Author Archives: Isobel

Working with local council to reduce plastic waste

Single-use plastic has become increasingly common in our news feeds, and not for good reason. Microplastics are now showing up in meat products and even in our blood. It will take a collaborative effort from government, business and individuals to tackle our plastic waste problem. We caught up with Dr Pamela Yeow, Reader in Management to discuss her research into ethical consumerism.

Image of a reuse logo

Tell us more about the Ethical Consumerism project

The project began in 2014 with my collaborators from the University of Essex and the University of Kent. We wanted to understand why households weren’t adopting certain ethical behaviors and what could be done about it. In our first paper on the topic, we explored the case study of bags for life and noted the role of both individuals and institutions in encouraging sustained behavioral change towards more ethical consumerism.

When the opportunity arose to further this research with funding from the Birkbeck COVID-19 Recovery fund, we decided to explore the role of the householder in tackling the reduction, recycling and reusing of plastics in a sustainable way. We chose to focus on householders because the decision as to what to do with single-use plastic waste in the home ultimately lies with individual consumers.

With the generous support of Haringey council, we were given the opportunity to interview a variety of stakeholders within their community. These included decision-makers at different levels and residents and householders living in that area. We found a few things:

  • Organisations and individuals have different and inconsistent views on waste

Our discussions with consumers and members of the council revealed different and sometimes conflicting prioriities when it comes to waste management, for example in the case of contaminated waste. Contamination results from the co-mingling of recyclable and non-recyclable products. This includes items that the processing facility cannot or will not accept or items that are acceptable but not clean. For the council, contaminated waste represents a loss of income, as it is no longer recyclable. For consumers, the co-mingling of waste at the point of recycling suggested that there was little commitment by the council to recycle.

  • Residents don’t agree on who is responsible for waste management

Our interviews uncovered that there was no clear line of responsibility for managing plastic waste. Opinions differed on whether responsibility rested with residents, many of whom were tenants, or landlords and housing agents. With a large, transient resident population in Haringey, there is also a need for continuous and consistent messaging to ensure recycling and waste disposal is done properly.

  • A collaborative approach is needed to bring together residents, local authorities and wider infrastructure

With many community champions who are keen to be ethical consumers who reduce or reuse single-use plastic, there are ample opportunities for the council to co-design campaigns and get whole neighbourhoods involved.

How will this research impact household recycling practices?

As a result of this research, Haringey council has pledged the following actions:

  • Put support in place to help all Haringey businesses reduce the sale and use of single use plastics.
  • Improve waste management infrastructure by auditing containers at street-based properties and properties with communal bins.
  • Review the council’s contamination policy and communications with residents to reduce contamination and ensure more waste can be recycled.
  • Encourage buy-in for recycling services from landlords and residents in Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) by ensuring representation of the waste team at the council’s HMO working group.
  • Gather up to date data on current use of waste and recycling services across the borough.

Councillor Chandwani, Cabinet Member for Tackling Inequality and Resident Services said:“We are determined to exceed the Mayor of London’s target of recycling 50% of our household waste, but this can only be achieved by working with our communities to find solutions that will enable us to reach our joint ambition. To help achieve this ambition we have recently launched ‘Destination 50%’; a strategic campaign to deliver a range of initiatives co-produced with local residents.“Our partnership with Birkbeck, University of London has been an invaluable tool in the Destination 50% programme. Through their research with residents we have really important insights, exploring the complexities that come in an urban borough with a mix of housing tenure, architecture, socio-economic conditions and diversity of culture and languages. All of these aspects make Haringey a wonderful place, but it also means that our recycling targets can only be met if we match the range of factors in our borough.We are grateful to the Birkbeck Research team for the opportunity to access their skills and expertise that have led to in-depth conversations with residents, Veolia and Council staff objectively and independently. Without them we could not have had the candid dialogue needed. The findings have enhanced the innovative transformational approach of the programme with some changes already being implemented. I would also like to thank all the residents who gave up their time to engage in the research. Sharing their experiences, perspectives and ideas has been at the heart of this project and we will continue to listen to their views.”

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From improving assessment centres to preventing match fixing: Birkbeck’s business and management research

All Birkbeck’s REF 2021 impact case studies in business and management were rated ‘world leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Discover our research case studies below. Full details can be found on the REF website.

Reforming governance in the UK non-profit sport sector

Following a series of scandals in the UK sports sector, research completed since 2011 by Birkbeck’s Richard Tacon and Geoff Walters has shaped significant reforms to the country’s sports governance landscape.

