How to turn a volcano into a power station – with a little help from satellites

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Erta Ale in eastern Ethiopia. mbrand85

Ethiopia tends to conjure images of sprawling dusty deserts, bustling streets in Addis Ababa or the precipitous cliffs of the Simien Mountains – possibly with a distance runner bounding along in the background. Yet the country is also one of the most volcanically active on Earth, thanks to Africa’s Great Rift Valley, which runs right through its heart.

Rifting is the geological process that rips tectonic plates apart, roughly at the speed your fingernails grow. In Ethiopia this has enabled magma to force its way to the surface, and there are over 60 known volcanoes. Many have undergone colossal eruptions in the past, leaving behind immense craters that pepper the rift floor. Some volcanoes are still active today. Visit them and you find bubbling mud ponds, hot springs and scores of steaming vents. Continue reading

The menopause: dreaded, derided and seldom discussed

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Sign of caution – or celebration?
Shutterstock

Author: Isabel de Salis, University of Bristol

Women experience the menopause between the ages of around 45 and 55, but their experiences of this significant stage of life are diverse. Each woman’s menopause is unique.

Common themes run through women’s stories, however. From our research talking with women in midlife, we found that they often talk about menopause as a normal, inevitable and natural process, which of course, it is. Seeing menopause in this way allows women to minimise symptoms and behave stoically. “It’s no big deal,” one woman told us. “You just get on with it.”

But this positive approach can also be a rebuttal of a common perception in society of the menopause as a negative event – a view which leads to denigrating women who react differently to the menopause. Continue reading

To break Brexit talks deadlock the EU must agree ‘sufficient progress’ has been made – what does that mean?

The next stage of the Brexit negotiations hinges upon two words: “sufficient progress”.

European Council meeting, 20-21 October 2016. European Council Flickr  CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

At the European Council meeting on October 19 and 20, leaders of the EU27 will review developments in the Brexit negotiations and establish whether they believe enough progress has been made in the first phase of talks to move on to the second phase. That would allow discussions to begin on the future relationship between the UK and the EU.

The term “sufficient progress” is embedded within the European Council’s negotiating guidelines for Article 50 – the part of the EU treaty which governs how a state leaves the bloc. It is born out of the EU’s phased approach to the Brexit negotiations, which was later confirmed by both the EU and the UK in June 2017.

The ongoing first phase of Brexit negotiations is focused on finding solutions to three key issues: the status of UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK, the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and the settlement of the UK’s financial obligations.

Agreeing whether there has been been sufficient progress means solving these three key problems. What the agreed solution ought to look like, however, is more elusive. Continue reading

North-South Free trade Agreements – Trade, Policy and Europe

At the University of Bristol Law School, we are investigating the dynamics of negotiation, implementation, and enforcement of North-South trade agreements.

The following is a record of the findings of the panels speaking at an event held on 4 October 2017. The first panel (Clair Gammage, Maria Garcia and Tonia Novitz, chaired by Phil Syrpis) examined the external policies of the European Union (EU) particularly in the context of regionalism and free trade agreements (FTAs). The second panel (Emily Jones, Sophie Hardefeldt and Gabriel Siles-Brügge, chaired by Tonia Novitz) examined how the UK could – in the event of Brexit – depart from or improve on the practices of the EU.

EU policy relating to North-South trade agreements

Clair Gammage (Bristol) discussed the transformation of the EU’s relationship with its trade partners across the African, Caribbean, and Pacific regions and was able to point to the surprising small victories that low-income countries in the Global South had achieved when negotiating trade agreements with the EU. Continue reading

Policy makers do not need to introduce formal structures to achieve political innovation

Informal governance can be defined as a means of decision-making that is un-codified, non-institutional and where social relationships play crucial roles. Research evidence suggests that an analysis of informal governance is essential if we are to fully understand how political innovation occurs.

Dr Sarah Ayres, Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research

The issue of informality in policy-making is particularly timely as public managers seek to manage multifaceted policy problems within contested and uncertain environments. One view is that political decision-making has increasingly moved away from the national level of government to a more spatially diverse, temporal and fluid set of arrangements. From this perspective, policy-making is increasingly taking place in arenas where there is no generally accepted rules and norms according to which politics is to be conducted. Some argue that it is the surge of ‘wicked problems’ that have prompted this type of leadership, as multiple actors come together to solve complex policy problems. These developments raise important questions about how informal governance operates in this transforming policy landscape and the impact it has on political innovation. Yet, there is comparatively little research on the role of informality in policy-making, partly because of the complexity of studying it.

