Research case studies
Here you can view some historic case studies which show how Kingston University's research has made, and continues to make, a difference to society, culture and the economy.
Supporting small businesses and entrepreneurship
The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform commissioned Kingston's Small Business Research Centre to examine the impact of regulation on small enterprises in England. By broadening an understanding of how regulation affects small business performance, the research provided valuable knowledge for business owners, researchers and policy makers. Read more.
Small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK employ 23 million people. They account for 60% of private sector employment, and 50% of private sector turnover. Kingston University's Small Business Research Centre (SBRC), led by Professor Robert Blackburn, is home to a long-established, highly-respected team of researchers examining small business and entrepreneurship. Much of SBRC's research is multidisciplinary, applying contemporary techniques to feed directly into the strategies of public and private organisations.
All businesses are subject to regulation, and new regulations can come into force throughout the year. Regulation is widely regarded as having an adverse impact upon small business activities and performance, and this has consequences for entrepreneurship and the UK economy as a whole. However, the UK performs well in international tables that rank the ease of doing business in different countries. The SBRC was commissioned by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, now the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, to examine the impact of regulation on small enterprises in England.
SBRC researchers found previous studies of the relationship between regulations on businesses and their performance to be wanting. In understanding how regulations are dealt with inside the firm, studies often suffered from inadequate conceptualisations of 'regulation' and methodological shortcomings. Previous research has mainly treated regulation purely as a cost, or a constraint, on business owners' actions. It did not always explain clearly how regulation produces the consequences attributed to it. In other words, many studies fail to investigate the links between regulations, their effects on a firm and how these then affect business performance.
SBRC researchers adopted a new approach to studying the impact of regulation on small business performance which involved collecting evidence through face-to-face interviews with 124 SME owners, arguing that this was the best way to explore fully the contradictory effects of regulation.
The research provided some key findings. First, regulation generates enabling and motivating tendencies that contribute to small business performance as well as constraining tendencies that impede performance. Second, from the perspective of a business owner, these tendencies operate both directly (through requiring adaptation by owner-managers) and indirectly (through changing the behaviour of stakeholders whose actions affect small business owners, such as customers, competitors, suppliers, employees, infrastructure providers and regulatory authorities). Third, regulation does not have a uniform effect on small business performance. The effect depends on the broader contexts within which businesses operate. How business owners choose to adapt to regulation has a crucial influence upon their performance outcomes.
A key message is that those who wish to understand how regulation contributes to small business performance must take into account a wide range of possible mechanisms through which regulation produces outcomes. Simplistic arguments that regulation impedes performance, or that deregulation necessarily enhances performance, must be rejected.
By broadening an understanding of how regulation affects small business performance, the Centre's research provides valuable knowledge for business owners, researchers and policy makers. The findings are of particular interest to those using the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' Small Firms Impact Test to consider the impact of proposed regulation. The results have also been cited by other stakeholders seeking to understand the relationship between regulation and business performance such as the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) in its policy briefing paper 'Better Regulation: what it really means'. They have also fed into the National Audit Office's Business Perceptions of Regulation survey.
The report, The Impact of Regulation on Small Business Performance, was funded by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (£230,000), now the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Improving the performance of a major heritage institution
Kingston University was awarded a three-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, to employ KTP associate Susannah Lipscombe as a research curator based at Hampton Court Palace. The project redesigned the way that visitors experience the Tudor sections of Hampton Court with a new interpretation. Read more.
Kingston University has undertaken a number of successful collaborative projects with Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), a charity responsible for the Tower of London, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and Hampton Court Palace.
The University was awarded a three-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), to employ KTP Associate Susannah Lipscombe as a research curator based at Hampton Court Palace. Lipscombe's research drew on literary historian Professor Thomas Betteridge's research on the Tudor court, and was supervised by Dr Erica Longfellow, Reader in English Literature.