In particular, their work underpins the Voluntary Code for Good Governance, published by the Sports and Recreation Alliance in 2011 and revised in 2014; and through this, the Code for Sports Governance introduced at the recommendation of the UK government by Sport England and UK Sport in 2016. All sports organisations applying for UK government funding must comply with this code, which has therefore not only influenced the distribution of over £500 million between 2016 and 2022, but has also brought about significant change in individual organisations, who have reformed their governance procedures in order to comply with this essential requirement.

Numerous smaller, unfunded organisations have additionally signed up to the Sport and Recreation Alliance’s Principles of Good Governance, a voluntary code which is also based on Tacon and Walters’ research. Across the sector, governing boards are now better managed and more diverse. As such, this research can be seen to have shaped the entire UK sport sector and affected the lives and playing experiences of the millions of Britons who participate in organised sport each year.

Mobilizing the power of trade unions

John Kelly’s mobilization theory, first proposed in Rethinking Industrial Relations (1998) but refined and developed over the two decades since, offers an account of the conditions under which individual employees collectivise in response to problems at work (a sense of grievance, shared with fellow workers; a target to whom blame can be attached; and a belief that there are forms of collective action that will make a difference). The theory was taken up rapidly by trade union activists and has been widely used in trade union education programmes since 2004. In the period since 2014, major unions with a combined membership of over six million workers have drawn on Kelly’s work to educate union organisers and to inform the development of major campaigns.

In particular, Kelly ran and designed the ‘Leading Change’ programme for the Trades Union Congress (TUC), which ran between 2004 and 2018 and whose participants have gone on to become MPs, union general secretaries, and in one case the General Secretary of the Labour Party. Kelly’s work also underpins training programmes for the Public and Commercial Services Union, Universities and Colleges Union, and the NEU (National Education Union).

Kelly’s influence matters because unionized workplaces provide better terms and conditions, on average, than their non-union counterparts. The aggregated figures from the unions with which Kelly and his work have been associated tell us that between 2014 and 2020, millions of employees at thousands of workplaces received higher pay, longer holidays and better fringe benefits such as sick pay. Moreover, the achievement of collective bargaining over terms and conditions of employment means that these newly unionized workers now have more say in workplace decisions than would otherwise have been the case.

Don’t Fix It! Fighting match-fixing in European football

Match-fixing is a problem for professional sports because a perception of unfairness makes them less attractive to spectators, and because of the harm done to players (typically those who are younger, vulnerable, and less well-paid) who may be groomed or blackmailed into participating. It is also a wider social issue because match-fixing is typically orchestrated by criminal groups in order to fund their other activities. After a set of 2011-12 survey results revealed a worrying prevalence of match-fixing in the Eastern European football leagues in particular, Birkbeck researchers Sean Hamil, Andy Harvey, and Haim Levi were recruited in 2013-14 by FIFPro, the global football players’ union, to conduct research into football match fixing. Their work on the Don’t Fix It! project surveyed footballers from eight European countries and formed the basis for a code of conduct adopted by every key stakeholder organisation in European football, as well as a training programme that saw national associations develop and deliver anti-match-fixing initiatives in each of the countries concerned.

Don’t Fix It! also underpinned the development of the Red Button App for anonymously reporting match-fixing. Harvey and Hamil’s research identified the lack of a clear reporting avenue as a key impediment to reducing match-fixing and it is this that the app addresses. First developed with the Finnish football players’ union, this has now been adopted worldwide, with both FIFA and UEFA agreeing to recognise the app as a valid avenue for match-fixing reports. Another European project has seen the app expanded into sports beyond football, protecting both players and the sports they play.

Developing a co-creation model for innovation in the UK and EU

Working with major policy institutions such as the Big Innovation Centre, Innovate UK, the UK Intellectual Property Office, and the European Commission, Birkbeck researchers Brigitte Andersen, Federica Rossi, and Muthu De Silva have reshaped national and international approaches to the ways in which businesses and universities can best work together. Their research on knowledge co-creation has been a catalyst for major policy reform in the UK and EU. Andersen’s work as rapporteur for a 2012 European Commission expert group on open innovation fed directly into the delivery framework for the EU’s €80 billion Horizon 2020 programme, which has supported countless researchers and research projects across the continent. De Silva’s work with the Intellectual Property Office supported changes to the Lambert Toolkit, which is used by universities to set the terms for their engagement with business. Andersen and De Silva’s collaboration with HEFCE through the Big Innovation Centre (of which Andersen is CEO) helped to ensure the introduction of impact criteria into REF 2014, reforming the impact landscape in UKHE. And the Catapult to Success report, published in 2013, underpinned the development of the UK’s Catapult Centres and the distribution of over £1 billion in government funding.

