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KESS LogoKESS is jointly delivered by the Research and Information Service (RaISe) of the Northern Ireland Assembly, in partnership with all three universities located in Northern Ireland (NI) – the Queen’s University of Belfast (QUB – co-founder in 2011), Ulster University (joined in 2012) and The Open University, joining as the third Northern Ireland university in 2013.

The first of its kind in the UK, KESS aims to promote evidence-led policy and law-making through a programme of presentations and debates by academia to decision-makers such as MLAs (Members of Legislative Assembly). The series offers networking opportunities, attracting a broad spectrum of attendees including MLAs and their staff; Assembly staff; public and private sector employees; academics; voluntary and community groups; and members of the public.

Seminars are free and are held on Wednesdays from October through June at 1.30pm in Parliament Buildings. In 2016/7, the programme of seven seminars included academics from The Open University.

2016/17 KESS seminars by OU academics

Dr Sharon Mallon - The role of paramilitary punishment attacks and intimidation in death by suicide in post agreement Northern Ireland.

26 June 2017

The signing of the Good Friday agreement effectively brought an end to the widespread violence associated with the ‘Troubles’. However, communities within Northern Ireland continue to be blighted by an insidious form of violence in the form of punishment beatings and intimidation. Anecdotal evidence published in news media have linked cases of such intimidation and violence to individual cases of suicide. However, to date, there has been a lack of empirical research examining this relationship. The aim of this seminar is to address this gap in our knowledge by examining these forms of violence among a cohort of individuals who died by suicide in Northern Ireland. 

Using data collected from Coroners and GP files and during interviews with family members, we use a modified version of the psychological autopsy method to explore how intimidation and/or beatings, at or around the time of the death, may have contributed to the suicides of individuals who died over a two-year period. We explore some of the specific features of these deaths and examine associated help seeking with primary care and other mental health professionals. We conclude by exploring ways in which this challenging issue might be tackled at a policy level. 

Prof Keith Attenborough and Dr Shahram Taherzadeh - Environmental methods of surface transport noise reduction

24 May 2017

Noise barriers are a common method of combating noise (mentioned under ‘environment’ in the KESS hot topics list) but they may be unsightly and tend to divide communities because any gaps affect their efficiency. The presentation will describe alternative methods based on the results of the Open University led parts of an EC FP7 project (HOSANNA These methods are not considered at present by planners, highway engineers or noise consultants but are particularly relevant to cost-effective sustainable environmental policies in predominantly rural areas (common in Northern Ireland) and in cities, since they exploit and enhance the environment between the noise source and nearby people.

They include:

  1. Deployment of acoustically-soft ground such as non-compacted grassland;
  2. Growing crops;
  3. Planting tree belts and forests and
  4. Deliberately introducing low (0.3 m high or less) wall configurations over hard ground.

Tree belts can be effective noise barriers by combining sound absorption by decaying leaf litter, foliage attenuation and ‘sonic crystal’ effects through planting patterns. A particularly effective form of low wall design is a lattice. 

Dr Clem Herman, Dr Elaine Thomas and Dr Katie Chicot - Returning to STEM: interventions to support women returners after career breaks

5 April 2017

The ratio of male to females employed in STEM-related industries in NI is 3 to 1, yet although the business case for gender equality in STEM has been well recognised in NI policy, little attention has been paid to date to the potential presented by women returning from career breaks. The persistence of normative gendered career pathways and gendered organisational cultures in STEM sectors present barriers to those who have non-linear or unconventional career trajectories. In this presentation we will showcase two new resources launched last year by The Open University (OU) – Reboot Your STEM Career and Returning to STEM – the latest in a succession of interventions by the OU to encourage and support women in their STEM careers. The resources were developed following a longitudinal research project that tracked women’s career progression over a five-year period and identified five key success strategies for returning to STEM work (foot in the door, networking, back to basics, retraining and helping hand).

Case studies highlighted in the resources can be used by NI policy-makers to support women resuming and progressing their careers and interviews with STEM employers illustrate the benefits to companies of developing internships specifically aimed at returners.

