Invite to the iBuild Conference in Leeds, UK

Dr David Williams | Image: The transport System of Provision in the UK.

Whilst I was completing my PhD the University of the West of England’s library changed its policy on what it did with completed PhD theses. Whereas my colleague who completed her PhD in 2013 provided a physical copy of her PhD to the library where it now resides in their basement, probably untouched by human hands, my thesis was to be put on the university’s online repository. This has multiple benefits for my career, as my research, for want of a better phrase is ‘getting out there’. Take for example in February and March of this year it was downloaded 52 times. That is 52 more people seeing my work than my colleagues’ work as it sits unloved in the basement.

The benefits of this exposure were made evident in February, where I received an email from someone at the University of Leeds who had read my work! We arranged a Skype call where he praised my take on the Systems of Provision, by Ben Fine in the context of governance structures. He invited me to speak at the iBuild Conference he was organising in April and he asked me to link my PhD research to PARCOUR. I readily accepted and started to think about how the model I created in my PhD would or even could fit into the PARCOUR findings.

The System of Provision I created in my PhD explored the delivery of transport infrastructure in England as a social system. Shove et al. (2012) explained that practices are made up of materials, meanings and competences and I added these to a governance structure to demonstrate how the decisions taken at the top level of government ultimately influence how people travel through the materials (highways), meanings and competences provided.

The biggest problem was now applying this relatively linier model to the complexity of urban regeneration in the UK. Regeneration does not take place through one organisation at each stage of the system of provision, but through several, as demonstrated by what my colleague Rob Atkinson describes as the ‘bowl of spaghetti’ of governance in the Taunton Firepool case study.

The regeneration governance ‘bowl of spaghetti’

The regeneration governance ‘bowl of spaghetti’.

Having grappled with the concept for many weeks I was finally able to identify the main difference in the transport infrastructure system and the urban regeneration model and this was the introduction of governmental quangos, such as English Partnerships and the Regional Development Agencies. With their relative autonomy from national government and their own competing agendas the ‘bowl of spaghetti’ effectively has several competing systems of provision, both working together and competing as part of the process. This provides an alternative means of viewing our findings and demonstrates the importance of making sure your research gets seen. Without it my ideas may have been gathering dust.


The Taunton Firepool System of Provision

The Taunton Firepool System of Provision.