Between 1998 and 2004 Betteridge undertook pioneering research at Kingston on the cultural milieu of Henry VIII's court, disseminated in the monographs Tudor Histories of the English Reformation (1999) and Literature and Politics in the English Reformation (2004) (LPER). Betteridge's work was part of a new wave of court studies that aimed to recast the debate about Henry VIII beyond the question of whether Henry was a good or bad king. Instead, Betteridge investigated the socio-political and cultural milieu of the court as a group of political individuals with Henry at its centre. Betteridge focussed particularly on how this new model of the court affected the strategies of writers aiming to influence the King's policies for religious change. Lipscomb carried this research forward, further investigating the stories of individuals at the court as well as considering how this political model is reflected in material culture.
Drawing directly on Betteridge's and Lipscomb's findings, the KTP project redesigned the way that visitors experience the Tudor sections of Hampton Court with a new interpretation, titled 'Henry VIII: Heads and Hearts'. Lipscomb acted as a research advisor throughout. She wrote text for a range of media to immerse visitors in Henry's world, and included displays, publications, audio guides, a website and a Twitter feed called 'I am Henry VIII'. She also designed new visitor costumes and Tudor inspired warders' uniforms, and briefed staff and volunteers on the latest research findings. For example, she explained how the Privy Council worked, who was present and what they discussed, which enabled the Council Chamber to be opened to the public for the first time, with an innovative multimedia display that immerses visitors in key debates of the time.
Lipscombe also implemented a strategy to build links with the research community. She set up an interdisciplinary Research Advisory Panel and organised a successful conference on Henry VIII, as well as a series of public talks. She published a book, 1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII and wrote a paper on her experience of bringing history to the public for The Public Historian.
Lipscomb and Betteridge are currently editing a collection of essays on the material culture of the court, performance and reaction, drawn from the 'Henry VIII and the Tudor Court' conference. The collection draws together contributions from leading academics from history, art history, material culture, and literature, including Eamon Duffy, Susan Brigden, G.W. Bernard and Steven Gunn. Together the essays move the study of Henry VIII beyond moralising about the King's own actions and towards a wider assessment of the impact of Henry and his courtiers on politics, culture and religious change in the period. Lipscomb's essay in this collection furthers the study of influential individuals at the court by reconsidering the fall of Anne Boleyn as a crisis in Henry VIII's masculinity, an argument she also promulgated in an innovative popular study of Henry VIII, 1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII (2009).
The project contributed to a significant increase in Hampton Court Palace's income. Between April and September 2009, there were an additional 115,287 visitors to the palace, up 43 per cent on the same period in the previous year, compared with a 12.8 per cent increase in visitors to other comparable attractions. Importantly, the number of domestic visitors increased sharply; local and domestic repeat visitors are considered crucial for community engagement and stabilising income streams.
Dr Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator for Historic Royal Palaces, said the innovative KTP with Kingston University and the resulting exhibition had been "a huge success economically and culturally. It has helped to boost our visitor numbers to the highest level for a decade, and that income is crucial to ensuring Hampton Court Palace is looked after and kept open for people all over the world to visit".
The project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (£170,502). The KTP has affected projects across the Historic Royal Palaces organisation, including a redesigned visitor experience at Kensington Palace and a similar KTP with Professor Norma Clarke to revitalise the Baroque Palace at Hampton Court.
Developing visual surveillance technologies
Kingston's Visual Surveillance Research Group is interested in computer algorithms and systems for measuring human activity (such as crowds of people or road traffic) captured by vision sensors (such as CCTV cameras). Its research has included tracking people and vehicles across varying backgrounds, people density and multiple cameras; and detecting unusual behaviour. Read more.
The last decade has seen a significant increase in the use of CCTV in public and private spaces, driven by perceived needs to improve security and safety. Using humans to manually observe large numbers of cameras is both costly and limited in its effectiveness. This has led to calls for automated tools to support the task of monitoring and retrieving CCTV data. The same type of technology is finding increasing interest in more benign applications such as broadcasting (eg sports, interactive TV), consumer products (eg image and video processing in mobile phones) and intelligent environments (eg assisted independent living for the elderly or the disabled).
