Keble College Oxford, Courtesy of the Agile Initiative

Reflections from the Agile Summer School

Reflections from the Agile Summer School


Published on 24 July 2023

Share this: Twitter,etc

A profile picture of Daveron SmithDaveron Smith – RENEW PhD Student


Last week RENEW team members attended a summer school hosted by the Agile Initiative, one of three ‘sister’ projects to RENEW funded by NERC under the Changing the Environment Programme.

Exploring Scientific and Policy-based Landscapes

This meeting marked the first time that the four projects had convened in person, enabling us to compare notes and learn about each other’s structure, goals and – critically – lessons learned so far. Over the course of the week, a group of primarily ECRs learned from each other, alongside senior academics, policymakers and industry actors, about the paths and pitfalls encountered when science and policy landscapes come together.  You can get a flavour of the week on the #AgileInitiative hashtag on Twitter (X).


A diagram of Project summaries of the NERC Changing the Environment projects

Above: Project summaries of the NERC Changing the Environment projects, adapted from

NERC Changing the Environment

More information on the NERC Changing the Environment projects is available through each of their websites:

The four NERC Changing the Environment projects share the common goal of an interdisciplinary, solutions-based approach to research into critical environmental challenges while varying considerably in their geographical and topical focus. During the sessions, a diverse group of social, natural, disciplined and undisciplined early career researchers took part in lively and rounded conversations on current best practices and the routes to driving change.


An image of a British waterway with trees following the river

British wetlands are just one of the critically threatened habitats RENEW and sister projects from the Agile Initiative are working to conserve. Image credit: Nick Fewings – The Unsplash Community

Collaboration in Practice

Each of the current Oxford Agile Sprints presented their experiences of working within a novel model of fast-paced policy-focused research. These sessions provided insights that were then applied to workshops in which groups designed and present their own ‘sprints’ while being mindful of the practicalities of the scope and outputs that a 12-month project could deliver.  This creates intriguing contrasts with our own Ex-Cases work, whose ‘missions’ are faster and more focused, but will be delivered by a consistent research team working together over the whole life of RENEW.

These sessions, solidifying and formalising this knowledge, were set against a backdrop of many as-yet unanswered questions in this space which were discussed, including:

  • What do we risk in terms of scientific rigour and freedom if we answer only the questions policy-makers are asking?
  • How do we best interact in this space without simply assuming the role of consultants?
  • Why is engaging with stakeholders and non-traditional academic partners (transdisciplinarity) sometimes easier than working with other disciplines in the academic sphere (interdisciplinarity)? How can we overcome this?
  • How can we prevent the negative mental health, over-work and job security consequences that can so easily arise with policy-focused, short-term, intense models of research?
  • How can ECRs engage productively with policy when starting out? How can they start building the name recognition and cross-sector relationships that will aid policy engagement in the long term?
  • What impact will a reduction in academic paper output have on the careers of ECRs when other output formats (policy briefs, toolkits and similar) are not yet recognised fully?

This time next year, I suspect we still won’t have all the answers but we’ll have another year of learning behind us. I look forward to seeing how the Agile Summer School organisers can feed this into next year’s sessions and provide an opportunity for representatives across the science-policy spectrum, and across career stages, to reflect and share their experience.

The Summer School provided a great introduction to the space for ECRs and began the development of a Changing the Environment community. I’ve learnt that we are all grappling with similar challenges and so will surely benefit from continuing to share knowledge of this critical yet alien landscape. So, if we don’t cross paths before then, I’ll see you at the next Agile Summer School.

University of Exeter logo National Trust logo NERC logo