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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 Alison Browne  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Do you want to make a real difference to society and the environment? In this PhD, co-funded by the University of Manchester and Northumbrian Water, you will help to improve the company’s water efficiency strategy and the assumptions that underpin water industry demand forecasting. The successful candidate will work with Northumbrian Water, who serve who 4.4million people, to conduct a mixed-methods to investigate how and why water demand is changing in the UK, and how this compares to existing expectations and assumption. Changing patterns of demand, climate change, and environmental policies present increasingly complex challenges for UK water resources and this PhD will help to ensure water resource management plans are robust and sustainable.

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:

·        Quarterly progress reports for the project supervisors (UoM and NWG) and advisory team (anticipated to include a relevant industry and policy partners).

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

·        Critical analysis of existing future water studies.

·        Development and testing of demand-led scenarios.

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

·        Contribute to evidence base on domestic demand to inform water sector policy and regulation (e.g. Water Resource Management Plan and Market Transformation Reports).

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. They 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.

Academic entry requirements: an undergraduate degree at 2:1 or above and Masters award at Merit level in a discipline directly relevant to the PhD (e.g. Geography, Sociology, Design or Business), or equivalent international qualifications.

Candidates will be expected to demonstrate evidence of 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:

Before submitting an application, please send your CV along with details of your interest in the project and previous experience to [Email Address Removed].

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). 

Business & Management (5) Engineering (12) Geography (17) Politics & Government (30) Sociology (32)

Funding Notes

This PhD is co-funded by the University of Manchester and Northumbrian Water Group. This is a 3.5 year studentship 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. Our entry points are in April, July and September, and candidates must start by September 2023 at the latest

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