I work as part of interdisciplinary teams to tackle complex societal challenges, bringing social science expertise to policy and practice-related research. My research approach has a strong focus on impact and collaboration, engaging with a range of stakeholders to produce outputs with tangible benefits for society.

Scaling-up Nature-based Solutions in the UK (2022-present)

This NERC-funded project on Scaling-up Nature-based Solutions in the UK is based at the Nature-based Solutions Initiative. It is part of a larger project called the Agile Initiative, at the University of Oxford.

This research is a fast-paced and solutions-focused project called a ‘Sprint’ that works in collaboration with non-academic stakeholders to respond to specific social and environmental policy questions. It aims to explore the barriers and enablers to support the deployment of high quality nature-based solutions (NbS) projects. The overall objectives of the Sprint are to develop tools and guidance to: support practitioners to deliver high quality NbS at landscape scale; to identify and address critical evidence gaps; and to develop and promote case studies to show what works.

My role as postdoctoral researcher in this interdisciplinary project involves bringing social science expertise to environmental policy and practice-related research. My research focuses on understanding practitioners’ perspectives of the challenges and opportunities for delivering multiple ecological and social benefits through NbS, in a way that is equitable and financially viable. More specifically, this research aims to produce knowledge and guidance for practitioners on:

  1. Effective participatory governance frameworks, including understanding the factors that shape positive and negative outcomes in community and stakeholder engagement processes.
  2. How NbS can deliver multiple social, economic, and ecological benefits while managing trade-offs, conflicts, and tensions.
  3. Navigating the policy and green finance landscape in the UK, including overcoming institutional barriers (including capacity and capability) for delivering NbS at the pace and scale needed.

This research is being conducted in collaboration with a range of non-academic stakeholders in the UK public, private, and third sector.

Leverhulme Centre for Nature Recovery: Society research theme (2022-present)

I am a postdoctoral researcher on the Society research theme of the Leverhulme Centre for Nature Recovery, which is based at the University of Oxford and aims to tackle the challenge of halting and reversing biodiversity by addressing the ecological, social, cultural, and economic dimensions of nature recovery in a single framework. My research has a strong emphasis on the design and implementation of participatory approaches to co-creating and managing nature recovery at scale.

My research includes a focus on advancing participatory approaches for delivering multiple social and ecological benefits through nature recovery, particularly in ways that are equitable and empower people to shape the decisions that affect themselves, nature and landscapes. Participatory approaches, including public and stakeholder engagement, are ways to effectively and ethically involve people in the governance and decision-making processes that influence nature recovery. This is essential for achieving equitable and sustainable outcomes for people and nature.

This work will be initially conducted in the UK case study landscapes including Oxfordshire and the Scottish Highlands, with other UK case studies to follow.

Stakeholder engagement in the digital age: Practitioners’ perspectives of the challenges and opportunities for planning and environmental decision-making (2018-2023)

10 thinking points for engagement in the digital age (source: Caitlin Hafferty, PhD thesis: https://caitlinhafferty.co.uk/engagement-in-the-digital-age/).

My PhD thesis was an applied piece of work that sought to shed light on what works in engagement, in the context of engagement moving increasingly online.

Conducted mostly during the COVID-19 pandemic, this research investigated practitioners’ perspectives of the challenges and opportunities for public and stakeholder engagement in the digital age, focusing on planning and environmental decision-making processes in the UK. My research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and was supervised by Dr Robert Berry (CCRI), Dr Beth Brockett (Forest Research, previously Natural England), Professor Scott Orford (Cardiff University), and Chris Short (CCRI).

This research made recommendations for policy and practice to enhance existing strategies for effective engagement in an increasingly digitised world. You can learn more about my PhD thesis here.

Collecting organisational evidence to support the embedding of an evidence-led, best practice engagement culture in Natural England (2021-22)

This internal project was funded by Natural England and carried out by researchers at the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI), based at the University of Gloucestershire. My role as Co-Investigator (Co-I) of the project focused on exploring the organisational barriers and opportunities for embedding a best practice culture of engagement in Natural England, including the capacity and capability needed.

Exploring the socio-economic dynamics and innovation capacities of rural food, farming, and forestry SMEs (2021-22)

This project was commissioned by the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (CCRI) to gain an understanding of the economic, environmental, and social impacts of food and farming businesses, as well as their challenges and innovation potential. This work was was conducted by the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI), based at the University of Gloucestershire, in collaboration with the Landworkers’ Alliance (LWA). As Co-Investigator of the project, my role included conducting focus groups with LWA members to explore the diverse benefits and risks associated with the economic, social, and environmental resilience of rural food and farming microbusinesses.

The research produced 10 recommendations for state, private, and civil society that are designed to provide support to rural microbusinesses to develop rural food systems, sustainability and innovation. The full report and recommendations can be accessed here.