Making assessment centres work for employers

The assessment centre process, in which candidates for a role or promotion are asked to perform a series of tasks under observation and evaluated on their performance, is widely used in employee selection, development, and promotion processes around the world. Work by Birkbeck researchers Duncan Jackson and Chris Dewberry has challenged received wisdom about assessment centre design, demonstrating that traditional dimension-based assessment (which seeks to measure candidates’ performance against specific skills or competencies) does not provide an accurate prediction of performance in-role. Instead, they propose a task-based model which replaces the abstract skill testing of a dimension-based assessment centre with a focus on candidate performance in specific, job-relevant tasks. This produces more consistent results which therefore allow employers to make better choices when it comes to promotion or recruitment.

Jackson and Dewberry’s work has been taken up by a variety of recruitment and HR consultants around the world, from America to Australasia to the Middle East. These consultancies have reshaped the tools they work with based on Birkbeck research and in doing so have improved their service to dozens of large-scale, multinational companies – providing economic benefits to the consultancies and their clients as well as benefiting the diverse customer-bases of these clients by ensuring that their service providers are run by the most competent candidates. Jackson and Dewberry have also worked directly with individual employers to improve their provision (including a London-based public service organisation which accounts for over 25% of the national budget for this service) and have helped to shape practice worldwide by contributing to the national and international guidance on assessment centres provided by British and international psychological societies.


Boost your Research by Overcoming Academic Isolation and Connecting with your Research Community

Dr Olivier Sibai introduces a new series of workshops to support academics to integrate with their wider research community.

As academics, we develop our research within globalized research communities, also known as academic fields. Engaging with our research communities allows us to develop, publish and disseminate our research, but also to get a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment from doing research.

Yet, as academics, we often have difficulties engaging with our research communities, a phenomenon called academic isolation. With 40% of academics and more than half below the age of 35 feeling isolated in their research communities, academic isolation has become the norm, especially among early career researchers (ECRs) (The conversation, 2019).

Academic isolation reduces our productivity, promotes dissatisfaction with our research careers, and generates loneliness. Social distancing resulting from the covid pandemic has intensified the issue of isolation among ECRs, making it harder to integrate well in their research communities.

In order to support academics’ integration in their research community, we have developed a professional development workshop series that will address obstacles such as:

  • Experiences of isolation in their research field
  • Barriers to engagement with relevant researchers
  • Difficulties developing and demonstrating competencies valued in their research community

After this workshop series, you will be able to:

  • Develop creative solutions to research challenges and roadblocks
  • Establish new research networks that will help you attain your strategic research goals
  • Communicate about your research to gain recognition in your community
  • Build and engage with your own research collective
  • Leverage professional development initiatives offered in your research community

Who is this workshop for?

All interested Birkbeck faculty members will benefit from participating in this workshop. However, early career faculty and research staff who have completed their PhD holding post-doc positions or lectureships will particularly benefit from participating.

Overview of the workshop series

The series consists of six workshops focusing on the main strategies to integrate in a research community. Some workshops will take place face to face at Birkbeck, while others will take place online via Microsoft Teams. For more information on each workshop, click on the links below.


Headshots of the workshop facilitators listed below.

The workshop series is organized by Dr Olivier Sibai, lecturer in the Department of Management. Olivier has run a number of workshops on academic isolation. He has also co-authored research on which the proposed professional development workshop is based:

Belkhir, M., Brouard, M., Brunk, K. H., Dalmoro, M., Ferreira, M. C., Figueiredo, B., Huff A., Scaraboto D., Sibai O., & Smith A. N. (2019), Isolation in Globalizing Academic Fields: A Collaborative Autoethnography of Early Career Researchers. Academy of Management Learning and Education, Volume 18, No 2, pp. 261-285.

