Posted on: 21 January, 2019
Application deadline: March 29, 2019

ESRC-funded UK/EU PhD Scholarship: Improvement Service for Local Government, University of Stirling, UK

Using administrative data to improve neighbourhood environmental services and outcomes

This studentship is funded by the ESRC through the Scottish Graduate School of the Social Sciences

Institution: University of Stirling

Pathway: Social Work and Social Policy

Mode of study: Full time / Part time

Application deadline: 29 March 2019

Project details

Neighbourhood environmental problems, such as dog fouling and road repairs, are key issues for citizens and a core part of the business of local authorities. This doctoral research project provides an exciting opportunity for the successful candidate to work with local councils in Scotland, and the Scottish national Improvement Service for local government to understand more about these basic service issues.

As cuts to public services have been rolled-out since 2010, local councils have been forced to move from relying on regular neighbourhood and road inspections to target services such as cleaning or repairs, to relying much more on citizens reporting directly via email, web portals, telephone contact centres and also apps such as FixMyStreet. This means councils delivering the these environmental, waste and repair services hold a lot of administrative data: records of reports of issues by citizens; systems allocating jobs to work teams; audits of environmental quality in neighbourhoods. Some of this data is publicly available already, but is rarely presented at a neighbourhood-level using maps to allow comparisons between neighbourhoods.

The proposed PhD project would be co-produced with local councils, via the Improvement Service and with local authorities. It aims to understand the potential of such data in transforming how councils and citizens understand service delivery in neighbourhoods. It would explore what the barriers are to local councils make such data readily available to allow citizens to understand patterns of service delivery. It would also work with citizens to understand how they would interpret the data and the possible benefits and risks of this. Finally, it would work with partner local authorities and the Improvement Service to understand the benefits of using the data for informing service improvements and performance benchmarking by local councils.

The project would suit a candidate with an interest in local public services and neighbourhood conditions, who has excellent skills in statistical analysis and the ability to work well with partners outside academia, including communities and non-specialist audiences.

About the institution

At the University of Stirling, we believe that great ideas and ground-breaking research can transform our society and help redefine economic, social and cultural conditions across Scotland, the UK and internationally. Research is a critical aspect of our learning and teaching. As a postgraduate research student, you’ll be given an insight into that research – and will also earn the opportunity to make key research contributions of your own. You will be joining Stirling’s Institute for Advanced Studies, which provides opportunities for development in a vibrant interdisciplinary setting and to build a strong postgraduate career. The studentship is hosted in the Faculty of Social Sciences, home to internationally- recognised research in: housing; dementia; education; social work; sociology, social policy and criminology.  Research in the Faculty covers theoretical and applied work in a range of fields including: child welfare and protection; housing policy; social justice; professional education; social survey analysis; sustainable communities; dementia-friendly design; teacher agency and curriculum development.


Applicants must meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • A good first degree (2i or above) in a social science subject, preferably social policy, public policy or public administration, or a good Masters-level qualification (Merit or above, or equivalent);
  • Skills and confidence in analysing statistical data
  • Excellent communication skills, both written and oral
  • Excellent project management skills

An interest in the research topics of this research: local public services; public service management and citizen engagement in service delivery. Applicants may also have:

  • Experience of involving research-users and citizens in the co-production of research.
  • Skills in the spatial analysis of statistical data, including mapping and Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Students must meet ESRC eligibility criteria. ESRC eligibility information can be found here.

Award details

The scholarship is available as a +3 or a 1+3 programme depending on prior research training.  This will be assessed as part of the recruitment process.  The programme will commence in September 2019.  It includes

  • an annual maintenance grant at the RCUK rate (2018/19 rate £14,777 full-time)
  • fees at the standard Home rate
  • students can also draw on a pooled Research Training Support Grant, usually up to a maximum of £750 per year

Other information

How to apply
  • Applicants register on GradHub and fill out EO data (this is a requirement of the application process)
  • Applicants complete and upload the prescribed list of required documentation to include:
  • Application form
  • Academic transcripts
  • References
  • CV
  • Any other additional questions as specified by the supervising team – this should be uploaded in a standalone document with a naming convention as follows


  1. Applicants submit application through GradHub

Apply now via GradHub

Selection process

Applications will be ranked by a selection panel and applicants will be notified if they have been shortlisted for interview by 5 April 2019. Interviews will take place on 25 April 2019 All scholarship awards are subject to candidates successfully securing admission to a PhD programme within University of Stirling.  Successful scholarship applicants will be invited to apply for admission to the relevant PhD programme after they are selected for funding.

Supervisor/Contact details

Name: Dr Peter Matthews