Developing evidence-led outputs for embedding a culture of best practice engagement in Natural England (2021)

This project was commissioned by  Natural England (NE) to deliver evidence-led outputs for embedding a culture of best practice engagement.

I worked closely with NE staff to deliver a range of outputs to contribute to the organisation’s evidence base on best practice in stakeholder engagement. This included a review of current UK and international research. The research contributed to a wider programme of work and was overseen by a steering group.

The output was an evidence report which reviewed existing research on public and stakeholder engagement, which is available to read and download for free online: http://nepubprod.appspot.com/publication/5365328451469312.

The report provides the evidence behind what engagement is and why it is important, what the benefits are, the potential risks of ‘poor’ engagement and how to mitigate them, how different ‘types’ of engagement can provide useful classifications for practitioners, and how practitioners can use theory (i.e., different ways of thinking and knowing) to inform best practice. This includes practical and ethical considerations of how we engage in an increasingly digitised world.

The report outlines how the available evidence can be used to inform the creation of an evidence-led, best practice engagement culture.

One central message in the review is that ‘best practice’ engagement and its outcomes will vary between different situations. It is important to recognise that the quality of the process and outcomes will change depending on the purpose and objectives for engaging, as well as organisational cultures of engagement, institutional capacity, wider socio-economic and political contexts, and the characteristics of participants. Key themes from the evidence report were then summarised in an infographic pack, which is available via this link: https://eprints.glos.ac.uk/11434/

The report and infographic pack are suitable for anyone who is thinking about engaging, including practitioners, practice enablers, researchers, and policy makers who aim to involve members of the public and other key stakeholders in decision-making processes. While this focused on engagement in environmental decision-making, it is intended to be more broadly relevant to other areas of research and practice.

Exploring the role of English Agri-environment Schemes in managing geological Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI): Environmental Stewardship Monitoring & Evaluation Framework (2021)

This project was funded by Natural England (project number: 11318) and conducted by researchers at the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI). My role in this project (Research Assistant) was to conduct interviews with farmers and land managers in the UK.

Farm-Performance Enhancement Platform and Knowledge Exchange during COVID-19 (2021)

The initial Farm-PEP project funded under the Innovate UK competition ‘UKRI Ideas to address Covid-19’.  ADAS led consortium to assess the impact of Covid-19 on knowledge exchange in agriculture, and to develop the Farm-PEP web solution at www.farmpep.net. The initial Farm-PEP project began in January 2021 and ran to February 2022. The University of Gloucester’s Countryside & Community Research Institute (CCRI) in the first five months of 2021 led a rapid appraisal of the impact of Covid19 on knowledge exchange in agriculture, using workshops, surveys, and interviews across the industry.  The summary report is available here. I worked as a research on this project, conducting data collection and analysis on survey, workshop, and interviews with industry members.

Evaluation of Environmental Land Management (ELM) Test & Trials (2020)

This project was led by the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group South West (FWAG SW) in collaboration with the Countryside and Community Research Institute. It was part of the Environmental Land Management (ELM) system trial, which was developed by Defra, to replace current Basic Payment Scheme and Countryside Stewardship. Future payments will be focused on delivering public goods and the 25 Year Environment Plan (25 YEP), based on Natural Capital recovery and regenerative agriculture. This work was conducted in the Upper Thames catchment, South West England. My role included reviewing the Integrated Local Delivery ELMS Trial Phase 1 report and supporting the Phase 2 advice and facilitation evaluation report.

Exploring the socio-economic factors that are linked to national outcomes for well-being in Wales (2019)

The Well-being of Future Generations Act (source: https://www.gov.wales/well-being-of-future-generations-wales)

This project was conducted during my PhD during a four-month internship with the National Survey for Wales team in Welsh Government. This was funded by UKRI’s policy internships scheme, which offers ESRC-funded students the chance to spend time working with an influential non-academic policy organisation, where they can work as part of a team involved with policy or practice development.

The National Survey for Wales is the main social survey commissioned by the Welsh Government and its partners across Wales. It gathers information about a wide range of topics, including capturing public experiences and views on health and the NHS, education, well-being, council services, poverty, and so forth. The survey involves 12,000 face-to-face interviews each year, across the whole of Wales (fieldwork is carried out by the Office of National Statistics). The results of the survey are used to influence policy decision-making in Wales, specifically the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act.

The outcome of this internship was the completion of six policy research reports exploring well-being in Wales, which have been published by the Welsh Government and can be viewed here.

Assessing the impact of Agri-environment Schemes on geological SSSIs (2019)

This project was commissioned by Natural England and conducted by the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI). My role in this project was to conduct a systematic literature review on the impact of AES on SSSIs.