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  Hydro Nation Scholars Programme 2024 - Transforming to a water-resilient future: Place-based wastewater innovation pathways

   Hydro Nation Scholars Programme

  , Dr D Valero, Dr K Helwig  Wednesday, January 10, 2024  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

In Scotland, the Place Principle embodies collective purpose, encouraging and facilitating collaborative, participative approaches to grow resilience and wellbeing in our communities. Planning and working together to create sustainable local economies and manage local assets drives growth and empowers resilient local communities. Water management, and in particular wastewater management, is an emerging issue of importance in many places. Where water systems are owned and managed by communities, these water systems can suffer from a variety of increasing challenges. And yet, whilst technological solutions are emerging apace which could support and resolve local wastewater issues, recent research has found that communities cannot easily access the knowledge and innovations necessary to ensure efficient sustainable local wastewater systems.

There is a pressing need for evidence-based pathways to end the current enduring disconnection between ‘bottom-up’ identified wastewater challenges and the technological innovations that can resolve them. Such pathways would not only increase place-based community engagement in wastewater management, but also make local wastewater ecosystems, including their owners, users and the wider local environment, more resilient in the face of shocks.

Some Scottish communities are potentially increasing their vulnerability to climate change impacts as they do not have the knowledge and understanding to engage with the wider water ecosystem in order to develop innovative place-based solutions to localised wastewater challenges. The adoption of innovations is slow in the water sector, and has been estimated to typically take around 14 years. However, there is a pressing need amongst a number of communities in Scotland to consider adopting wastewater innovations to replace or support currently ageing systems transferred to their collective ownership under the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. These place-based water management systems are often informal, volunteer-managed, and focused on historical practices. Without sustainable wastewater management in such places, the community cannot be considered water resilient. Therefore, to ensure community water resilience through the adoption of sustainable wastewater innovations, a greater understanding is needed of place-based wastewater processes, infrastructure, wastewater management, and engagement with other water stakeholders.

This transdisciplinary PhD project integrates social science and technological wastewater innovation to investigate innovative low-cost approaches that address the current gap between communities and innovative technological solutions. The project will use a Theory of Change (ToC) approach to co-create and evaluate evidence-based pathways guiding communities towards greater awareness and easier adoption of social and technological innovations. This approach will not only present causal linkages and logical relationships, but outline these chronologically in short-term and medium-terms outputs, and longer-term outcomes. Project results will then be summarised in an actionable and accessible logic model for stakeholders. This logic model intends to support the integration of innovative water technologies and wastewater engagement and ensure local water systems and services are more effective, efficient and resilient to climate change.

Aims and objectives

This project aims to investigate and support the sustainable local adoption of social and technological innovations through developing new pathways of place-based systems, collaborations, and actions. This will not only ensure efficient, effective local wastewater management, but also build water resilient communities ready to cope with climate change impacts. Specific objectives are:

  • To provide a state-of-the art operational framework for exploring community-based innovation in wastewater management.
  • To identify and operationalize pathways to engaging communities with technological and social innovations in wastewater management using a place-sensitive approach.


The data collection will adopt a three-stage approach, through which each phase of data collection and analysis builds insights from previous phases to create new data and knowledge. Selected place-based case studies will explore the implementation of innovation in wastewater management in Scottish communities using the following methods:

  • A systematic review of related international academic literature;
  • Participatory workshops with communities and other stakeholders;
  • Qualitative interviews with communities and other stakeholders;
  • Questionnaires for businesses developing wastewater innovations;
  • Reflective workshops to discuss project findings.

 Applicants are strongly advised to make an informal enquiry about the PhD to the primary supervisor well before the final submission deadline.

Applicants must send a completed Hydro Nation Scholarship application form and their Curriculum Vitae to Dr Fiona Henderson by the final submission deadline of 10th January 2024.

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Biological Sciences (4) Engineering (12) Environmental Sciences (13)

Funding Notes

The Hydro Nation Scholars Programme is an open competition for PhD Scholars to undertake approved projects, hosted within Scottish Universities and Research Institutes. This project will be hosted by Glasgow Caledonian University. Full funding is available from the Scottish Government (to host institutions via the Scottish Funding Council). The funding available will be in line with the UKRI doctoral stipend levels and indicative fees. Applicants should have a first-class honours degree in a relevant subject or a 2.1 honours degree plus Masters (or equivalent). Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed on 7th or 8th February 2024

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