PhD Studentship in Qualitative Geographical Information Systems

The Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI), University of Gloucestershire and the School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University, supported by the ESRC Doctoral Training Partnership for Wales (Wales DTP), invites applications for a funded PhD studentship.

This particular studentship is offered under the Environmental Planning Pathway of the ESRC Wales DTP, and is a ‘collaborative studentship’ which involves liaison with a non-academic organisation, often at many key stages of the research programme.

Key dates

The studentship will commence in October 2017, and the successful applicant will be based at the CCRI in Gloucester.

Interviews are expected to take place in March 2017. After interview, a final short-list of applicants will be put forward to the ESRC Wales DTP Doctoral Panel at which final decisions with regard to studentship awards will be made. Successful applicants can expect to hear by mid-April 2017.

Closing date for application is: 12 noon, 1st February, 2017


Applications are invited from exceptional candidates with a first class or strong upper second class honours degree, or appropriate Master’s degree. The University of Gloucestershire, Cardiff University and the ESRC Wales DTP value diversity and equality at all levels and we encourage applications from all sections of the community. We welcome applications for both full and part-time study, and studentship is available as either ‘1+3’ (i.e. one full-time year of research training masters followed by three years of full-time doctoral study, or the part-time equivalent), or ‘+3’ (i.e. three years of full-time doctoral study or its part-time equivalent), depending on the needs of the applicant.


There have been numerous calls to develop and implement more inclusive approaches for engaging with individual citizens and communities, particularly around issues relating to the landscapes of their neighbourhoods and localities. Such calls argue for a widening and diversification of participation in environmental management in order to enhance the co-production of knowledge and policy, and they highlight the crisis of legitimacy in rural land use decision-making and the need to understand the social dimensions of everyday engagements with landscapes and greenspaces.

Decision-making processes for the management of rural landscapes are often reliant on the use of quantitative data that is analysed and visualised within a Geographical Information System (GIS), but this approach is limited in its ability to capture and represent social and experiential engagements with the environment.  A methodological gap therefore exists in analysing and spatially representing this qualitative data alongside more traditional, dominant, quantitative data in environmental decision-making process. This studentship positions itself within a new area of research, Qualitative/Mixed-Methods GIS, or ‘QualGIS’, which is concerned with developing ways of integrating such qualitative data more effectively within a geospatial decision-making framework. This type of data may be collected using ethnographic techniques such as focus groups and interviewing, as well as multimedia approaches and hybrid methods that embed sketches, mental maps, audio, video, or photographs, often to represent non-cartographic forms of spatial knowledge, such as emotion and context-dependent experience of place.

Gloucestershire Rural Community Council (GRCC) is the collaborative partner for the PhD and, as a member of the Upper Thames Catchment Partnership contributes to this pioneering initiative, supported by Defra, set up to develop ways to meet the needs of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and other strategic priorities. The partnership includes a range of stakeholders tasked with discussing and implementing ways of adapting, protecting and improving the quality of water, reducing flood risk and protecting wildlife whilst benefiting the social and economic well-being of communities within the Upper Thames river catchment. As a result, there exists strong engagement with a number of local communities and landowners.

The QUALMAP studentship project will work with the GRCC to involve local communities in the preparation of neighbourhood plans and in undertaking catchment walkovers to determine the current state of the water-related infrastructure. Building on previous QualGIS research, QUALMAP’s involvement in the Upper Thames project will be to develop a software ‘toolkit’ for capturing, integrating, and analysing geo-referenced qualitative data within a GIS framework, which is sensitive to and works with scientific norms and the challenges and constraints of participatory planning and decision-making.  Such data could be captured from neighbourhood planning meetings, catchment management workshops and/or in the field using mobile devices.


  1. To develop an open-source QualGIS software and hardware ‘toolkit’ for capturing, integrating and analysing qualitative data to improve participation in rural land use planning;
  2. To evaluate the different outputs arising from the development of the QualGIS toolkit and their impact on participatory landscape planning and natural resource management processes;
  3. To critically examine and question the role of GIS in participatory natural resource management processes, drawing on current thinking in human geography to contribute to the debates around GIS and power, ethics and knowledge production.

