onboard staff.

Although Capri has now finished, CTS and UWE research on autonomous vehicles continues through a project called MultiCAV, which is developing automated public transport vehicles for use on public roads. CTS are also part of a project called ‘Driverless Futures’ which is currently considering how the highway code would work if some road vehicles are driven by computer.

Over the course of the CAPRI project, over 650 members of the public contributed to the research. The team are grateful to them for their time and for sharing their views.

For anyone interested in finding out more about Capri and our work, please visit the online Capri ‘Virtual Museum‘ which has much more on the project and its results.

New book by Robin Hambleton on Cities and Communities Beyond COVID-19

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Robin Hambleton, Emeritus Professor of City Leadership, Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments in FET, has written an international book on Cities and communities beyond COVID-19. How local leadership can change our future for the better. 

Published by Bristol University Press on 16 October 2020 this forward-looking analysis, which builds on his previous book, Leading the Inclusive City, includes a detailed discussion of the Bristol One City ApproachMarvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, contributes a Foreword to the book.

Robin at the Learning City Exhibition at Hamilton House

Robin argues that modern urban strategies need to address four major challenges at once: the COVID-19 health emergency, a very sharp economic downturn arising from the pandemic, the climate emergency, and deep-seated social, economic and racial inequality. 

Robin comments: ‘Thanks to remarkable fast-tracking by Bristol University Press this book has been published in less than three months from submission of the manuscript.  I hope readers find that it is up to date and highly relevant to the pressing issues the country now faces’.

More information can be found here.

Bristol Robotics Laboratory and Future Space trials Robot Tours

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Future Space, in partnership with the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL), recently trialled an innovative new approach to providing tours of its facility, enabling people to view its workshop, laboratory and networking spaces from the comfort of their own homes and offices.

Using their personal IT devices to remotely control the movements of a self-driving, two-wheeled videoconferencing robot, potential new Future Space members were given the freedom to explore the unique, state-of-the-art space, while also being able to communicate with staff through a live video link.

Developed by Double Robotics Inc, this exciting technology helps people to feel more connected to colleagues, friends or patients, by having a physical presence, even if they are unable to attend an event or meeting in person. The robot is involved in several UWE Bristol research projects currently underway at BRL.

“We start by co-designing and trialling the technology in our purpose-built Assisted Living Studio,” says Professor Praminda Caleb-Solly, BRL’s Assistive Robotics and Intelligent Health Technologies lead. “We develop, test and implement various assistive robots and heterogeneous sensor systems in this realistic environment before taking them into real-world settings. The next stage, as we are doing with the Double telepresence robot, is evaluating its use in health and social care settings. We are particularly interested in how it can allow nurses, social workers and doctors to remotely interact with patients and are exploring this as part of our partnership with North Bristol Trust.”

Read the full story.

Research from UWE Bristol featured in new Netflix Docuseries

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A research project undertaken by Professor Melvyn Smith and Dr Mark Hansen titled “Investigating automatic detection of emotion in biometrically identified pig faces using machine learning” has been featured in the Netflix docuseries “Connected: The Hidden Science of Everything”, where science journalist Latif Nasser investigates ways in which we are connected to each other and the universe.

Melvyn Smith is Professor of Machine Vision and Director of the Centre for Machine Vision (CMV), part of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory at UWE Bristol. His research is a BBSRC funded project led by UWE Bristol in collaboration with Dr Emma Baxter at the Scottish Rural University College (SRUC).

The project is based on prior work that was undertaken by the centre with SRUC which explored the possibility of using computer vision and deep learning, specifically a special kind of artificial neural network known as a convolutional neural network (CNN), to recognise individual pig faces. The project was able to biometrically identify pigs using their faces with around 97% accuracy.

In the current project, rather than recognising individuals, the team are instead exploring whether facial expression can be recognised and used to detect whether a pig is stressed, unstressed and perhaps ultimately if the animal is happy.

The findings of the project could have important implications not only in farming in terms of improved productivity and reduced costs, via early identification of animals needing attention and where happy animals tend to be more productive (like humans), but also in realising better animal welfare.

Mel and the team’s research features in episode 1 of the Connected docuseries. The episode focuses on Surveillance in the world but specifically how we watch people and animals.

Mel Smith commented: “This work is very exciting for me because there has been a great deal of interest in detecting expressions related to emotions in humans, largely based on the work of psychologist Paul Ekman and the so called six prototypical expressions (happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, and surprise). The idea that we could do anything like this in animals, to know how an animal is feeling, would be quite ground-breaking and could have huge beneficial implications.”

Connected is now available to watch through Netflix.

UWE Bristol Living Architecture Project selected to be showcased on EU Innovation Radar Website

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An innovation developed through the EU funded “Living Architecture” Project, has been selected by the EU as something to be showcased on their Innovation Radar website. The project is between UWE Bristol; University of Newcastle Upon Tyne; the Spanish National Research Council; LIQUIFER Systems Group; Expolora SRL and the University of Trento, Italy. The recognition of the project on this website helps to demonstrate the work UWE have been doing to a global audience and may lead to new opportunities.

Living Architecture is conceived as a next-generation selectively-programmable bioreactor technology and integral component of human dwelling, capable of extracting valuable resources from waste water and air, generation of oxygen and production of proteins and fiber by manipulating consortia performance. The project’s final demonstrator is a modular bioreactor-wall, which is based on the operational principles of UWE’s microbial fuel cell technology and synthetic ‘consortia’ of microbes. Its operational principles are grounded in distributed sensing, decentralised autonomous information processing, high-degree of fault-tolerance and distributed actuation and reconfiguration.

Project lead for UWE Bristol Yannis Ieropoulos commented:  “We are really excited that our project has been selected to be showcased by the European Commission’s Innovation Radar. This is testament to the scientific excellence of this collective effort, which empirically demonstrates the positive impact that any building can have on our environment and the real value it can add to society.”

Details of the team’s innovation are now available here.

UWE Bristol secure Management Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Harris Evolution

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UWE Bristol Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) team have secured a new KTP with Harris Evolution, increasing the KTP portfolio to 13 live projects. The project will see Harris Evolution work with the UWE Bristol Business School (BBS).

The application, led by Ellen Parkes from UWE Bristol, was funded under Innovate UKs Management Knowledge Transfer Partnership (MKTP) scheme, which was announced in 2019 following a £25m pledge in funding over the next three years from BEIS (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy).

Based in Kingswood, Bristol, Harris Evolution is a commercial refurbishment company, specialising in quick turnaround projects carried out whilst the buildings are still in occupation. Harris’ work is targeted within three main sectors; Education, Healthcare and Hotel/Leisure.

The 24-month KTP project aims to implement transformational innovation through an Advanced Services approach to contract development and development of leadership capacity and will be led by Dr Kyle Alves , Dr Mel Smith and Professor Gareth Edwards (BBS). Through the collaboration with UWE, Harris will move from a standardised service offer to implementing outcome-based service contracts, tailored around individual customer value.

This partnership received financial support from the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) programme. KTP aims to help businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK knowledge base. This successful Knowledge Transfer Partnership project, funded by UK Research and Innovation through Innovate UK, is part of the government’s Industrial Strategy.

Find out more about KTP’s at UWE Bristol here .