The relationship between universities and society has changed in recent years. In most developed economies the university has become a key strand in the triple helix, complementing the added value to the economy provided by business and government elements. Universities provide training and expertise as well as an infrastructure for high quality research, and thus such research is no longer to be thought of as pure, neutral and uncorrupted by the inconvenience and practicalities of life, if indeed it ever had such higher aspirations.
In the UK, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has introduced an impact element for evaluating university research in the next round of assessment in 2014, called the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Universities will need to show that their research is not just addressing the needs of academics (it needs to do that too!) nor just available to the general public or passively disseminated to “stakeholders” but that the research has informed and impacted business, policy makers and other key decision makers in a decisive way.
Climate change research has the potential to change the way different organisations conduct themselves, make policy and change behaviour from the individual to the largest corporation and government in the world. This raises a small number of important questions:
A) What are climate-change researchers/research groups doing to engage with (for lack of a better word) stakeholders?
B) What should climate change research groups be doing to engage with stakeholders?
C) What incentives can be used to make the answer to question A and B the same?
Let’s begin with question B. Those opposed to doing anything to mitigate possible effects of climate change will say that they should stay out of policy making or producing propaganda for activists. Those in favour of addressing the problems they perceive to be the key threat in our lifetime, generally favour climate researchers becoming, if not advocates for a programme and activists for its implementation, then working closely with such groups. The answer to this question is thus political, and will depend as much on ideology as on the responsibility such knowledge implies.