Academics urged to come forward to support environmental innovation in UK manufacturing

The UK manufacturing industry is set to receive a big boost towards reaching zero carbon with the creation of a new project aimed at siphoning the knowledge of the country’s leading social science experts.

Part of our COP26 campaign to highlight research that benefits the environment

Loughborough’s Professor Jan Godsell will co-director a new network that will encourage academics to research the social and economic factors that will help UK manufacturing achieve ‘net zero’ by 2050.

Prof Godsell and Professor Jill MacBryde, of the University of Strathclyde, will lead the £4m InterAct initiative – a project funded by the UKRI’s £147m Made Smarter Innovation programme.

The network is a call to arms for academics from the social sciences to support the innovation and distribution of digital technologies that bolster the UK economy while also bringing it into line with national environmental targets.

The 38-month programme is due to be launched today (8 NOV) at Digital Manufacturing Week and is due to end in December 2024.

Alongside Prof Godsell and Prof MacBryde, the programme will also be supported by a Network Management Team and a core research team from Loughborough, Strathclyde and Sheffield universities.

Prof Godsell, Dean of Loughborough’s School of Business and Economics, said: “Looking to the future, our aspirations for InterAct is a community with clear added-value for all where stakeholder groups want to engage and be part of the Made Smarter Network Plus.

“We will embed diversity and inclusivity. Diversity of thought will bring benefits of multiple perspectives. Inclusivity will help us to embrace and collaborate with existing research groupings, rather than compete with them.

“Participation will be based on expertise, not status, and we will seek to develop people at all stages of their careers.

“Our vision of success would be that the InterAct is seen as a partner of choice; easy to work with, welcoming, and professional.

“Ultimately, we would like to be a one-stop-shop that curates existing and emerging knowledge and capabilities (research and education) and showcases leading practice.”

Prof MacBryde added: “Our long-term vision is to build a strong, vibrant, interdisciplinary community to support UK manufacturing in the adoption and development of digital technologies that will result in a stronger, more resilient, manufacturing base. We know that technology alone is not enough.

“We need to harness the knowledge of people and society to really reap the full benefits that technology can bring.

Whilst there are clear advantages of this network for the economy, manufacturers and technology providers, there are also benefits for the academic communities.

“Collaborative working, new challenges and contexts will open up new avenues for world-leading research.”

There are five key elements to the InterActive programme are:

  • A Commissioned research programme will provide the opportunity to curate, augment and amplify insights from the ESS to support the diffusion and adoption of IDTs. 5 different funding mechanisms have been adopted to broaden the appeal of the programme and increase participation. These include systematic reviews, small projects, a sandpit, Early Career Researcher (ECR) Fellowship programme, and an impact acceleration fund resulting in 18 interdisciplinary projects.
  • A Knowledge exchange programme is critical to the diffusion of ideas from the ESS to the policymakers, manufacturers and IDT providers who could benefit from the adoption of IDTs. The comprehensive programme includes a range of activities that amplify the core research programme (international webinars, discovery days, annual conference), provide education and insights (impact workshops, insight days, summer school), support academic publication (special tracks, journal special issue) and enable and amplify the diffusion of ideas (website and curation platform, mentoring programme, access to Emerald impact services).
  • The Core research programme complements the commissioned research programme base by addressing more systemic problems that require a longer term and more in-depth research. It has the additional benefit of providing a common purpose to galvanise the team. Future-focused it considers the future of manufacturing ecosystems (Prof. Jan Godsell and Dr Alok Choudray, Loughborough), future of work (Prof. Jill MacBryde and Prof. Colin Lindsay, Strathclyde) and the future of the economy (Prof. Vania Sena and Prof. Philip McCann, Sheffield).
  • An Impact acceleration programme. There are lots of ESS insights currently in existence, that are not in a form that is easily accessible to policymakers, manufacturers, and IDT providers. Researchers often lack the time and skills to turn their work into more accessible outputs. An impact acceleration programme has the dual benefit of building impact capacity within the ESS community whilst making the insights more accessible to end-users.
  • A Storytelling fellowship programme. The ability to use storytelling as a methodology and form of dissemination is a key research skill for economic and social scientists. The storytelling fellowship programme has the dual benefits of building storytelling capacity within the ESS whilst using stories to make insights more accessible to the end users, the network and society at large.


Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 21/240

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2021 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2022, and 10th in both the Guardian University League Table 2022 and the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

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