Kingston University's Digital Imaging Research Centre (DIRC) is a unique group in the UK where research in visual surveillance is undertaken by a growing team of academics and research students. The Visual Surveillance Research Group is interested in computer algorithms and systems that are capable of picking up and measuring characteristics of human activity that have been captured by vision sensors, such as crowds of people or road traffic recorded by CCTV cameras.
Professor Sergio Velastin was one of the early researchers to propose a system to track people inside buildings, well before the term 'visual surveillance' had been coined. In the early nineties Velastin received funding from the Science and Engineering Research Council (now the EPSRC) to conduct a pilot study to establish the feasibility of using computer vision to measure phenomena involving crowds in public transport networks. Over the next ten years this led to larger EPSRC- and EU-funded projects which introduced the use of video analysis in metropolitan railways. Between 2002 and 2004, Velastin worked with the Rome Metro to implement the first prototype video analytics system in Termini Station. This informed the Metro's decision to install an industrial system for crowd monitoring.
Over the past ten years the Visual Surveillance Research Group has pursued a number of research issues that underpin surveillance capability in public environments. These have included the ability to track people and vehicles robustly in the presence of occlusion, illumination variations, varying backgrounds and increasing people density; the ability to track people and vehicles over wide areas and across multiple cameras; the ability to learn the geometric or semantic relationship between multiple cameras; and the ability to extract behaviour, or detect unusual behaviour. Although originally developed within the context of security within transport systems, the research has also been adapted to the analysis of team sports across a network of cameras in stadia.
Industrial engagement is integral to the Visual Surveillance Research Group's approach, and many technologies advanced at Kingston University are now embedded in industrial products. The Group attracts significant investment from industry partners and has established Knowledge Transfer Partnerships with Pharos Ltd, Legion Ltd and Ipsotek Ltd. The Group has undertaken research for Robert Bosch Corporate Research, LG Electronics, BAE Systems, SYAC Group and Barco View SA among others. In addition, Roke Manor Research UK Ltd, Transport for London, BT Group PLC and Ipsotek Ltd. have all sponsored PhD programmes.
The people counting technology developed on the Ipsotek Ltd. KTP programme is now in use at the O2 Arena in London and is being further developed for use in airports. The work funded as a PhD studentship by Transport for London has resulted in an innovative road user classification algorithm currently being evaluated for industrial use and deployment in London streets.
Understanding and predicting fires to improve safety
Kingston's Centre for Fire and Explosion Studies (CFES) undertook a major EU-funded project to advance the understanding and predictive capability of under-ventilated (oxygen starved) fires. Entitled FireNET, the project gathered and built upon the best numerical and experimental methods available in Europe. The project has provided predictive tools to facilitate building design. Read more.
Almost a decade ago, CFES undertook a major EU-funded project to advance the understanding and predictive capability of under-ventilated (oxygen starved) fires, led by Professor Jennifer Wen. Oxygen starved fires (eg in basements) may present a particular hazard to fire-fighters due to the lack of ventilation; when fire-fighters open access vents to begin their fire-fighting or rescue mission, there is a risk of backdraft or other rapid fire development which can be very dangerous.
Prior to the project, understanding of under-ventilated fires was rather primitive and had been restricted to fires in small spaces. There was an increasing need for predictive tools to facilitate building design which would mitigate the effects of under-ventilated fires and allow appropriate fire-fighting strategies to be evaluated. Such predictive tools, supported by validation from laboratory data, would also provide a safe and relatively inexpensive method for extending findings into large building spaces.
Entitled FireNET, the project gathered and built upon the best numerical and experimental methods available in Europe. Dr Siaka Dembele supported Professor Wen in supervising a number of researchers at Kingston University as part of the project. Sergio Ferraris conducted his PhD under FireNET focusing on developing large eddy simulation (LES) techniques for the partially premixed combustion in backdraft; this can develop from fires of either ordinary combustibles or ignitable liquids that, after burning for a period of time in an enclosure, become oxygen starved but yet continue to generate a fuel-rich environment. Ioana Magda later joined the project and worked alongside Ferraris to further modify the model to account for the effect of watermist injection on modifying the flame speed and mitigating the backdraft.
