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Improving the consideration of uncertainty in environmental impact assessment (BONDA1U19SF)

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

Project Description

The effectiveness of environmental impact assessment (EIA) as a decision-support tool is the focus of debate within the EIA research field (Bond et al., 2014). A fundamental challenge is that while EIA aims to predict the outcomes of a project, and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) the outcomes of plan or policy interventions, such predictions entail considerable uncertainty. This is troublesome for decision-makers.

Decision-making typically draws upon what has been termed ‘normal’ science, which involves the application of established problem-solving techniques and the transfer of objective scientific knowledge into policy (Bond et al., 2015). However, this approach is not effective when dealing with problems where uncertainty and/or decision stakes are high (for example, climate change) and where criteria other than those of objective science drive policy-making.

Funtowicz and Ravetz (1994a; 1994b) have proposed an alternative model for problem-solving in such situations, which they label ‘post-normal science’ and which engages stakeholders in an ‘extended peer community’. This research aims to identify how ‘post-normal’ EIA and SEA might work in practice.

This PhD project will employ case studies and engagement with stakeholders (using interviews and focus groups) to develop and validate post-normal approaches to EIA and/or SEA that are capable of accommodating the uncertainty associated with prediction.

You will develop research skills in:
• Literature review and synthesis
• Systematic document analysis
• Focus group methods
• Interview techniques
• Competence in qualitative and quantitative data analysis software, including NVivo and R
• Theory development
You will be a member of the multidisciplinary Science, Society and Sustainability (3S) research group ( within the School of Environmental Sciences.

UK candidates who are eligible for Research Council studentships and who develop their own research proposals on this topic are able to apply for ESRC funding for 2019/20 entry. Please see for more information and contact Alan Bond () if you are eligible.

For more information on the supervisor for this project, please go here:

Type of programme: PhD

Project start date: October 2019

Mode of study: Full time

Entry requirements: Acceptable first degree - Environmental Sciences; Geography; Social Sciences; Planning.
The standard minimum entry requirement is 2:1.

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) Bond, A, J Pope, A Morrison-Saunders, F Retief and J Gunn (2014), "Impact Assessment: eroding benefits through streamlining?", Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 45, pages 46-53.

ii) Bond, A, A Morrison-Saunders, J A E Gunn, J Pope and F Retief (2015), "Managing uncertainty, ambiguity and ignorance in impact assessment by embedding evolutionary resilience, participatory modelling and adaptive management", Journal of Environmental Management, 151, pages 97-104.

iii) Funtowicz S, Ravetz JR. Emergent complex systems. Futures 1994a;26:568-582.

ii) Funtowicz SO, Ravetz JR. Uncertainty, complexity and post-normal science. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 1994b;13:1881-1885.

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