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A social practice perspective on future water demand challenges in England 2040 and 2050.

   Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering

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  Dr Claire Hoolohan, Dr A Browne  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Co-funded by Northumbrian Water Group (NWG), this project supports the improvement of the company’s water efficiency strategy and the assumptions that underpin water industry demand forecasting. The successful candidate will conduct a mixed method study to understand how and why water demand is changing in the UK, and how this compares to existing expectations and assumption.

The project aims to understand how societal trends (like working from home, changes in the UK economy, changing meanings of selfcare and wellbeing, hyper-cleanliness, increasing environmental awareness, and emergence of new services) affect water demand in water stressed regions. It is well recognised that household consumption is affected by individuals’ commitments to, for example, work, leisure, and care (Watson et al., 2021), and that the industrial character of the UK economy affects how much water is needed, and where. However, how these will change in future, how they will affect demand and what this implies for forecasting are vital questions for managing water scarcity. In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed important questions about how water is used for domestic purposes (like showering and cleaning) outside the home – with intriguing implications for the future of demand both in residential and non-residential settings.

Research objectives

·        Review of academic ‘futures’ literature and industry forecasting and scenario research to characterise expectations and assumptions commonly made about demand in different settings (e.g. residential, industrial, service economy).

·        Either:

o  Identification of case studies to understand how and why patterns of water use are changing in different settings.


o  Design of a holistic method to examine evolution of water use and contrary developments.

·        Development and testing of future demand-focussed scenarios (using a participatory method with industry partners).

·        Backcasting approach to understand what would enable and prevent future water targets being met (e.g. Northumbrian Waters targets of 118 litres/person/day by 2040, and 110 by 2050).


In addition to an academic thesis and journal papers (2), this project will deliver:

·        Interim reports (3 monthly) to share with project supervision team (UoM and NWG) and advisory team (anticipated to include a relevant industry and policy partners).

·        Presentation at key academic and industry conferences (e.g. International Water Association Annual Conference, Waterwise Annual Conference)

·        Critical analysis of existing future water studies.

·        Development and testing of demand-led scenarios.

·        At least one intervention designed, piloted, and evaluated.

·        Contributions to evidence base on domestic demand to inform water sector policy and regulation. For example, contributions to the Water Resource Management Plan to highlight long term developments and critical development of Market Transformation Reports and/or equivalents to inform micro-component modelling.

The successful candidate will benefit from being part of both the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformation, two world-leading centres for interdisciplinary climate change research. The successful candidate will have access to unrivalled specialist expertise and opportunities to develop transferable skills and enhance their future employability. In addition, the University of Manchester offers an extensive training and development package to support the effective completion of a PhD.

Candidates should have a good first degree in geography, design, sociology, business or other relevant social science subject. Candidates must also have good written and analytical skills and a strong interest in sustainability practice and policy. A demonstrable knowledge of qualitative and quantitative research methods is essential, and experience with mixed method research desirable. Educational, project or work experience relating to policy and planning, futures studies (relating to consumption/demand) and water governance Is desirable. Evidence of project management and collaborative research is also desirable.

Additional University of Manchester entry requirements for PhD research degrees can be found at:

Candidate will start January 2023. Please send a CV and cover letter to [Email Address Removed] before making a full application through the University of Manchester.

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. We know that diversity strengthens our research community, leading to enhanced research creativity, productivity and quality, and societal and economic impact. We actively encourage applicants from diverse career paths and backgrounds and from all sections of the community, regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation and transgender status.

We also support applications from those returning from a career break or other roles. We consider offering flexible study arrangements (including part-time: 50%, 60% or 80%, depending on the project/funder). 

Funding Notes

This PhD is co-funded by the University of Manchester and Northumbrian Water Group. This is a 3.5 year studentship to start in January 2023 that will cover fees at the Home rate and provide a tax-free stipend at the standard UKRI rate (£17,668 in 2022-23). EU students who hold settled or pre-settled status and meet the residency requirements for Home fee status are very welcome to apply.

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