Water in the UK: Changing patterns of water use in high-use聽households - PhD

University of Manchester

Manchester, UK 馃嚞馃嚙

Do you want to make a real difference to society and the environment? In this PhD, co-funded by the University of Manchester and Northumbrian Water, you will help to improve the company鈥檚 water efficiency strategy and support the water industry develop novel socio-technical interventions that are capable of securing future water supplies. The successful candidate will work with Northumbrian Water, who serve who 4.4million people, to conduct a mixed-methods study to develop and trial interventions to deliver substantial demand-led changes in water use in high-use households. Water is a vital and increasingly constrained resource. Reducing demand ensures that supplies are resilient, environmental standards can be upheld and greenhouse gas emissions are reduced. This PhD therefore contributes in various ways to UK environmental action.

The project will involve secondary analysis of NWG鈥檚 existing smart-meter data and market research on high-use households to identify clusters of households and particular practices of interest (e.g. hyper-cleanliness). Of equal importance will be primary research (for example, surveys, ethnographic home tours, and focus groups) which will further existing data by providing a practice-oriented perspective (see Browne et al., 2014) to understand water use. Using the Change Points toolkit (Hoolohan and Browne, 2020) and informed by a review of existing interventions from across the sustainability spectrum (e.g., car-free living experiments, Cool Biz, Veganuary), the candidate will use emerging insights to develop and trial interventions to reconfigure water use in homes and maximise reductions in demand. The evaluation will focus on understanding the barriers and opportunities to adopting, scaling up and rolling out such interventions to other households within and without the high-water using cluster, including how a range of stakeholders could support and increase the efficacy of these interventions.

Research objectives

路        To identify clusters of high-use households and explore practices that characterise patterns of water use.

路        To understand how and why water is used, how variations in practice are produced and the factors that aid or inhibit less water intensive ways of living.

路        To co-design and trial a practice-focused bespoke intervention for high-use households using the Change Points approach.

路        Evaluate trial to increase understanding of issues around adapting and upscaling to other high-use households including ways to identify diverse segments of households where substantial water savings may be feasible.


In addition to an academic thesis and journal papers (2), this project will deliver:

路        Quarterly progress reports for the project supervisors (UoM and NWG) and advisory team (anticipated to include a relevant industry and policy partners).

路        Presentation at academic and industry conferences (e.g. International Water Association Conference, Waterwise Conference)

路        Primary data on how and why water is used in high-use households.

路        Open access report on workshop proceedings.

路        At least one intervention designed, piloted, and evaluated.

The successful candidate will benefit from being part of both the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformation, two world-leading centres for interdisciplinary climate change research. The successful candidate will have access to unrivalled specialist expertise and opportunities to develop transferable skills and enhance their future employability. In addition, the University of Manchester offers an extensive training and development package to support the effective completion of a PhD.

Academic entry requirements: an undergraduate degree at 2:1 or above and Masters award at Merit level in a discipline directly relevant to the PhD (e.g. Geography, Sociology, Design or Business), or equivalent international qualifications.

Candidates will be expected to demonstrate evidence of good written and analytical skills and a strong interest in sustainability practice and policy. A demonstrable knowledge of qualitative research methods is essential. Educational, project or work experience relating to water governance, sustainable consumption and/or interventions design Is desirable. Evidence of project management and collaborative research is also desirable.

Additional University of Manchester entry requirements for PhD research degrees can be found at:


Before submitting an application, please send your CV along with details of your interest in the project and previous experience to claire.hoolohan@manchester.ac.uk.

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. We know that diversity strengthens our research community, leading to enhanced research creativity, productivity and quality, and societal and economic impact. We actively encourage applicants from diverse career paths and backgrounds and from all sections of the community, regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation and transgender status.

We also support applications from those returning from a career break or other roles. We consider offering flexible study arrangements (including part-time: 50%, 60% or 80%, depending on the project/funder). 

Funding Notes

This PhD is co-funded by the University of Manchester and Northumbrian Water Group. This is a 3.5 year studentship that will cover fees at the Home rate and provide a tax-free stipend at the standard UKRI rate (拢17,668 in 2022-23). EU students who hold settled or pre-settled status and meet the residency requirements for Home fee status are very welcome to apply. Our entry points are in April, July and September, and candidates must start by September 2023 at the latest





IHE Delft MSc in Water and Sustainable Development