To ensure Cranfield's research continues to be focused on identifying and meeting the challenges of today and tomorrow, we have identified five cross-cutting discipline research areas where a critical mass of capability and expertise is still emerging across the academic community. Demand for knowledge and skills in these capability areas is growing, with the potential for significant impact in both academic and stakeholder arenas. Cranfield is well positioned to develop and deliver a knowledge base in the research interests identified below and has already made great strides in supporting appropriate skills development, attracting research funding, and publishing in academic and practitioner fora.

This can be demonstrated by our recent involvement in a Guardian technology and leadership roundtable event, which explored the relationship between technology change and how leaders understand and exploit the challenges and opportunities this poses.

Big Data

The Big Data ‘problem’ is that many organisations, systems and processes are generating vast volumes of traditional and new forms of complex, unstructured data but are unable to manage, interrogate, analyse, and draw meaning from these datasets. In addition, there are implications for the privacy and security of the data, the ability to store and file it for easy access, and the ongoing maintenance and curation of the data long term. 

Cranfield research and expertise is already tackling these issues in a multi-disciplinary way and in collaboration with national and international stakeholders. For example, we have a long-standing expertise in global datasets relevant to environmental change and the integration of multi-spectral satellite imagery, at different spatial resolutions, for crop survey design and crop estimates (e.g. we are core partner in the new Agri-EPI Centre). From a different discipline perspective, we are exploring complex infrastructure systems and the design and representation of behaviours within socio-economic systems, helping to relate data trends with behaviour changes and support improved decision making. 

Cranfield also delivers training to develop the next generation of researchers, for example, Big Data and Analytics for Defence and Security, Big Data Marketing Analytics, Spatial Data and the Internet, Cyber Security and Information Assurance, and the Centre for Doctoral Training focused on Data, Risk and Environmental Analytical Methods. Our facilities include the Cranfield Management Research Institute, a £4.5 million state-of-the-art centre for management research activities, our High Performance Computing ‘Astral’ service and GRID system, a Big Data Virtual Reality visualisation facility, and the Cranfield World Soil Survey Archive and Catalogue

Cranfield aims to continue developing our expertise in Big Data and working with a variety of organisations to tailor our knowledge and training to ensure our approach can truly make a difference.

Circular economy

The circular economy is widely regarded as the most dominant trend for environmentally responsible and innovative businesses. Cranfield is leading thinking in the circular economy through our research and teaching.

We are already one of six circular economy ‘Pioneer Universities’ in the world, working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and we have hosted successful summer schools and hackathons with businesses exploring the potential of this area. In 2016, we launched the world’s first MSc in the Circular Economy which will allow us to build the skills-base and to make the circular economy an industrial reality.

Our research agenda across the University responds to the challenges of an emerging and closed loop economy – the focus is on the development of tools, methods, materials, technology and innovative ways of doing business across the disciplines of design, engineering, environmental science and management.

A key research programme being led by Cranfield is RECODE, which is an EPSRC-funded Network in Consumer Goods, Big Data and Re-Distributed Manufacturing (RECODE), that has been created to develop an active and engaged community of academics, industrial practitioners, policy makers and end users. The programme aims to identify, test and evaluate a multi-disciplinary vision and research agenda associated with the application of Big Data in the transition towards a re-distributed manufacturing model for consumer goods. RECODE is being led by an 'Academic Core' consisting of Cranfield, Cambridge, Brunel, Manchester and Teesside Universities and an industrial 'Steering Group' which includes a number of CE100 members.

Risk and resilience

Managing risk and developing resilience is critical to the way organisations, industry, government, the environment and nations maintain their positions and develop sustainably in the face of change, competition, shocks and new opportunities. Such thinking and practice is woven into all our research and enables us to support a whole range of stakeholders in different ways as well as developing an innovative knowledge base that helps drive academic thinking. 

The Institute for Resilient Futures hosts unique expertise in risk and strategic foresight, specialising in managing uncertainty during decision-making. Its risk capability includes a range of risk analysis and management tools, with a foresight capability that assesses emerging risks and opportunities using methods such as horizon scanning and scenario building. Our work with UK Government agencies has informed government policy development and practice (e.g. authoring the ‘UK Government Guidelines on Environmental Risk Assessment and Management’ and informing the CSA’s landmark report ‘Innovation: Managing Risk, Not Avoiding It’), and led risk governance in the international water utility sector, winning us a prestigious International Water Association Project Innovation Award. 

