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Social network assessment tools: valuing and measuring their place in health and social care research with older people (WhittyJ-PolandFU19SF)

Project Description

Crossing health and social science disciplines this PhD will critically evaluate the utility of a social network tool within current modes of social connectedness, exploring whether the quality and obligated nature of the social connection matters and the use of social network tools within health economic evaluations.

Understanding social networks is important if we are to understand the ways in which older people remain socially connected within their communities. Health and social care interventions increasingly have a focus on enabling those with complex health needs to remain living at home. Types and intensity of community relationships and connections have transformed in recent years with the increased use of information technology to remain connected and supported. A social network tool is now needed which measures and typifies peoples’ social connections and identifies which types of social networks are more likely to enhance social inclusion.

The research can be shaped to suit the interest of the successful candidate, therefore it would be applicable to people with an academic background in either health economics or health and social care related research. The supervisory team (Professors Whitty and Poland and Dr Birt) reflect the cross-disciplinary nature of the work. Whitty has expertise in the development of outcome measures and in priority setting in health and social care (e.g. Weale et al 2016; Whitty et al. 2014;McMillan et al. 2014). Poland has expertise in social and community research including the importance of social networks for social inclusion (Charlesworth et al 2007; Wilson et al., 2008).

The PhD will use a variety of research methods: systematic reviewing to identify social network tools, co-production with lay people to develop or revise a social network tool, qualitative data collection to understand its utility and preliminary testing to quantify the tools utility in health economic evaluation.

The PhD will be affiliated with the Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) East of England.

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

This is a PhD programme.

The start date of the project is 1 April 2020 or 1 July 2020.

The mode of study is full-time. The studentship length is 3 years period of study with 1 year period of registration.

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

Entry requirements:

Acceptable first degree in health and social care related studies, health economics, psychology, medical sociology.

The standard minimum entry requirement is 2:1.

Master's-level qualification with some research experience in health or social care related area.


i) Charlesworth, G., Tzimoula, X., Higgs, P., Poland, F. (2007) "Social networks, befriending and support for family carers of people with dementia", Quality in Ageing and Older Adults, Vol. 8 Issue: 2, pp.37-44, https://

ii) Wilson, E, Thalanany, M, Shepstone, L, Charlesworth, G, Poland, F, Harvey, I, Price, D, Reynolds, S, Mugford, M (2008) Befriending carers of people with dementia: a cost utility analysis. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, ( DOI: 10.1002/gps.2164

iii) Weale, A., Kieslich, K., Littlejohns, P., Tugendhaft, A., Tumilty, E., Weerasuriya, K. and Whitty, JA. Introduction: Priority Setting, Equitable Access and Public Involvement in Health Care. Journal of Health Organization and Management 2016;30(5): 736-750

iv) Whitty JA, Ratcliffe J, Chen G, Scuffham PA. Australian Public Preferences for the Funding of New Health Technologies: A Comparison of Discrete Choice and Profile Case Best Worst Scaling Methods. Med Dec Making 2014; 34(5):638-654, DOI: 10.1177/0272989X14526640

v) McMillan SS, Kelly F, Sav A, Kendall E, King MA, Whitty JA, Wheeler AJ. Using the nominal group technique: How to analyse across multiple groups. Health Services and Outcomes Research Methodology 2014; 14:92-108

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