Our flagship report, the POSTnote, is a four-page briefing reviewing emerging areas of research.

Distance learning

Distance learning is a way of studying without the learner being physically present in a classroom. It can be fully remote or ‘blended’ with in-person learning and is now usually underpinned by the use of digital technologies and resources. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a rapid switch to distance learning. This POSTnote provides an overview of current trends in distance learning, evidence on key challenges and opportunities and potential future developments.

Distance learning

Food and drink reformulation to reduce fat, sugar and salt

What does it mean to reformulate food and drinks? How does it support healthier diets and lead to public health benefits? This POSTnote gives an overview of the most recent food and drink reformulation policies in the UK, the evidence on public health benefits and the effectiveness of different policies. It also explores challenges and opportunities for reformulation and describes some of the complementary approaches to improve public health.

Food and drink reformulation to reduce fat, sugar and salt

AI and healthcare

There are various applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in healthcare, such as helping clinicians to make decisions, monitoring patient health, and automating routine administrative tasks. This POSTnote gives an overview of these uses, and their potential impacts on the cost and quality of healthcare, and on the workforce. It summarises the challenges to wider adoption of AI in healthcare, including those relating to safety, privacy, data-sharing, trust, accountability and health inequalities. It also outlines some of the regulations relevant to AI, and how these may change. As healthcare is a devolved issue, policies on healthcare AI differ across the UK. This POSTnote focusses on regulations and policies relevant to England.

AI and healthcare
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    Woodland creation

    Large-scale woodland creation is being promoted internationally to mitigate climate change. It can also supply other benefits, such as improving biodiversity, air and water quality. This POSTnote summarises key factors influencing how much carbon is taken up by woodland, the different objectives of woodland creation, constraints to increasing UK tree cover and different finance options.

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    Screen use and health in young people

    Devices with screens include game consoles, laptops and televisions. Screen use refers to activities undertaken on such devices and the time spent on them. Children’s screen use has increased over the past decade. Policy-makers and parents have expressed concerns about possible effects of screen use on children/young people’s development and health. This POSTnote provides an overview of how children/young people use screens, the opportunities and risks of this use, evidence on the possible effects on health and development, and evidence on ways to support healthy screen use.

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    Mental health impacts of COVID-19 on NHS staff

    Media headlines have predicted an increase in mental ill health among NHS staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. This POSTnote gives an overview of the scale and quality of current evidence on the mental health and well-being of NHS staff before and during the pandemic. It also discusses how staff are supported and the options for introducing other effective interventions as the pandemic continues.

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    Interpretable machine learning

    Machine learning (ML, a type of artificial intelligence) is increasingly being used to support decision making in a variety of applications including recruitment and clinical diagnoses. While ML has many advantages, there are concerns that in some cases it may not be possible to explain completely how its outputs have been produced. This POSTnote gives an overview of ML and its role in decision-making. It examines the challenges of understanding how a complex ML system has reached its output, and some of the technical approaches to making ML easier to interpret. It also gives a brief overview of some of the proposed tools for making ML systems more accountable.

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    Heat networks

    A heat network provides heating and hot water to an apartment, commercial site or series of buildings close together. It can also provide cooling. There is interest in using them to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from UK buildings. This POSTnote looks at the technology of heat networks and their sources of heat. It looks at considerations when building new networks. It also outlines a potential future market framework.

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    Digital Sequence Information

    Evolving life sciences and agricultural research approaches may have a decreasing need to access physical resources in future, such as plant seeds or viral material. Information and genetic data may be all that is required for commercial exploitation of biological resources. This POSTnote summarises the challenge this creates for international discussions on the governance of genetic resources and the possible options for addressing these.

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    Remote sensing and machine learning

    There is increasing interest in using machine learning to automatically analyse remote sensing data and increase our understanding of complex environmental systems. While there are benefits from this approach, there are also some barriers to its use. This POSTnote examines the value of these approaches, and the technical and ethical challenges for wider implementation.

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    A resilient UK food system

    The food system underpins many aspects of our society. It feeds us and shapes the economic, social and natural environments that we live in. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of resilience in the food system. This POSTnote defines resilience and why it is needed, describes what a more resilient UK food system would look like and explores possible ways of achieving this.

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    Marine renewables

    Marine renewables are technologies that generate electricity from tide and wave motion. They produce electricity without greenhouse gases, and could provide economic benefits for the UK. However, the technologies have been slow to develop, despite previous projections of growth. This POSTnote examines the causes of this delay and how the sector might develop.