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Exchanging ideas in Manchester

“Knowledge exchange is a contact sport,” declared a session facilitator at IEMA’s recent research and knowledge transfer conference.

Jonathan Abra, knowledge transfer manager at the Environmental Sustainability Knowledge Transfer Network, defined the need for direct communication in practitioner-proofing environmental research during the final session of the event, which was held in Manchester on 19 January.

His allegory was delivered after witnessing a stimulating day of research presentations, discussion, debate and sharing that established some very real, and very practical, outcomes.

The fourth annual Knowledge Exchange was hosted in association with Envirolink North West and supported by the Environmental Sustainability Knowledge Transfer Network, NISP, the Technology Strategy Board and the University of East Anglia.

The Knowledge Exchange provides IEMA members and those affiliated with our partner organisations with an opportunity to come together in order to review innovative environmental research and create new knowledge.

This year’s event focused on five central themes: water, small and medium-sized enterprises, environmental assessment, communications and engagement, and life-cycle analysis.

In the opening session, the chair, Ed Butt, vice-president of sustainability at Reckitt Benckiser, outlined what the Knowledge Exchange should achieve: practitioners must “agitate” the researchers and the research to really stimulate its relevance and value.

In return, practitioners were told to expect to find “new approaches, emerging techniques and better ways to achieve more sustainable outcomes”.

A key focus of the morning sessions was water. From sustainable urban drainage systems to the development of a grey-water treatment method, the presentations demonstrated the pioneering technology practitioners can look forward to utilising in the coming years.

The communications and engagement strand inspired lively discussion, exploring the role of stakeholder groups in waste management plans and even, ambitiously yet inevitably, “bridging the gap” between academics and end users, namely businesses and the public.

With nine separate workshops – academic presentations followed by facilitated debates – happening throughout the day, there was no shortage of useful information and ideas. As with the practical feedback provided to the researchers, these workshop discussions have their roots in practice and realism; they are not always positive but are evidence of engagement between academics and practitioners.

Butt delivered the day’s outcomes and conclusions during the closing session of the day, revealing what they had collectively achieved and contributed to environmental knowledge.

Rounding off the day with an in-depth and thoughtful question-and-answer session, covering value versus values and the place of environmentalists in the government’s planned Big Society, Butt stated that, for him, “the only thing missing from today was more time to discuss.”

The many points raised are available as a member resource on the Knowledge Exchange web pages.

Three themes of activity

In shaping our future programme of activity, IEMA is conscious of the need to link issues together so that members can see a coherent whole, and better understand how their work is an important part of the overarching development of the profession.

Our work will be structured around three core themes – sustainable business practice, impact assessment and the natural environment.

It will seek to lead and support the profession through the delivery of support tools and guidance, professional development, policy and membership engagement.

It will also provide the basis against which we review our qualifications and competence framework. A significant element of our work will focus on equipping environment professionals with the skills needed to help shape sustainable business practice.

A wide programme of engagement with members will commence in March where we’ll be seeking to understand the key issues that practitioners encounter.

Our impact assessment programme aims to position environment professionals to lead, contribute to and shape impact assessment to deliver better environmental outcomes from policies, plans and projects.

A special report on environmental impact assessment will be published in the spring, setting out experience to date and future direction, and ahead of a possible revision to the EU EIA Directive (85/337/ EEC).

Underpinning all our work is the natural environment. IEMA’s long-term ambition is to develop and support knowledge exchange between environmental practitioners on the current and future state of the natural environment, and enable practitioners to embed and communicate the implications for business and society.

IEMA will regularly communicate our activities in these areas as the programmes evolve. We hope that members feel able to contribute and participate in what is an important and exciting agenda.