Studentship opportunity

Smart City Standards in Local Practice. An Evaluation of the Implementation of the BSI Smart City Standards in a Variety of UK Municipal Contexts

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

University of Glasgow
Human Geography, Environment and Urban Planning
Mode of study

Full time / Part time

Application deadline
15 March 2019

Project details

Over the last decade, the ‘smart city’ has become a dominant paradigm of urban policy, espousing (digital) technological innovation to meet various urbanisation challenges. Responding to the need for definitional and practice guidance, the British Standards Institution (BSI) was among the first national agencies to issue a smart city standard in 2014, and has since published six in total. Similar developments have taken place across other countries, and at the International Standardization Organization. Hence, in a short time span, consensus standards have emerged as a novel type of policy tool, expected to guide and accelerate smart city innovation on the ground. However, little is known about how these standards actually intervene in local planning and development processes and, therefore, what their wider significance is.

This project will deliver a systematic evaluation of the implementation of the BSI smart city standards across a range of UK cities. Thus, it will contribute original knowledge since no detailed analysis of local practice use of smart city standards has been undertaken to date. Particularly, the study will address, using mixed methods (survey research, in-depth case study analysis etc.), to which extent the BSI smart city standards currently experience an implementation gap, a known phenomenon in the policy analysis literature. The research will thus probe into the possible misalignment of the standards’ function as envisaged by BSI and municipal practice realities where standards may not easily fit into established planning and development processes.

The collaboration with the BSI is an essential component of this PhD. The involvement will bring access to key stakeholders, and the research will be used as input into a collaborative stakeholder engagement to consider possible improvements to standard design and/or practice guidelines. The collaboration thus also provides an important route to dissemination and impact. The mixed supervisory team (Prof. Simon Joss and Prof. Annette Hastings at the University of Glasgow, and Dr. John Devaney at the BSI) will ensure effective coordination, and support integrated training throughout.

About the institution

This PhD Studentship will be based in the Urban Studies section in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Glasgow. It will involve an active collaboration with the Smart and Sustainable Cities and Communities Committee SDS/2 of the British Standards Institution (BSI; London). The University of Glasgow, founded in 1451, is the fourth oldest university in the United Kingdom. It belongs to the prestigious Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Urban Studies at Glasgow is a world-leading centre for innovative, interdisciplinary urban research with significant impact. In the most recent national assessment of research excellence (REF 2014), the quality of its research was rated first equal in the UK, with half of all output considered ‘world leading’. Urban Studies at Glasgow is home to three major research centres supported through national research grant funding: the GCRF Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods; the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence; and the ESRC Urban Big Data Centre. This PhD project will be associated with the latter and, as such, contribute new knowledge about the governance of big data and related ‘smart city’ developments. The successful applicant will be part of a vibrant community of over 20 doctoral researchers working on diverse aspects of urban theory, policy and practice. (S)he will be able to participate in regular seminars, workshops and other research activities hosted by Urban Studies. Furthermore, (s)he will benefit from formal research methods training and researcher development courses offered through the Graduate School of the College of Social Sciences. The successful candidate will spend supervised periods of time at the BSI in London, conducting research in co-operation with the Smart and Sustainable Cities and Communities SDS/2 Committee.


Applicants must meet the following eligibility criteria:
  • A good first degree* (at least 2:1), preferably with a social science component
  • Demonstrate an interest in, and knowledge of, smart cities, urban governance, and policy analysis.
  • Have a good grounding in social science research methods, and contemporary urban governance issues.
  • For a +3 award (see below), applicants must additionally have: a) A Master’s degree at merit or distinction level* with a substantial component allied to urban studies, public policy or related areas; and b) Substantial research methods training (equivalent of 60 credits) at Master’s level
* If degree results are not known at the time of application, we can take the application forward based upon grades achieved on the degree so far. Results will need to be confirmed prior to commencing the programme.

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 October 2019.  It includes:
  • an annual maintenance grant at the RCUK rate (2019/20 rate £15,009 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

For further information on the application process and eligibility criteria please contact William Shirriffs ( For other information (e.g. on the project itself) please contact Simon Joss (

How to apply

  1. Applicants must register their interest by completing the ESRC Eligibility Checker:
  2. Applicants register on the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science’s GradHub and fill out Equal Opportunity data (this is a requirement of the application process; equal opportunity data is used for monitoring purposes only, and not in the decision-making process)
  3. Applicants complete and upload the prescribed list of required documentation to include:
  • Application form
  • Academic transcripts
  • References
  • CV
  • A cover letter* detailing the following:
  1. Your research interests.
  2. A detailed course description of your Master’s research training (where applying for the +3 award).
  3. Details of any other relevant training and skills you have.
  4. Your long-term career goals
  5. A short statement (max 1,000 words) explaining how the above fit with, and can add to, the research project.

*The cover letter should be uploaded as a standalone document with the file named as follows *your name_JossGlasgowCollaborative_date*

  1. Applicants submit application through GradHub

Selection process

Applications will be ranked by a selection panel and applicants will be notified if they have been shortlisted for interview by 05th April 2019. Interviews dates are to be confirmed. All scholarship awards are subject to candidates successfully securing admission to a PhD programme within Urban Studies in the School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow.  Successful scholarship applicants will be invited to apply for admission to the relevant PhD programme after they are selected for funding.

Supervisor/Contact details

William Shirriffs (administrative); Professor Simon Joss (academic)