Overview

The in3 programme was established in 2016 at the University of Oxford's Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. The programme comprises a series of intersecting research projects that focus on water, energy, enterprise and sustainable development. We work closely with the Smith School's other programmes to leverage capacity. Our outputs are targeted to policymakers, practitioners, and publications. The in3 programme is directed by Dr Alex Money.


Q. Is this a programme about innovative infrastructure, or innovative investment?

A. The programme is about both of these. In terms of innovative investment, we're interested in how existing barriers to financing infrastructure, particularly in developing countries, can be lowered; and how new sources of finance can be accessed. We're equally interested in systems approaches to infrastructure, particularly in terms of the dependencies and interlinkages between energy and water. We frame our research agenda in the context of the work that needs to be done if the SDG targets are to be meaningful, let alone achievable.


Q. What types of innovation in investment does your research cover?

A. There are various examples, depending on the project. Our work on renewable energy in Africa examines the efficacy of mechanisms such as reverse auctions to lower financial and non-financial transaction costs, in order to accelerate the implementation of utility-scale solar in developing countries. Equally, very low rural electrification rates in our study sites mean that emerging models to finance off-grid generation are also of interest. Meanwhile our work on water infrastructure includes a research project on typologies that aims to optimise access to capital through blended finance. In another project, we're conducting field research in Latin America to understanding the leverage that corporate-centric models of strategic infrastructure investment might unlock. We also contribute to several external initiatives around innovation in investment - principally focused on sustainable development.


Q. How about some examples of innovation in infrastructure?

A. Our work focuses on the value proposition of infrastructure as a service, rather than the quantum of infrastructure assets. Specifically, we are interested in models of ‘blending' infrastructure projects in order to optimise their economic, financial and social return; for a given level of investment risk. This work is underpinned by the criteria of universality and inclusiveness that is emphasised in many of the SDG targets. We are interested in the potential for innovation in infrastructure both in terms of closing the financing gap; and in terms of improving the return on investment for new and purposed sources of capital, such as the Green Climate Fund. Beyond our own research projects, we participate in various external initiatives that embed this focus on innovation in infrastructure as a model for sustainable development.


Q. Who pays for your work?

A. Our projects are funded from a range of sources. For example, we hold a significant award from the British Academy, through their Sustainable Development Programme - which is in turn backed by the UK government's Global Challenges Research Fund. We also have a relationship with PepsiCo, and this is supporting our work on corporate-centric models of infrastructure development. We rely on being successful in competitive awards to further the programme - and so we are highly focused on the outputs and impact of our work.


Q. What are your metrics of success?

A. Our outputs are targeted to policymakers, practitioners and publications. As our research has an empirical focus, we seek to inform policy through evidence-based analysis. We're interested in how our work can help to improve institutional arrangements for the delivery of infrastructure solutions, particularly around energy and water. Second, we engage with a wide set of stakeholders and recognise that unless our work is accessible and relevant to practitioners, it will have limited impact. Accordingly, we try and disseminate our research to practitioners via several channels, including speaking at industry conferences and events. Finally, as members of an academic institution, our mandate is to produce world-class research for publication in peer-reviewed journals; and to articulate the conceptual and practical implications of our work. Our metrics of success are therefore based on delivery to three distinct and equally important constituencies.


Q. What value does the Smith School bring?

A. The founding premise of the Smith School is that to address climate change and environmental sustainability, it is essential to bring business into the conversation. In this respect, the School pursues a differentiated agenda to many other academic centres. Several the School's senior staff have held careers outside academia, and bring an applied, inclusive perspective to their work. Notwithstanding this practitioner focus, we are judged by the quality of our research. The Smith School is part of Oxford's School of Geography and the Environment, which is ranked 1 globally in the 2018 QS World University world subject rankings. We believe that this focus on enterprise, combined with the requirement to produce academically robust work, creates a unique and valuable epistemology for our research.


Q. Do you accept students?

A. We do not directly admit students. Postgraduate admissions are managed by our department, the School of Geography and the Environment. Please see the admissions page on the departmental website for guidance. For students who have been admitted to the department, we welcome queries regarding our research, and the potential to work with us on dissertations and research papers. For students that are members of other departments in Oxford or elsewhere, we are happy to consider collaboration where there is a strategic fit.


Q. Are you hiring?

A. We frequently hire researchers on short-term contracts (up to 3 months) to help us with specific project deliverables. It's a great opportunity to get exposure to the field. If you're interested in working with us on this basis, we welcome speculative applications. However, please note that you must have the right to work in the UK. We also occasionally have longer-term positions available for postdoctoral researchers. These are always advertised on the University's job pages.