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Citizens as sensors? Reconceptualising the role of people in modelling and monitoring flood risk (Advert Reference: RDF22/EE/GES/ROLLASON)

   Faculty of Engineering and Environment

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  Dr Ed Rollason  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Climate change is increasing the frequency and magnitude of flooding events, with flooding events affecting more people, more significantly each year. Recognising the inability of structural defences to protect areas at risk, authorities have increasingly moved towards ‘resilience’ based approaches, looking to embed at-risk citizens into the practices of flood management.

Despite this shift, research indicates that at-risk citizens continue to be perceived by risk management authorities as passive consumers of risk information, expected to react logically to flood risk maps and warning generated by experts. However, research has shown that embedding people into the practices of flood risk modelling and monitoring produces better and more nuanced understandings of risk, encourages public engagement with flood risk management, and encourages the delivery of a greater range of non-flood benefits from flood alleviation interventions. Many of these approaches have exploited the increasingly widespread public access to technology, such as high-resolution digital cameras, and the ability to share data through the web.

As climate change continues to increase the level of flood risk experienced globally, there is a clear need to develop robust and scalable practices of citizen-led knowledge creation which can embed citizens into the practices of flood management at all stages through the hazard cycle. This will enhance our understanding of flood risk before and during flooding events, particularly in complex and data sparse environments, encourage engagement with flood risk knowledge and preparedness, and facilitate the demonstration of wider benefits from flood risk interventions e.g. Nature Based Solutions.

This project will build on the existing research base by bringing together a transdisciplinary examination of the practices of flood risk management with the ‘citizens as sensors’ paradigm to explore how the integration of citizens as flood risk knowledge creators can generate new flood risk knowledges and impact on patterns of public engagement with flood risk. This work will build on existing work in this area, in particular the participatory co-creation work undertaken by Lane et al. (2011), and work on the integration of Volunteered Geographic Information into the validation of flood models carried out by Rollason et al. (2018), working together with practitioners and at-risk communities in co-creating new technical solutions to collecting, processing, and utilising citizen-derived data for enhancing our understanding of flood risk and the benefits of mitigation.

The project could deploy a broad range of methods including, but not limited to, participatory research approaches, Participatory GIS/VGI, Citizen Science, data analysis and processing, numerical modelling, and the project should look at the integration of these methods in new and innovative ways.

The successful student will have the opportunity to work together with a range of different stakeholders including at-risk communities, local authorities, the Environment Agency, Northumbrian Water Ltd, and The Wear Rivers Trust.

The Principal Supervisor for this project is Dr Ed Rollason.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF22/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 18 February 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Funding Notes

Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2021/22 full-time study this is £15,609 per year) and full tuition fees. UK and international (including EU) candidates may apply.
Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,365 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.
Please also read the full funding notes which include advice for international and part-time applicants.


Rollason, E., Bracken, L.J., Hardy, R.J., Large, A.R.G., 2018. The importance of volunteered geographic information for the validation of flood inundation models. Journal of Hydrology 562, 267–280.
Rollason, E., 2018. Re-evaluating participatory catchment management: Integrating mapping, modelling, and participatory action to deliver more effective risk management (Doctoral). Durham University.
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