Providing Q-Step work placements at The Schumacher Institute | Case study

By Nuffield Foundation

Ian Roderick’s experience providing Q-Step work placements at The Schumacher Institute


Q-Step work placement host, 2017 and 2018
The Schumacher Institute, Bristol
Horizon scanning on topics including homelessness, future of work, marine environment and urban metabolism.


What projects did the placement students work on with you?

The main project is called ‘Prepare for Change’. It involves horizon-scanning and scenario work, looking at the whole range of possible changes affecting the planet and societies. The aim is to improve resilience and work towards sustainability while relating these to the city of Bristol whenever possible. Topics covered by students include homelessness, future of work, marine environment, peak oil, internet of logistics and urban metabolism, among others.

What did the Q-Step students gain?

The objective is to give experience of working in a research mode – formulating a question, exploring and understanding the context and then telling a compelling story. We encourage the use of system thinking, particularly causal loop diagrams. We expect the collection and interpretation of data to support arguments whenever possible.

I think one of the main things that students gain is how to cope with unstructured and self-motivated work. Many of the students say they would like to get a job in a think tank or policy-making organisation, so we try to give a flavour of what that means in terms of taking responsibility and initiative for one’s own progression.

We introduce system thinking methods, particularly critical thinking and first-person action inquiry, getting students to see themselves in the process of the work.

What did your organisation gain?

The Prepare for Change project is an ongoing and expanding repository of predictions and opinions about the future. Each student project helps to fill out the picture.

I think one of the main things that students gain is how to cope with unstructured and self-motivated work.” Ian Roderick, placement provider

What skills did the Q-Step students bring?

  • Awareness of the world: all students have shown a good grasp of present global problems and challenges

  • Good organisation abilities around their own workload

  • All have been good at communicating and have not held back in workshops – so, confidence Technical skills in data analysis.
  • What challenges, if any, did hosting a student present to you/ your organisation?

    Keeping up with them. Realising that the time is limited, and the projects need to be complete and not left dangling.

    Will you/your organisation host more Q-Step students?

    Yes; I think we are getting better at defining what we need out of the internship. We may get slightly more formal in style and structure.

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    We improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

    We offer our grant-holders the freedom to frame questions and enable new thinking. Our research must stand up to rigorous academic scrutiny, but we understand that to be successful in effecting change, it also needs to be relevant to people’s experience.