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Complex guidelines on eating fish when pregnant mean that mothers – and babies – are missing out

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Shutter stock

Caroline Taylor, University of Bristol

As soon as women find out they’re pregnant, they are overwhelmed with information about what they can – or more likely can’t – eat and drink. Off the menu go soft cheeses, partially cooked eggs, raw meat, pâté, liver, caffeine, alcohol. It’s a lot to remember.

But the advice on eating fish when pregnant is the by far the most complex. Does it need to be so complicated? What is the actual evidence of the risks and benefits of eating fish for a mother-to-be? Continue reading

Pregnancy, baby loss, and effective training for bereavement care in the UK

The 9th-15th October is Baby Loss Awareness Week, which provides a chance to raise awareness about the issues surrounding pregnancy and baby loss in the UK.  Our team has over 10 years of research experience in what makes effective training for staff involved in care for bereaved parents, and seven years working to end preventable harm related to stillbirth.

Hands yellow flower

Author: Dr Dimitrios SiassakosConsultant Senior Lecturer in Obstetrics, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, The Chilterns, Southmead Hospital and Bristol Medical School

We welcome the House of Commons debate on Tuesday 10th October 2017 as part of Baby Loss Awareness Week, and have drawn on our recent research at the University of Bristol to contribute to this debate.

Our research has found that bereavement care is inconsistent across UK hospitals, and variable in quality. Bereaved parents are not always involved in decision-making, and parents may not be aware of the process when hospitals review their baby’s death. Healthcare staff may not be supported in caring for parents.

Our research on what makes training effective highlights that not all training is equal.

How we would like our MPs to help:

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How do we teach clinicians to talk about the end of life?

Image of Doctor and patient

Image credit: Doctor and patient – Government of Alberta. Creative Commons License 2.0 (Non-commercial No Derivatives). Source: Flickr

By Dr Lucy Selman Research Fellow (Qualitative Research in Randomised Trials) Centre for Academic Primary Care  University of Bristol

In a systematic review published this month, we identified 153 communication skills training interventions for generalists in end of life care. In randomised controlled trials, training improved showing empathy and discussing emotions in simulated interactions (i.e. with actor patients) but evidence of effect on clinician behaviours during real patient interactions, and on patient-reported outcomes, was inconclusive.

The global increase in the proportion of older people and length of life means providing end of life care is now increasingly the responsibility of generalist as well as specialist palliative care providers. But many clinicians find communicating about end of life issues challenging: how do you best discuss imminent mortality, limited treatment options, what to expect when you’re dying, or a patient’s preferences for end of life care?

When this communication is done poorly, or not done at all, patients are confused and less satisfied with their care, experience inadequate symptom relief, and have worse quality of life. Staff who feel insufficiently trained in communication skills are more likely to provide depersonalised care and suffer from burnout.

While research in clinical communication has grown in recent years, there is little consensus on optimal training strategies and the most effective teaching methods. Continue reading

Repeal bill paves the way for a removal of rights after Brexit

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via shutterstock.com

Phil Syrpis, University of Bristol

One of the central planks of the British government’s legislative agenda ahead of Brexit, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, will begin its second reading on September 7 as MPs return from their summer recess.

The government’s aim for the bill, originally known as the “Great Repeal Bill”, was to “convert the body of existing EU law into domestic law”, so that parliament can decide what to keep or repeal once the UK leaves the bloc. This was to ensure that, “as a general rule, the same rules and laws will apply after we leave the EU as they did before”, so as to reassure citizens and businesses.

But the bill falls far short of providing citizens and businesses with clarity and certainty. Instead, it paves the way for the modification and removal of rights that currently exist under EU law. Continue reading

Using administrative data for labour market research: getting the balance right

Isabel Stockton, PhD Student, School of Economics, Finance and Management, and panel participant in Research without Borders 2017

Administrative data: it’s one of those phrases that can generate much excitement among economists and some other social scientists, but will never make for scintillating party conversation in any other setting.

However, the possibilities and limits on the use of administrative data for research can have a big impact on the policymaking process and raise tricky ethical questions, so it is important that the conversation is as broad as it can possibly be.

What is administrative data?

Administrative data is collected by the government for a non-research purpose.

For example, as part of my doctoral research I analyse national insurance data on jobs, wages and commuting distances in Germany.

Whenever someone starts or leaves a job, starts to claim unemployment benefits, is assigned to a jobseekers’ training programme or goes on parental or sick leave, this leaves a paper trail.

Economists in particular are very interested in this information: Many of us still subscribe to the traditional credo “Believe what people do, not what they say”. Continue reading