Key Research Questions

  1. How can qualitative data be captured and analysed alongside quantitative data within a digital geospatial framework, in a way that produces better knowledge and understanding for environmental decision-making?
  2. Can QualGIS tools and methods be built-in to participatory processes in a way that is sensitive to on the ground considerations of rigour?
  3. In what ways can we use QualGIS to rethink how we ‘do’ participation?

Techniques and Skills

GIS, spatial analysis and software development will form the core of the PhD. The production of a toolkit to facilitate the capture, integration and analysis of geo-referenced qualitative data within a GIS framework will be the main output from this research. It is anticipated that programming languages such as Python and JavaScript could be used to extend existing open-source GIS software, but the student will be responsible for guiding the choice of approaches and technologies. Applicants will also require a good understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of Qualitative/Mixed-Methods GIS, Critical GIS and Participatory GIS/PPGIS, or at least be able to demonstrate a strong interest in these research areas and a willingness to fully engage with the key debates. A background in social sciences and/or natural resource management is also desirable, but not essential, and the successful applicant will benefit from the experience of researchers at CCRI and Cardiff in building their knowledge in relevant areas. The student will also need to establish a good working relationship with the various agencies and groups involved in managing the Upper Thames catchment, and develop a thorough understanding of the data collection and decision-making processes.

The student will be supported in broader skills training via the Postgraduate School at the University of Gloucestershire (thesis writing, writing for publication, presentation skills, enterprise skills etc.) and will benefit from cross-disciplinary research undertaken at the University of Gloucestershire and Cardiff University. The training is designed to ensure that the student becomes a well-rounded interdisciplinary scientist who is comfortable working independently and in teams.


These studentships are ‘collaborative’ awards. Applicants should take careful consideration of the working title and description of the project, and may wish to contact the named member of staff for a discussion prior to applying.

What the studentship will cover

Studentships commence in October 2017 and will cover your tuition fees as well as a maintenance grant (currently £14,296 p.a. for 2016/17 for full-time students, updated each year); and includes an additional Research Training Support Grant (RTSG) of up to £750 for three years for full-time students (pro rata for part-time students). There are other opportunities and benefits available to studentship holders, including an overseas fieldwork allowance (if applicable), internship opportunities and overseas institutional visits.


ESRC studentships are highly competitive, candidates should have an excellent academic background in the social sciences, holding a 1st or strong upper 2nd class degree; applications from those also holding a relevant research training Masters degree (or an equivalent background in research training) will be considered for a +3 award. Full awards (fees plus maintenance stipend) are open to UK Nationals and EU students who can satisfy UK residency requirements.


Full-time ESRC studentship award holders cannot hold either a full-time job, or a permanent part-time job, during the period of their award. Part-time ESRC studentship award holders cannot hold a full-time job.

1+3 or +3?

The awards are available on either a 1+3 or +3 basis. A 1+3 studentship provides funding for four years (or part-time equivalent), completing a research training Masters in the 1st year, followed by 3 years research funding for a PhD. A +3 studentship provides funding for the three years PhD research study only (or part-time equivalent).

How to apply

Send a completed application pack to Dr Robert Berry ( by the deadline of 12.00 noon, 1 February 2017. Incomplete applications or applications received after this specified time will not be accepted.

The application pack must contain the following three documents:

  1. University of Gloucestershire Studentship Application Form 
  2. Curriculum Vitae: It should be no longer than two pages.
  3. Research Proposal: For collaborative studentships, the proposal should build directly on the outline description that has been supplied. The proposal should be up to a maximum of 1000 words, not including references. We suggest that you use the following five headings in your research proposal:
  • Your reflections on the title, aims and purpose of the research;
  • An overview of some key research literature relevant to the study;
  • Your proposals for developing the design and methods of the study;
  • A description of potential outcomes of the project for understanding, knowledge, policy and practice (as appropriate to the topic);
  • References


Supervisor: Dr Robert Berry, CCRI (

Co-supervisors: Dr Scott Orford, Cardiff University ( and Chris Short, CCRI (

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