Olivier will be joined by guest speakers with substantive expertise and experience on specific strategies to integrate research communities. These are:

  • Amanda Cravens, Research Social Scientist at the Fort Collins Science Centre and founder of the Standford feedback research collective showcased by Nature
  • Markus Giesler, Marketing professor at Schulich School of business, nominated as part of the “40 under 40” professor by Poets & Quants and named “Young business school star professor on the rise,” by CNN.
  • Ieva Martinaitytė, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behavior at University of East Anglia, UK and the founder of Creativity Lab
  • Agnieszka Radziwon, Associate Professor of Innovation Management at Aarhus University, Denmark and Research Fellow at Berkeley, USA
  • Isabel Davis, Reader in Medieval Literature and Culture, and AD for Equalities, School of Arts
  • Elisa Ferre, Reader in Psychological Sciences, School of Science
  • Alex Poulovlassis, Emeritus Professor of computer science, School of BEI
  • Rebecca Whiting, Reader in Organisation studies, School of BEI

How do I register?

To register for individual workshops, click on the links of each individual workshop above.


Research with Impact: Economics, Mathematics and Statistics

Through the REF 2021 rankings, we were pleased to see our impact results in Economics, Maths, and Statistics demonstrate a significant improvement from 2014, with 33% of our impact work ranked world-leading, 50% internationally excellent, and the remaining 17% internationally recognised. Discover our research case studies below. Visit the REF website for full details.

Demographic structure and economic trends: planning for Europe’s financial future

According to a 2019 OECD report, Fiscal Challenges and Inclusive Growth in Ageing Societies, ‘The number of people over 65 for each working-age person will at least double in most G20 countries by 2060′. This is important because age groups differ in their savings behaviour, productivity levels, labour input, contribution to innovation, and investment opportunities. Research by Professor Yunu Aksoy and Professor Ron Smith offered new insight into the specific nature of these differences as well as providing an innovative theoretical model for predicting future trends. Taken up by central banks around the world, this work has contributed to an increased focus on demographics amongst the global central banking community and influenced fiscal policy decisions in a number of countries.

Notably, a 2017 secondment to the Bank of Spain allowed Professor Aksoy to develop his research, to publish alongside Bank economist Henrique Basso, and to help answer the question of ‘how to adapt fiscal and social policies to demographic changes’, identified by the Bank’s head of research as ‘one of the most important issues’ that the Bank is currently facing. Basso went on to sit on a European Central Bank taskforce charged with investigating the future of pension schemes in the EU (a multi-billion-Euro question), which drew directly on Professor Aksoy and Professor Smith’s work to inform its research and recommendations. The work has also been invoked in German debates around immigration (where a recent policy change aimed to facilitate the entry of young, skilled workers to reinvigorate the country’s economy).

Making the right decisions for patients: competition, choice and inequality in publicly-funded healthcare

Successive UK governments have emphasised the importance of patient choice as a means for service users to voice and realise their preferences, and as a way to encourage competition in markets for publicly-funded healthcare. Dr Walter Beckert’s work on patient choice has challenged the assumption that increasing competition helps to improve care provision, showing that competition can reinforce existing inequalities between demographic groups and that patients often turn for guidance to primary healthcare practitioners who have competing priorities of their own.

Dr Beckert is an academic panel member for the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and his research has shaped the methodology used by the CMA to analyse the impact of hospital mergers, therefore influencing each of the eight hospital merger decisions made by that body since its first in 2013 (determining the allocation of at least £560 million in public money). More broadly, Dr Beckert’s work with the Health Foundation, a campaigning charity, has helped to change opinion within the sector as to the value of competition and has contributed to a strategic shift away from competition and towards a more collaborative approach to service delivery, as realised in the 2019 NHS Long-Term Plan. Health Foundation CEO Jennifer Dixon points out that ‘the reach of Walter’s work therefore potentially affects all the population in England – circa 55 million’.

New strategies for portfolio management: applying new estimates of equity yields and equity duration

Accurate estimates of expected rates of returns and investment time horizons are crucial for investment managers when it comes to assessing the risk and return characteristics of equity portfolios. Collaborative research originated by Birkbeck’s Dr David Schröder and continued in partnership with Florian Esterer, an asset management professional, proposed a new method for predicting returns and estimating risk on individual shares, using earnings forecasts created by analysts across the market. They also proposed for the first time the concept of equity duration, which sits alongside the well-established idea of bond duration (a measurement of sensitivity to interest rate changes).

Analysts and investment managers at asset management firms across the financial sector took up Schröder and Esterer’s work, featuring the research in internal research reports and in some cases inviting them in to deliver in-person explanations. Feedback from the Head of European Qualitative Research at one of these major international firms described Schröder and Esterer’s research as ‘crucial’ in reframing its approach ‘to measuring the duration of global stocks’, demonstrating direct impact on the billions of pounds of assets that this firm holds under its management. Esterer was also able to put the research into practice at his own workplace, which also manages tens of billions in equity holdings.

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