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Digital connections: Exploring the role of community-led digital connection in combatting isolation among rural elderly populations

School of Health in Social Science

Edinburgh United Kingdom Adult Nursing Epidemiology Other Other Other Social Work

About the Project

The Advanced Care Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh is a new £20m interdisciplinary research collaboration aiming to transform later life with person centred integrated care

The vision of the ACRC is to play a vital role in addressing the Grand Challenge of ageing by transformational research that will support the functional ability of people in later life so they can contribute to their own welfare for longer. With fresh and diverse thinking across interdisciplinary perspectives our academy students will work to creatively embed deep understanding, data science, artificial intelligence, assistive technologies and robotics into systems of health and social care supporting the independence, dignity and quality-of-life of people living in their own homes and in supported care environments.

The ACRC Academy will equip future leaders to drive society’s response to the challenges of later life care provision; a problem which is growing in scale, complexity and urgency. Our alumni will become leaders in across a diverse range of pioneering and influential roles in the public, private and third sectors. 


NHS-provided services are rapidly moving towards digital provision of care (e.g. NHS Near Me in the Scottish NHS), with Covid-19 accelerating this shift. However, much innovative, tailored care provision in rural communities is provided by local community organisations.

This project will explore how community organisations in rural areas employ digital solutions to prevent and mitigate social isolation among elderly populations, and how elderly populations experience these.


The successful applicant will work with supervisors to develop a qualitative project which will:

  • Map community-led approaches to digital care for elderly populations across rural Scotland and north-east England.
  • Generate qualitative data with service providers regarding experiences, challenges and opportunities of digital care for elderly, rural populations
  • Co-produce data with service users exploring their experiences of using (or choosing not to use) digital forms of care/connection
  • Analyse interrelationships between experience, digital environments, and sociocultural contexts in order to inform effective community-led care innovations

The supervisory team bring expertise in sociology, social policy, qualitative and arts-based methods, with a particular focus on community engagement. Developing and using creative and arts-based approaches for this study will be strongly encouraged and supported. We will seek to draw on sociological theories of isolation and belonging, and centre lived experience, in order to understand what is lost, found, and what changes when connections are digitally mediated. 


Additional information:

The project will be co-supervised by Dr Chandler and Dr Stewart, and the successful applicant will additionally benefit from their wider networks, including the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships, where Dr Chandler is co-director, and the Centre for Biomedicine, Self and Society, where Dr Stewart co-directs the workstream Beyond Engagement. The work of each of these Research Centres is highly complementary to the ACRC, and will provide the applicant with additional scholarly communities through which to deepen and enhance their research profile and practice. 


Dr Chandler currently leads an innovative, qualitative mixed-methods programme of research on suicide (funded by the Wellcome Trust, and the Leverhulme Trust). This includes work focusing on understandings and responses to suicide in rural communities. More details here:

Dr Stewart’s previous research has addressed the role of communities in providing and coproducing innovative forms of care, including in rural populations. Her current research explores charitable contributions in the NHS, lived experience of health inequalities and the reform of primary care in Scotland.



Applicants should have some training/experience in social science (via undergraduate or other study).

Funding Notes

PhD's are fully funded with an above industry stipend for the full 4 year period.

The call is open to candidates of any nationality but funded places for overseas nationals will be strictly limited to 3 international students who can apply for the highly competitive ACRC Global Scholarship.

Application forms are now available here:
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Find more information on how to apply on the How to Apply section of our website:
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