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January 2014: A collection of quotes

I love quotes!

Isn't it amazing how some people can describe with a few simple words what the rest of us take sentences (or maybe paragraphs!) to explain.

It was a chat with a colleague that reminded me of a Winnie the Pooh quote (definitely my level of thinking!)

Winnie the Pooh
“Poetry and Hums aren't things which you get, they’re things which get you.
And all you can do is go where they can find you”  
Winnie the Pooh
It is this quote that gave me the idea for this blog - a series of quotes that has influenced my thinking in recent weeks - I think poetry and hums (and maybe ideas for blogs) aren't things which you get, they’re things which get you  .......

Herbert Spencer
“The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.”
Herbert Spencer
English philosopher (1820 - 1903)

I saw this quote recently and it struck a chord with me and got me thinking – what is the great aim of a University education or of Universities in general?

I like the idea of the aim of Universities being about action and it is certainly an approach we take at the ISSR.  Hence the Solutions bit in our title!

In fact, I think it is important for ‘organisations’ to consider and communicate their ‘raison d’etre’. It is this ‘raison d’etre’ that can have a profound effect upon the organisation.

Richard Horton
“The way we organise society’s actions in the face of threats is more important than the threats themselves. Science is one such example. Science has made huge contributions to understanding planetary threats. But a new planetary perspective to our predicaments invites us to rethink the way in which knowledge is produced and used by society. Currently, knowledge exists mostly within closed systems. It is generated within institutions we call universities. Those universities are organised into narrow scholarly disciplines that work with short-term funding and a focus on publishing research papers in largely inaccessible journals. Scientists set the research agenda, keeping their knowledge system closed. Planetary health demands more open knowledge systems—where valid knowledge comes from many societal sources, where universities are organised according to the problems society faces, where investments are long-term, and where the products of research are available to all and in forms that meet the needs of diverse public communities.”
Richard Horton
The Lancet (Vol 382 September 21, 2013)

OK, this is slightly longer than a ‘quote’ but Richard Horton raises some interesting questions about knowledge, action and the ‘raison d’etre’ of Universities:
  • Should Universities be organised according to the problems society faces?
  • How do we make the products of research available to all and in forms that meet the needs of the diverse public?
In our small way, these are questions that we have begun to explore within the ISSR Management Team.

At our away afternoon, we discussed some of the best ways to communicate our research (we currently have our New Horizon reports but how can we improve on this) and we also began to explore what are the world’s most pressing Sustainability Challenges and also mapping how the ISSR is making small (but important) steps towards solutions through its research.

Needless to say that it is a journey that we have just begun…

Research Funding also seems to be heading in the direction of research “organised according to the problems society faces”.  For example Horizon 2020 (a European Funding Programme recently launched) has one pillar about, ‘Tackling Societal Challenges’.  Within this pillar, 7 societal challenges have been identified. The Horizon 2020 societal challenges will be the framework for our 2014 Annual Sustainability Research event.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” 

In order to begin to research ‘Societal Challenges’, we often need a multi-disciplinary approach. For example a recent Horizon 2020 briefing explains, “Given that the overall aim of this pillar is to tackle Societal Challenges, most projects will require a broader approach in terms of disciplines and might require the inclusion of different stakeholders.”  

We are very fortunate within the ISSR to cut across the whole University and bring together a huge range of different disciplines to explore solutions to different societal challenges.

One of the most enjoyable parts of my job is to get people together from different disciplines and create new research project ideas, new solutions. 

For me a multi-disciplinary approach is not 1+1=2 but 1+1=3 or maybe 10 or maybe 100.  

Plymouth University Sustainability Strategy 2020

“We will continue to demonstrate our expertise in sustainability research contributing to defining the problems and creating solutions for the world’s most pressing international, national and local, environmental, economic and social challenges. Through our creativity, innovation and our energy for change, we will make a difference to the world and be known as a hub of social transformation and learning for a more sustainable, just and equitable future.”

“Undertaking Expert Research section”
Plymouth University Sustainability Strategy 2020

OK, perhaps the least well known quote from the collection (!)- the final quote is from the 2020 Sustainability Strategy. ‘Raison d’etre’ for the ISSR is something that we have had to consider ourselves very recently, whilst developing the University Sustainability Strategy.

The ISSR is responsible for the Research leg of the University’s three-pronged approach to Sustainability (Research, Teaching and Learning, Campus Operations).  We felt that our research is about action, making a difference, it is about a multi-disciplinary approach and it is about finding solutions to the problems society faces………what do you think?

Dr Paul Hardman, Manager of the Institute for Sustainability Solutions Research (ISSR)

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