Researching Energy Differently

Elena, with Heaven, in the Field, Rwanda, 2018.

Professor Elena Gaura, HEED Principal Investigator, Coventry University

Published 24/2/2020

‘What makes a sustainable, resilient energy solution for refugees?’

HEED has been and is, a multi- and intra- project from every perspective, be it science, communities and contexts, design interventions and the methods used. Each with a singular purpose but working together to understand how energy systems are best designed and implemented, owned and sustained by those they deliver energy to, placing the people at the centre.

I would hope that many of the experiences the team has had, the learning and the lessons will follow in future blogs. I also know that many of the HEED’s scientific findings and achievements will be brought to the academic audience in the months to come.

Reflecting on my experience as a team leader and principal investigator on the project, I believe HEED gave us a unique opportunity to do “energy in protracted settings” differently.

It offered all partners an opportunity to effect a shift in the way they work, think, conduct their business, see a purpose, use tools and look to the future. All of this was delivered through partnership and the very close-knit team we needed to have during the project lifetime to carry it through; without which, we would not have succeeded. I am clear, for example, that my definition of “best science” shifted to become “best that I can explain, put to use and make a difference with”.

To me as a scientist, HEED offered more than anything else the chance to look at the role of science through a different lens, that is through the eyes of those who are most in need, in the communities we often and deeply interacted with. Throughout the project I felt both a feeling of empowerment supported by the ability and capacity of the project and its merging science to ‘do good’, but I also felt enormously humbled, realizing how much we don’t know, how many answers we don’t really have and how much those answers are needed now.

My key take aways:

  • Diverse teams take diverse approaches that make projects work
  • Communities know best – listen, learn and only then act
  • Communication challenges are rarely only about language – they are shaped by the frameworks we think and work within
  • Being pushed out daily from my comfort zone by the project and its team has been the most enriching experience of my career so far.

Well done, HEED team.