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The role of information in determining user behaviours to enhance infrastructure resilience

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Saturday, March 28, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Infrastructure are socio-technical systems: they are comprised of (1) the technical, engineered side and (2) the social layer, that exchange stresses and strains leading at times to system failures. Resilience of such systems is demand- dependent. The route and mode of transport to work determines the possibility of traffic congestions or station overcrowding. The peaks in the demand for electricity determine the likelihood of blackouts. These systems are often found to be driven towards a “tragedy of the commons” scenario, in which individually rational (but selfish) behaviours put at risk the infrastructure system integrity.

Decisions are usually taken based on what is known in the moment. In choosing between routes in the daily commute, for example, commuters decide based on information available when and where the choice is made. Effective routing would require knowing the system state and everyone’s choice in time. Despite users having access to a wealth of information, behaviours that meet the demand while preserving the system integrity are rare.

This PhD project investigates fundamental questions relating to the amount of information, including how and where this should be provided, to produce the onset of behaviours that boost performance and enhance resilience of spatially embedded infrastructure.
A new understanding of the decision dynamics will be achieved through a multilayer network approach where the reward is perceived and transmitted through direct exposure, through an imperfect information layer and a non spatially embedded social network. The preference for one choice over the others does not solely depends on the individuals experience of that option, nor just on the experience of immediate neighbours.

The working hypothesis is that decisions are influenced by the amount of information available, the perception individuals have of their importance and of their reliability.

The project is proposed as a theoretical investigation but will use data for validation and benchmarking including Transport for London (TFL) passenger counts and Sheffield City Council (SCC) traffic data.

Understanding what information triggers virtuous decisions will not only preserve the health of the infrastructure but can be leveraged to meet targets such as reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions.

The PhD student will be based at the Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering, supervised by Dr Giuliano Punzo and be part of the Urban Flow Observatory to which objective they will be expected to contribute (

Funding Notes

This PhD project is funded through an EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership Grant for which eligibility rules apply (View Website).

The Scholarship provides funding for 3 and a half years. The Scholarship covers UK/EU tuition fees and pays a maintenance stipend at the UK rate (£15,009 per annum). An RTSG of £4500 is also included.


Candidate Requirements and Eligibility

Candidates are expected to have a degree in Engineering, Physics or Mathematics with strong mathematical skills, especially in the area of calculus and linear algebra. More information about entry requirements can be found here:

Applicants with other qualifications or experience should contact the Department’s Research Support Office via [email protected] so that we can check on your eligibility.

Related Subjects

How good is research at University of Sheffield in General Engineering?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 21.80

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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