Making a presentation on peak oil in the North Sea,
All-Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil,
Paul Mobbs & MEIR:
Research & Writing
The core of what I do is research – receiving, or tracking down from public register or archive searches, large quantities of data and then distilling the essence of the issue the information describes; then, where appropriate, turning that information into a report, distance learning materials, shorter articles, web sites, or a graphical presentation.
In ‘science communication’ mode presenting the ‘Energy and Food’ workshop, Wales, 2008
I love doing research – finding out things that, quite often, are hidden in plain sight by the sheer amount of information that is accessible now. Too often information is “seen to be produced” rather than “produced to be seen”. There’s no point doing research if people can’t have access to it. That is why I maintain this on-line archive of my work.
For many years now I have practised what, in recent times, has been called ‘Open Source Intelligence’. My specialism is taking regulatory processes or policy relating to the environment and government and, using public registers and archives, finding out all there is to know about a specific issue.
Running a workshop on
‘Citizen Science’, late 1990s
For me, though, research is only half my job. It is important that in working for the community I also help them to understand as much as possible about ‘their’ issue; not only to help themselves when I’ve gone, but also to help others with similar problems. That is how we build the capacity of communities to be active and represent themselves!
The fact is, so much as what passes as ‘policy’ today is not based upon the best evidence, it is based upon ‘accepted supposition’. Be it the dark theories of economics, or the basis of local ‘green’ policies, when you pull apart the detail of what people are told is ‘a fact’ quite often the basis for claiming that is not all it appears.
Presenting the ‘extreme energy’ workshop,
University of London, December 2013
It’s within that contested space – that complexity and uncertainty over the environment and public well-being – that communities have the opportunity to communicate the best evidence on an issue, and by doing so take power from government or corporations and seize the public agenda.
In an age when there is so much data available, on increasingly detailed and complex issues, the difficulty is not so much finding the information; the real skill is in how you communicate that succinctly to a ‘non-expert’ audience. This is truly where the media fail today, since in reducing every issue to a narrow, sound-bite interpretation of the evidence, they inevitably fail to convey the complexity and uncertainty that the public need to be aware of within so many of today's development agendas.
The difference between success and failure in a campaign can be a single piece of information. Too often campaign groups focus on lobbying and media sensationalism rather than taking-on the justifications of their opponents within their own technical discipline. Research is the basis of that; and research, by exposing the weaknesses in the public debate on, or justification for, policy can also direct campaigns towards a more successful end. That, ultimately, is my role.