When did you join the Department of Economics/KBS/UL?
What are some of your major professional accomplishments?
I work on research projects that explore the climate-neutral transition. In this role I have helped to initiate the Citizen Innovation Lab – a new space for collaboration and experimentation that has made an idea about how innovation happens and how cities can change, operational and tangible in Limerick. The Citizen Innovation Lab is based on a framework for Innovation Labs developed through a collaborative research process I led through the +CityxChange H2020 project. It has attracted the attention of researchers and policy makers and was recently included in a European Commission Joint Research Centre policy brief on experimentation spaces. It builds on earlier research in landscape transformation for which I received a 2022 Morrison Award from TU Dublin and a 2019 RIAI Awards commendation.
Prior to joining the Department of Economics, I worked as a registered architect, so my professional life includes both technical and creative aspects. I designed ultra-low energy buildings before my interest moved towards research and innovation. In 2021 I was awarded an Architecture Bursary by the Arts Council of Ireland and the VISUAL Centre of Contemporary Art, one of Ireland's leading contemporary art spaces commissioned the installation, A Space for Making Good Decisions About Place, for their 2022 programme. The installation drew on my earlier research, and the observation that as society mobilises towards becoming climate-neutral, intangible structures for discourse are becoming concrete in spaces like the Citizen Innovation Lab
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a post-doc/researcher?
Delivering a programme of citizen engagement during a global pandemic was a challenge. Digital tools for collaboration and participation helped, and in a way the pandemic encouraged the +CityxChange research team and the public to use these more than we might have otherwise. This led to interesting results where citizens used digital tools to gather data and then directed this to impact at a systems level.
What are you currently researching/working on?
I coordinate University of Limerick’s contribution to the +CityxChange H2020 project, and coordinate the SMARTLAB and Decarbonising Together follow-on projects. All are connected to stakeholder engagement in decarbonisation and the clean energy transition and are delivered through the Citizen Innovation Lab. SMARTLAB is being implemented as a policy living lab where data gathered during real world deployment of smart building technologies and services will be analysed to generate insights to inform the possible adoption of the EU Smart Readiness Indicator for buildings in Ireland. Smart-readiness in this context relates to the readiness of buildings to communicate with a future decarbonised energy grid and to participate in demand response.
My research focusses on initiating and orchestrating open innovation ecosystems that can accelerate the adoption of innovation, and enable place specific responses to address challenges like climate change. My interest in living labs – arenas for real world experimentation – means I can work in any research field that wishes to adopt a living lab methodology. I recently contributed to a circular economy in agriculture project proposal with a colleague from the Department of Biological Sciences.
Why did you choose your current career? What does your appointment mean to you?
Being a Research Fellow allows me to focus on a strand of work I began in architectural practice. Part innovation broker and part convenor, I gathered cross-sectoral stakeholders with knowledge & expertise around a particular challenge and policy or funding mechanism, to co-create and then implement a plan for action over time. It means the world to me to be able to work in this area full time in the Department of Economics, and to move from involvement in discrete engagement processes to designing systems to support multiple, concurrent and asynchronous processes of engagement in ways that can be orchestrated to realise the cumulative impact of these.
How do you think young professionals in your field can best develop their knowledge and skills?
First, master the tools of your trade. Then think about how these are applied to the world that you see – if they don’t seem to fit, there’s an opportunity for new knowledge and for innovation.
When you are not researching or working, what do you do?
Much of my work is open ended and demands a lot of effort to put an organising structure around. To relax, I like to do things that are definite and have an end point – like crosswords, ironing, jigsaws and I love to swim in the sea.
Who are some people in your field that you’d like to acknowledge as having a positive impact on you?
There is a tangible field about making things and an intangible field about concepts and ideas which can influence the former. I draw landscapes and spaces based on the texts of the political theorist Chantal Mouffe, including her work with Ernesto Laclau. Bruno Latour’s writing on the critical zone and hybrid fora are influential. Both can describe the operation of the Citizen Innovation Lab, the installation at VISUAL and my interest in living labs. In architecture, I admire architects who have an extended view of what architects can do – Dan Hill, ex-Director of Strategic Design at Vinnova, the Swedish government's innovation agency; Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman who merge the fields of culture, urban policy, political theory, architecture and urbanism; and Kate Orff who integrates social infrastructure into her work as a landscape architect. As a non-economist, I, with many others, have been influenced by Kate Raworth and Mariana Mazzucato. Both have made the field of economics more accessible, and Raworth has written on the power of drawing and of the image in economic thinking, bringing everything back full circle.
Where is your favourite place on the UL campus?
I like to spend time in the library. As a physical space that is linked to digital repositories of knowledge it is fascinating to me. The last time I was there I wondered what could happen in the external world if sections of knowledge were to expand or to disappear entirely from its collection. How, as well as reflecting versions of the external world, the knowledge the library contains can help to generate these, and how curating this knowledge is a position of responsibility as no library can contain it all. This is the root of my interest in living labs. They create opportunities where knowledge can be shared, where different forms of knowledge can interact with the potential to mediate this absence.
If you didn’t live in/near Limerick, where would you live & why?
If Horizon Europe was a place I’d live there. I love being at the edge of innovation. Or maybe I’d live in a city not yet known, a climate-neutral city of the future.