At the start of this week I was in Birmingham for the NERC UK Droughts and Water Scarcity ‘town meeting’. The location wasn’t exactly inspiring but it proved to be an interesting event, not least because of my surprise that the question ‘What is a drought?’ is still a very much a ‘live’ one. An integrated answer drawing upon state-of-the-art science and social science, and accommodating all affected groups (domestic, agriculture, industry) is still some way off, it turns out.

Photo: Venue for the NERC town meeting

I was happy the event was taking place at all. It’s nice to see a response from the research funding community to a topical issue – in this case the aberrant weather we had in the UK this year, with simultaneous droughts and floods (although I understand from what was said at the event that this programme was ‘in the pipeline’ before the floods/droughts hit, then its importance was reinforced by how the spring/summer unfolded!).

Photo: Lively discussions throughout the day

Hopefully the research councils will be able to take away from the day some pointers to improve the integration of the various fields likely to be involved in interdisciplinary bids that will follow when the programme ‘announcement of opportunity’ launches in November. The researchers present also gave the funders feedback about how to deliver tools to ‘end users’ from the programme – such as having potential users onboard from the beginning of research projects, to incorporate their needs right from the start.

Photo: Detail from the far more attractive inside of the venue

The event also allowed me to catch up with some people I’d not seen in a long time – and, echoing the ‘large organisation’ issue from my last post, to meet for the first time colleagues with whom I’d exchanged emails but not had an opportunity to meet face-to-face (something which is becoming increasingly common for me, sadly!).

Duncan Thomas

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