It is essential that government zero-carbon commitments rest on a bedrock of professional practice and culture that effectively ensures that commitments are both feasible and ambitious. This PhD focuses on exploring the successes of locally and regionally focused sustainability (policy) programmes. What coalitions of stakeholders have been brought together and with what effects? What roles have governments played versus private sector actors? What are the assumed versus experienced roles of Small to Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), in relation to dominant incumbents? How do explicit public promises, for example in the form of policy documents, compare to the behind-the-scenes realities of local authority policy work? How do power dynamics affect progress? These are indicative questions only and we would encourage applicants to bring their own ideas, providing that there is an interest in learning from successful local attempts to be truly ambitious sustainability transition ‘frontrunners’.
We expect the core of the PhD to focus on a significant number of interviews with those in local authorities, both within the UK and across the EU. These interviews will be enabled by ARU Global Sustainability Institute’s coordination of the €5m SHARED GREEN DEAL project, which works closely with local authorities and NGOs across the EU in delivering ‘social experiments’ across 24 locations; as well as its coordination of the €3m SSH CENTRE, which will work with the Energy Cities network to establish new climate/energy/mobility ‘hubs’ for EU researcher and local policy communities to exchange Social Sciences and Humanities related knowledge. These interviews represent a unique networking opportunity for a PhD researcher to establish links with policymakers and practitioners.
The insights from such qualitative interviews will then be used to create a set of recommendations, which will be used as a discussion prompt with key teams and managers in Essex County Council. Herein, reflections could cover, for example: what sorts of institutional changes would be required to drive ambitious local change for sustainability? How may current policy commitments complement or conflict? What is non-negotiable? What role might research evidence and cross-stakeholder learning play in enabling the potential implementation of such recommendations? How can frontrunning experiences from other local governments be effectively utilised for Essex? Indeed, this PhD represents a fantastic opportunity to enhance good decision-making at the heart of local government, and thus working closely to learn the key lessons and their applicability will be key throughout.
A supervisory team and reference group will deliver crucial added value and participation, and transdisciplinary insight and direction. Essex County Council’s senior management will be present in the PhD’s supervisory team and unique access to Essex County Council’s teams and networks will be afforded. This PhD follows on from another currently-funded ARU PhD that is also in partnership with Essex County Council; it focuses on sustainability transformations and the possibilities of novel community-led multi-stakeholder engagement approaches in Essex.
The successful candidate will have a social science background at ideally the Masters level (e.g. Human Geography, Sociology, Science & Technology Studies, Innovation Studies, Management, Environmental Social Sciences, Sustainability Studies). Experience of collecting and analysing qualitative data will be favoured.
To apply, please complete the application form available from the following website:
Please ensure the reference ‘PhD Studentship: Learning from success: the ‘frontrunning’ experiences of low-carbon energy transformations in local government’ is clearly stated on the application form, under the title ‘Outline of your proposed research’. Within this section of the application form, applicants should include a 500-word outline of the skills that they would bring to this research project.