Ricardo Rosario conducted his PhD under FireNET and focussed on the response of glazing in fires. Sponsored by Pilkington Glass (£40,500), Rosario provided a prediction of the initial cracking of glass in fire scenarios. To achieve this, he developed a model that linked varying glass temperatures with data on edge-strength probability provided by Pilkington Research and Development. The model developed within CFES took into account the variation in glass properties by using wavelengths, and calculated heat transfer within the body of the glass by using three-dimensional, rather than onedimensional data – something no other approach has achieved.
Findings from the project provided technical backing for the Department for Communities and Local Government's ‘Review of the Interaction between Operational Fire Fighting Procedures and Building Design', which included a literature review on ‘Firefighting in Under-ventilated Compartments'. The government department subsequently commissioned the Building Research Establishment (BRE) to carry out a series of fire tests in the Royal Navy's Trials and Evaluation Unit and Kingston University to conduct computer modelling to examine the conditions that occur when vents are opened in a basement containing an under-ventilated fire.
The review was carried out for the Building Disaster Assessment Group, established to consider the issues for fire authorities and their fire and rescue services as highlighted by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre, 11 September 2001. The project demonstrates how world-leading expertise from the Centre at Kingston has been transferred into design, policy and practice to improve public safety.
Aiding mineral and hydrocarbon exploration
Kingston University's Centre for Earth and Environmental Science Research (CEESR) works closely with industry. Knowledge generated by the Centre and the expertise of its members has been applied by numerous industry professionals concerned with mineral/hydrocarbon exploration and gemmology. Read more.
The Centre's research on fluid inclusions in minerals is particularly noteworthy. The focus has been the development of methods and protocols for the routine characterisation and analysis of fluid inclusions, which represent tiny trapped portions of fluids responsible for mineral growth and recystallisation. Research by Professors Andy Rankin and Peter Treloar has shown how it is possible to distinguish between rocks and minerals from different geological environments on the basis of distinctive features of their fluid inclusion populations.
Rankin pioneered the technique of cracking open fluid inclusions so that daughter minerals can be identified using the scanning electron microscope. He also pioneered the use of fluid inclusion mapping as a tool in mineral exploration geology. This opened up a remarkable possibility that exploration geologists can collect quartz veins in the field and look at their fluid inclusion chemistry to determine not just whether they are barren or not, but to add them to maps of fluid chemistries and daughter inclusions to determine a grid (matrix) of mineral potential. As an exploration tool, this is remarkably powerful. Subsequently, this knowledge and expertise (together with associated expertise in mineral characterisation, largely through electron microscopy and micro-analysis) has been taken up and applied by professionals and organisations involved with mineral and hydrocarbon exploration and gemmology.
The Centre has developed and run five successful international CPD courses at Kingston for gemmologists, including those from established gem-testing labs worldwide. This has been supported by provision of analytical services for gem and inclusion identification for gemmologists (via KuMicro).
The Centre has established strong collaborative links with Randgold Resources (a FTSE100 company) involving knowledge transfer and the development of integrated fluid inclusion, mineralogical and geological methods in mineral exploration in West Africa. This has involved Fellowships and MSc by research opportunities for four Randgold staff; the provision of CPD courses in Africa by Kingston University staff for Randgold junior geologists; and research contracts and full funding for five research students (totalling c. £250K). Petroleum geologists at the Venezuelan National Oil Company (PDVSA) have also benefitted from short courses on protocols of fluid inclusion analysis, electron microscopy and micro-analysis.
CEESR is working with the Gemmological Association of Great Britain to develop the use of hand-held portable analytical instruments, including laser Raman, X-ray Fluorescence and FT-IR spectroscopy. These analytical protocols are key to underpinning public credibility in the gem and jewellery industry, which is worth billions of pounds to the UK economy. Such work has underpinned the development of Kingston University's unique degree course in Gemmology and Applied Mineralogy.