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Democratic innovations: Assessing new approaches for mapping public involvement in controversial science and technology issues (CHILVERSJU19SF)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, May 31, 2019
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

Advances in science and technology have had profound effects on environment and society for good and bad. In the past few decades this had led to moves to democratize science and innovation, in making it more responsive and accountable to societal values and concerns, especially in areas of potentially controversial technologies. This is now seen as essential to shaping innovations for sustainability that meet social needs, draw on best available knowledge, meet conditions of public acceptability, and are implementable. To date, approaches to involving the public and societal concerns in decisions over controversial science and technology – such as GM crops, geoengineering of climate change, and fracking – have focused on inviting members of the public into discrete participatory fora or have depended on traditional social science approaches (e.g. surveys, focus groups). However, recent work in disciplines such as science and technology studies, geography and political theory has revealed the performative, constructed, partial and inherently uncertain nature of these forms of public representation (Chilvers and Kearnes, 2016). In response to this a major challenge in this field is to devise new approaches that are able to map across diverse forms of public involvement in science-related issues, and gather crucial forms of social intelligence for citizens and policy makers alike (Chilvers & Longhurst, 2016). Emerging approaches like digital humanities techniques, issue mapping, and forms of meta-analyses (e.g. Marres, 2012; Rodgers, 2013; Macnaghten and Chilvers, 2014) show much promise but have not yet been sufficiently developed and tested in real world settings.

In order to address this gap this PhD project aims to develop and evaluate an approach for mapping diverse forms of public involvement in areas of controversial science and technology.

To meet this aim the project has the following core objectives:
1. To review existing concepts and approaches for mapping diverse forms of public involvement in controversial areas of science and technology (in the disciplines of science and technology studies, geography, sociology and other social sciences) including methods such as issue mapping, digital humanities approaches, and forms of meta-analysis;
2. To develop a mapping approach on the basis of this review and in response to telephone interviews with key user communities in government (e.g. BEIS, Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre), industry (e.g. energy companies such as E.ON, through to social research companies like TNS-BMRB) and civil society organisations (e.g. involve, IAP2, New Economics Foundation, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace);
3. To apply the approach in the case of the fracking controversy in the UK (the proposed controversy context is fracking although the actual case will be defined by the interests of the student), through undertaking an issue mapping and developing visual representations of the results that are accessible to diverse user groups.
4. To evaluate the mapping approach, its potential value in informing decision-making, and possible future development through follow up face-to-face interviews with the aforementioned user groups in government, industry and civil society.

The PhD will build on and be directly linked to the work of two projects on which the main supervisor is PI, which form part of large UK Research Council investments in interdisciplinary energy research (namely the EPSRC Realising Transition Pathways consortium (2012-2016) and the UK Energy Research Centre Phase 3 (2014-2019)). The PhD stands to make a path breaking contribution to developing new approaches to better accounting for plural public values, visions and concerns in controversial areas of science and technology and to providing new forms of social intelligence for decision-support on a critical public issue (such as fracking).

The student undertaking this project will receive training in theories and methods of science and technology studies and participatory research approaches (through core Masters modules provided by the 3S Research Group in ENV), qualitative research methods (as part of core research methods training), and in digital humanities / mapping approaches (both through research training provision and direct training by members of the supervisory team).

More information:
For more information on the supervisor for this project, please visit:
Type of programme: PhD.  
Start date: October 2019 (The project may be available at an earlier start date of 1 April or 1 July 2019 but should be discussed with the primary supervisor in the first instance).
The mode of study: Full-time

Entry requirements:
Acceptable first degree: Social science discipline, geography, environmental science, science and technology studies (STS). Standard mini entry: 2:1

Please note: Applications are processed as soon as they are received and the project may be filled before the closing date, so early application is encouraged.

Funding Notes

This PhD project is offered on a self-funding basis. It is open to applicants with funding or those applying to funding sources. Details of tuition fees can be found at View Website.

A bench fee is also payable on top of the tuition fee to cover specialist equipment or laboratory costs required for the research. The amount charged annually will vary considerably depending on the nature of the project and applicants should contact the primary supervisor for further information about the fee associated with the project.


i) Chilvers, J. and Kearnes, M. (2016) Remaking Participation: Science, Environment and Emergent Publics. Abingdon: Routledge.
ii) Chilvers, J. & Longhurst, N. (2016) ‘Participation in transition(s): Reconceiving public engagements in energy transitions as co-produced, emergent and diverse’, Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning.
iii) Marres, N. (2012) Material Participation: Technology, the Environment and Everyday Publics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
iv) Rogers, R. (2013) Digital Methods, MIT Press.
v) Macnaghten, P. and Chilvers, J. (2014) ‘The future of science governance: Publics, policies, practices’, Environment and Planning C 32(3): 530–548.

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