A cross-community interest is in carbon, climate adaptation, and environmental risk and resilience. Cranfield’s research in climate change centres on assessing the impacts of change rather than developing climate models per se. It compares how the real world will react to the changes forecast by different models and assumptions, the main sensitivities and tipping points, and how to determine and implement the best adaption pathways in the face of substantial uncertainty. The impact of climate change on health through the direct effects of temperature on people as well as indirectly through changing environmental systems (natural and built) is of current interest too. 

Additionally, Cranfield has expertise in engineering and critical infrastructure resilience supporting the development of models that represent complex real world scenarios, the interdependency of complex systems, and the uncertainty associated with future extreme threats to support government, practitioners and academia. Cranfield have also long championed the application of human factors research (safety cultures and behaviours) in the aerospace sector, through long-standing experience with Aircraft Cabin Evacuation trials on full scale aircraft held at Cranfield, with implications for in cabin design and safety behaviours in flight. Uniquely in the UK, Cranfield hosts industrial-scale, national facilities for in situ engineering integrity testing, including the Crash Impact Centre (one of only three FIA approved test centres in the world); the Aerospace Integration Research Centre (a new £35m facility with Airbus and Rolls-Royce); an airport (the only UK university to own and operate one); a National Wind Tunnel Facility (to identify efficiencies for transportation companies); and a secure site at the Defence Academy of the UK (conducting classified research for government and industry). 

Other facilities include quality analytical laboratories allowing the measurement of chemicals, biomarkers and gases in a wide range of media including air, dusts, soils, breath and biological samples, and chromatography and spectrometry investments to assess human exposure levels.

Technology and leadership

Technology is a core part of Cranfield’s mission and is key to enabling transformational research that meets the needs of industry, government and wider society. In addition to a unique, distinctive focus on technology research embedded within the majority of our research themes and in delivering real world solutions, Cranfield also recognises it has a role to play in supporting and developing technology leaders within the UK and beyond. 

Successful technology companies thrive on the ability to blend technology with strategic leadership, yet this combination is often hard to foster in individuals and within businesses. At Cranfield we bring together the best of technological capability in engineering, manufacturing and science with the best in strategic leadership through our world-renowned Cranfield School of Management. For example, our MSc in Manufacturing Technology and Management develops professionals with the ability to transform knowledge into action, providing students with the breadth of both technical and business skills to make a real impact in their chosen career. 

Cranfield School of Management’s customised programmes help businesses with technology at their heart find the answers in how to develop the next generation of technology leaders by determining and supporting the right mix of skills, strategies and techniques in their workforce. We therefore guide businesses, built by technologists, on how to introduce and develop business and leadership skills without losing sight of their core technology functions.

Transforming developing countries

Cranfield’s mission is to be a global leader in education and transformational research in technology and management. However, we also consider our role in transforming global agendas for social good an important part of this mission and have decades of expertise in supporting and empowering under-developed countries to utilise research to stimulate their economies, furthering sustainable development and improving the welfare of the host population.

Supporting these countries is important on a global scale as this leads to:

  • Improved host economies that are sustainable and help drive national and global markets, spending power and competition;
  • Enhanced welfare and quality of life of workers and the general public within each country;
  • Enabling countries to identify and deliver solutions to specific host challenges;
  • Strengthened capacity for research and innovation, both within the UK and developing countries;
  • Informing and helping to drive the knowledge base and the application of academic and technology research;
  • Allowing true knowledge exchange to occur between UK and international researchers, among academics, governments, industry and the public.

Cranfield has a long history of working with countries such as Africa, Brazil, China and India across a variety of disciplines and activity types. Research activities use our established international networks of industrial organisations, research centres and other agencies to collaboratively deliver projects focused on tea production, water and agriculture, irrigation and soil science, and ecosystems. For example, Cranfield is leading a project investigating the hydro-social and environmental impacts of sugarcane expansion in Sub-Saharan Africa funded by the Belmont Forum, a consortium comprising the world’s major funders of global environmental change research, seeking to use this research to encourage sustainability using international resources. Our work on the Waterless Toilet, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as part of our deep expertise in water and sanitation was recognised by the award of the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education in 2016.

Cranfield is also utilising its capabilities in informatics expertise to support commodity market analysis (e.g. the Cranfield World Soil Survey Archive and Catalogue), corporate sustainability and governance to aid organisational resilience and policy making (e.g. through our Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility) and making significant contributions to innovation and entrepreneurship agendas (e.g. via our Bettany Centre and business support programmes) to help individuals meet their aspirations for developing new businesses, within these countries. Cranfield, therefore, remains committed to supporting the transformation of countries around the world using our expertise and knowledge in partnership and continues to find new ways to work with developing countries.