The Hekla volcano in Iceland, not far from the 'famous' Eyjafjallajökull volcano (Photo credits: Massimo Pizzol)

This May I was so lucky to join for five days the training school on Questions of Power and Participation: Renewable Energy and Landscape in Policy and Planning, held in beautiful Iceland, as part of the RELY action of the COST programme of the European Union. The COST programme is a sort of special EU programme that does not fund research activities in terms of salaries but funds exclusively networking activities such as the organization of conferences, meetings, training schools, etc. “By creating open spaces where people and ideas can grow, we unlock the full potential of science” they say, and I agree.

The training school was about “the inter-relationships between renewable energy production and landscape quality, and the role of public participation for the acceptance of renewable energy systems” and the aim of the school was to “develop a better understanding of how landscape protection and management, and renewable energy deployment can be reconciled to contribute socio-environmentally to the sustainable transformation of energy systems” (these are the words of the organizers).

How did I get there and why on earth did I get there

In February 2017 I was notified of the event by Finn a colleague who was also going to be one of the teachers at the training school. Then I wrote an application and sent it to the organizers, there were 25 places available, and I got one. In the application I had to specify two preferences for which topic to work on during the group work at the school.

There were three main reasons for attending:

  • Networking: it’s important for me to expand my network, in particular to researchers and experts who work in fields that are related but different from mine, and that have other backgrounds than mine. This is useful for e.g. future collaborations on research proposals, articles, exchanges, etc. I had previously attended the Global Sustainability Summer School in Potsdam (DE) (see info and pic here, I am sitting in the middle) where I met many interesting and clever people. So in my experience this type of interdisciplinary events are incredibly rewarding networking-wise.

  • Learning: many of my colleagues at DCEA work with public participation and strategic planning in environmental assessment, so this was a good chance to learn more about these topics so that I can better interface with “my guys” back at the department. So I saw in the training school an opportunity to learn about new theories and practices (e.g. for strategic planning and stakeholder involvement), to experience with more qualitative approaches than the quantitative ones I am used to, and to interact with experts with a different scientific background than mine.

  • Travelling: let’s be honest I also desired to visit Iceland, and see in first person its amazing landscape that I only knew of from travel stories of friends.

An ex-post evaluation of the experience


Hiking in the geothermal landscape of Iceland (Photo credits: Massimo Pizzol)

Everything perfect!

Memorable things to remember:

  • I learnt about the peculiar Icelandic energy system, which is more than 90% renewable thanks to geothermal, hydro, and wind-energy, as well as about all its controversies. For example, the fact that Iceland has the second highest energy consumption pro-capita in the world, and this energy is used not for households but mostly for energy intensive industry, such as aluminum smelters, and that there has historically been resistance against this type of industrial development.

  • Besides the start and end days in Reykjavik, we stayed altogether (25 participants) in a small house at Arnes in the middle of Iceland, out of nowhere and it was excellent both for working and for group-building! We also visited several nice spots in Iceland to experience its landscape, including a hike to geothermal springs and field trips to different types of energy-production facilities. We also visited a high-tech greenhouse producing tomatoes (good ones too) with imported bees and exorbitant energy consumption levels (but hey it’s almost for free there…)

  • Science-wise I was part of a small group who worked with participatory scenario development (I wrote about it in a previous post) on the future energy developments in Iceland, under the supervision of Karl Benediktsson, so I was able to experiment more with this tool. We are now working on a scientific paper based on the work done. More in general there were many sources of inspiration, both theoretical and methodological, from the use of games in public involvement to how to build a survey for successive principal component analysis.


The 'Group A' working on the energy futures of Iceland. (Photo credits: Massimo Pizzol)
  • I met a bunch of nice people with various background and had a lot of good talks and good beers! (though expensive, the beers). So I would say my networking expectations were 100% met.

Great times!