The purpose of the event was to facilitate debate among representatives of major energy initiatives who work closely with their university colleagues — including, at Penn, experts from the law, engineering, and design schools — to help governments set energy policy. It’s a rapidly changing arena rife with new technology, commercialization, competition among utilities, emerging and declining employment sectors, and a host of other issues, according to Hughes, Professor of Practice in the Department of City and Regional Planning at PennDesign.
The symposium, a first, brought together about 35 representatives from several dozen universities. “We were the youngest center in the room and when we first received the invitation to participate, we were delighted to be even be considered,” Colijn says. “By the time it concluded, we felt like we absolutely deserved to be there.”
Among the institutions represented at the symposium were MIT, Harvard, Columbia, UC Davis, UC Berkeley, and the University of Chicago.
Hughes served as moderator for a session entitled “Sustaining the Relevancy of Energy Policy Research: Engaging Stakeholders and Reaching Intended Audiences.” Michael Greenstone (University of Chicago) and Jason Bordoff (Columbia University) joined Hughes on the panel in discussing what Hughes referred to as “‘the who,’ as in who are we trying to reach with this work?”
Bracketing this session were “Energy Policy Research Today: Evolving Research Themes, Methods and Stakeholder Demands”— or what Hughes called the “what” — and securing Resources for Energy Policy Research — A Survey of Fundraising Strategies and Partnership Models” — the “how.”
“We spend a lot of time discussing how to be relevant without being reactive,” Colijn observes. “It was heartening to discover that this a challenge for a lot of the centers represented at the symposium. The problem is policy decisions are happening at a much faster temporal scale than researchers are used to.”
Other challenges discussed at the meeting, Hughes says, included building connections between faculty research agendas, identifying lag times, bridging language, conceptual and theoretical barriers, and addressing differences in incentives and standards of proof. (“There’s a saying in government that the good law is the one that passes, while academia might be considered a bit more vigorous,” Hughes notes.)
As university research centers grapple with these questions, the overarching lesson of the symposium is that there are no easy answers. “We’re all incredibly different with different organizational structures sitting in different bureaucracies,” says Colijn. “Clearly, there’s a need to have more meetings around the topics we discussed.”