Prof Jonathan Rix - Global Challenges for Inclusive and Special Education – Exploring solutions within a Community of Provision

29 March 2017

This seminar builds upon a study undertaken for the National Council for Special Education in the Republic of Ireland, examining the continuum of special education globally (Rix, Sheehy, Fletcher-Campbell, Crisp & Harper, 2013). This involved a systematic literature review of the multitude of continua associated with special education, followed by a review of policy in 50 countries, and then a further detailed examination of 11 administrations. Although this review did not include Northern Ireland, the seminar will present findings and a framework of analysis which will have direct relevance to the experiences of Northern Ireland’s policy-makers and practitioners.

The Community of Provision (CoPro) was developed to explore the challenges of the systems in the study. It is defined by the settings and services that work together to provide a service within a locality. The nature of the CoPro will vary nationally and locally and be dependent upon the individuals concerned. It is intended to encapsulate complex societal support systems, assisting the thinking of decision-makers and researchers and underlining the need to focus their efforts across all arenas of practice.
(Rix, J., Sheehy, K., Fletcher-Campbell, F., Crisp, M. & Harper, A. (2013) Continuum of Education Provision for Children with Special Educational Needs: Review of International Policies and Practices. (Volumes 1&2.) National Council for Special Education, Trim.)

Dr Ilona Roth  Autism - a cross-cultural perspective on service provision and capacity building

29 March 2017

Prevalence estimates for autism in the western world have risen substantially over recent years, most probably reflecting a combination of increasing public awareness, wider inclusion criteria and improved diagnostic services. Many gaps and inequalities of services and support remain, especially in relation to adults and to deprived and ethnic minority communities. There is growing recognition of these needs and of the political, practical and educational initiatives necessary to address them. However autism is now widely recognised to be a global problem.

Many difficulties faced by individuals with autism and their families in Lower and Middle Income Countries (LAMIC) resemble those in the western world, but have strikingly greater scale and impact in these settings. Moreover, a western approach to resolving gaps in diagnosis, intervention and other forms of service provision often does not translate well to LAMIC situations and cultures.

A recent collaboration between academics at The Open University and the University of Addis Ababa, led by Dr Rosa Hoekstra, now at Kings College London, sheds light on the situation in Ethiopia, where low awareness of autism, together with stigma and extremely limited service provision serve as a striking example of the challenges to be addressed worldwide.

This presentation will discuss findings from this research (1), and practical initiatives (2) undertaken as potential steps towards addressing these problems.

Dr Dimitris P. Sotiropoulos - Options for public debt management 

23 November 2016

Austerity policies in the wake of the 2008 global financial meltdown have left a host of developed capitalist economies struggling with very high levels of sovereign indebtedness. Given that prospects for economic growth still remain anaemic, and that financial risks have not been completely eliminated, the recovery process is slow and fragile.

Contemporary policy-making thus encounters an unusual debt overhang puzzle.

  • How important is this issue for the European economies?
  • Is there an easy way out?
  • Should policy-makers continue to rely on ‘business as usual’, or should they seek answers in the unchartered waters of unorthodox solutions?
  • How important is central banking to tackling the problem?

Drawing on my policy proposal for the resolution to the European sovereign debt overhang and my book on the political economy of contemporary financialised capitalism, the seminar will discuss a number of policy options in relation to how public debt can be managed in a sustainable way. The key lessons to policy-makers are that economies with weak currencies are better off within monetary unions and that unorthodox central bank policies are the only means to overcome the contradictions of a monetary union in the absence of fiscal integration.

Dr Lesley Hoggart,  and Prof Sally Sheldon (Kent University) – Tensions in Abortion law and policy, and effects on women

16 November 2016

This presentation will focus on the tensions between the legal and policy framework for abortion, and women’s abortion experiences, throughout the UK. First, we will report on a mixed methods study into different aspects of young women’s experiences (aged 16-24) of one or more unintended pregnancies ending in abortion in England and Wales. One key finding was that despite most abortions following contraceptive failures, women still internalised shame and blame.

This reflects the continued stigmatisation of abortion. We then draw on a recently completed study of the home use of abortion pills in Northern Ireland (and elsewhere), highlighting some of the ways in which the current law fails either to prevent abortion or to protect women’s health. At a time when it is possible to end a pregnancy using pills that are readily available on line, it assesses some of the challenges for effective regulation and poses some fundamental questions regarding the need for legal reform.

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