Blog: Postdoctoral Researcher at the Environmental Change Institute collaborating with industry experts and policymakers

An Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Fellow, Dr Phil Grunewald’s focus is on developing the understanding of household energy use and energy storage to ensure that natural resources are used more effectively.

Phil Grunewald

During his PhD study, Phil identified the need for a community focused on the debate and development of energy storage – his specific area of research interest.

Having discovered the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) meeting place and its remit to support the creation of workshops for academics and stakeholders across the energy sector, Phil applied for funding to set up a new working group. Funding was granted, enabling Phil to establish the first of his successful cross-industry workshops.

Phil gathered a small group of industry experts and policymakers to discuss energy storage and the justification for delaying the development of this technology. The workshop was a great success, leading to funding for a multi-year research project to create a model exploring the value of energy storage – and the ongoing development of a community of stakeholders in the field.

Working as a Postdoctoral Researcher at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute based in the School of Geography, Phil continued to organise further annual workshops to connect key energy sector stakeholders and academics.

The workshops have proven to be a key channel for impact in Phil’s role, as attendees frequently take on board the content discussed. Insight gathered from the events has been invaluable in refining and advancing Phil’s research, enabling him to collect data and shape his work based on evidence-based industry intelligence.

Partnership working has also helped to develop Phil’s communication skills, as it has been crucial to communicate insights in an actionable and accessible way, suitable for the diverse audience of stakeholders involved in this project. Phil maintains good business relationships with regular work updates to stakeholders via face-to-face meetings and adding latest news to his personal website.

Cultivating an engaged network of stakeholders has meant that the attendees have in turn been influenced in their work through the discussion and debate of ideas and opportunities. The events are an opportunity for individuals and organisations who would not have otherwise had the chance to regularly meet to forge valuable relationships.

For Phil, there have been further benefits to creating these workshops. Collaborating with businesses has helped with writing successful funding proposals, as he has been able to demonstrate impact and engagement across the industry beyond the realms of academia.

However, collaborating with businesses in this way is not without challenges. Forging and maintaining relationships and building a network of engaged stakeholders is time consuming and requires excellent relationship management skills.

Through trial and error, Phil has learnt to step aside from his role as facilitator to focus on listening to attendees’ stories: as important as contributing to the discussion himself. Phil’s workshops continue to run successfully and now that the format and logistics have been refined, his challenge is to find new topics and angles for discussion to keep the debate fresh and valuable for all involved.

Phil’s advice for other researchers

  • Be well organised and plan events well in advance, to ensure that you can secure the desired speakers, attract a varied group of attendees and have all logistical arrangements in place. It helps to secure the support of colleagues or students to assist with event coordination and ensure the smooth running of each workshop.
  • Communicate the event clearly, specifying who the event is for and why it matters to all stakeholders - to help secure their engagement.
  • Stay on top of what’s new and relevant across the field and aware of what themes there will be an appetite to discuss between stakeholders. This will spark interesting and useful discussions.
  • During a workshop, aim to keep engagement and creativity at a high level across the group by varying the event agenda and activity format and by organising networking breaks.