Platform. The everyday portal for sharing knowledge and intelligence on sustainability across Greater Manchester.

Q&A: Tim May, Professor & Co-Director of SURF

Hi Tim, tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a social scientist who has worked across many projects and programmes in the spirit of interdisciplinary collaboration.

During the course of my academic career, having first trained as an engineer, I have accumulated a great deal of experience in leading work on urban and organisational development.

Specifically, I’ve worked in and for organisations in the public and private sectors, examining the relationships between knowledge, practice, development and innovation: for example, universities, local, regional and national government, the engineering sector and research funders.

What does your research involve?

Specifically, it involves a detailed examination of the relationship between organisational strategies and operational outcomes.

I then examine the reasons any discrepancies in terms of the available evidence, organizational cultures, working contexts and the effects of the environments in which people work.

Can you give some examples of how your work connects with different places and communities?

I have worked for the city, regional and national agencies, as well as internationally with many different partners. Therefore, I have accumulated a lot of comparative experience between different places and contexts.

The insights from my work help me form comparative understandings of places and communities and that helps to explain what has worked where and why and how and then what might be translated into different contexts.

Why did you choose this area of research?

I have always been interested in the relationships between knowledge, organisations and actions. This is an interest I had as an engineer, which then continued in my training as a social scientist.

What are the implications of your work for a place like Greater Manchester?

How an authority manages its administrative boundaries and what knowledge it draws upon to inform its decisions and how is does that is crucial to its success. This is the same issue for community focused work as well.

What has been your most interesting finding so far?

What has been your most interesting finding so far?
There is so much talk of being innovative in the business and political worlds but, at present, there is very little change that benefits local communities.

It is the hidden innovations that people make in their everyday lives in adapting to and living within their environments that should be recognised and celebrated.

What are the highlights and challenges in doing your research? What are you most proud of?

The highlights include our work being seen as important and insightful by policy makers and different groups. The challenges, without a doubt, are to  speak the truth to those in power.

So what next?

We are working across several areas of work at the moment, including an analysis of how different knowledges inform present and future possibilities. We are also writing books and articles that draw upon our experiences.

Through an inclusion of new voices and understandings from those who are often excluded from decisions that have consequences for their lives, we can hope for fairer and more equitable and inclusive futures.


To find out more about Tim and the SURF team, head to their webpage on the University of Salford Website.