Researching Energy Differently

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

interventions, pulling together the experiential stories of working with communities in 4 refugee/IDP camps, in 2 countries. finding purpose, observing the changes the project brought about and measuring all that is measurable to understand the energy needs and aspirations of displaced people. More than that, we are hopefully building a legacy of learning that will serve the purpose we set to achieve so many months ago: ‘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.