PhD Opportunity: Improving air quality: developing and evaluating effective interventions to promote positive policy change

Improving air quality: developing and evaluating effective interventions to promote positive policy change

3-year funded PhD Studentship

School of Psychology

The University of Leeds

Supervisors: Supervisors: Dr Ian Kellar (School of Psychology, University of Leeds), Dr Rosie McEachan (Bradford Institute for Health Research), Dr Sara Ahern (Public Health, City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council), Professor Greg Marsden (Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds)

Sponsors: School of Psychology, University of Leeds and the Bradford Institute for Health Research



We are looking for an enthusiastic and motivated individual with a passion for applied research and experience of behaviour change and / or implementation science and / or policy change. The successful applicant will join a multi-disciplinary team with expertise in behaviour change, policy change, public health, and sustainable transport and will work on a project which will have the opportunity to make a real difference to the health and well-being of people living within West Yorkshire and beyond.

Public Health England have identified air quality as a key public health priority. Contributing to around 7,500 deaths a year nationally [1], traffic related pollution accounts for the largest proportion of air pollution experienced in England [2]. Air quality in West Yorkshire is some of the worst in the country and is estimated to account for 5-6% mortality in the region [3].

Despite increasing pressure to bring air pollution levels in line with EU Limit Values, West Yorkshire is not expected to reach the health based objectives for air quality until 2030 or beyond. Nationally, Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) is not considered to be working well [4] and a number of barriers to the effective implementation of air quality action plans have been identified [5] which may be impeding local authorities’ progress with air quality, particularly the reduction of traffic emissions. Understanding what drives and hinders the implementation of policies is crucial to developing interventions to help policy makers make change more effective, which is turn will help to improve air quality locally, regionally, and nationally.

The West Yorkshire Air Quality and Health Strategy aims to address ambient air pollution in the region by influencing behaviour at both an individual and decision maker level. The proposed PhD will link to this ongoing strategy, and help to provide evidence based interventions for policy makers to implement low emissions straetiges  by utilising behaviour change and implementation science methodology. The project will take a collaborative approach, combining local authority, NHS and academic expertise.

Aims and objectives

The overall aim of the PhD is to engage with decision-makers about what they need to make different types of decisions, and to develop rigorous and evidence-based intervention strategies to improve the implementation of policies to reduce air emissions with the West Yorkshire Region. The research will be based on sound underpinning of behaviour change and implementation science, and policy implementation theory.

The proposed PhD has the following objectives:

  1. To establish the extent to which policies to reduce vehicle emissions are adopted and implemented across local authorities in West Yorkshire
  2. To identify barriers and facilitators using behaviour change methodology to the adoption and successful implementation of these policies
  3. To develop an evidence based intervention designed to address the barriers and facilitators to the adoption and successful implementation of policies to reduce vehicle emissions, in partnership with stakeholders, using an intervention mapping approach
  4. To investigate the use and acceptability of the intervention in practice

Potential Methods

The PhD will be based around priniciples of behaviour change and intervention mapping. A scoping review of the theoretical basis of interventions to facilitate implementation of low emission policies will be conducted. If, as expected, literature in this area is sparse, the Delphi technique will be employed to combine the knowledge and judgment of a group of relevant experts and achieve a level of consensus in order to develop an evidence base. Further interviews and focus groups will be conducted with stakeholders and the findings will be used to develop an appropriate intervention. A feasibility study will then be conducted to assess the acceptibility of the intervention in practice. It is anticipated that the PhD will contribute to a further funding proposals to conduct a rigorous evaluation of identified methods.

Links to CLAHRC Yorkshire and Humber

This project is uniquely placed to take advantage of links and infrastructure of the School of Psychology, University of Leeds (Ian Kellar), the Bradford Institute for Health Research (Rosie McEachan), and Public Health at Bradford District Metropolitan Council (Sara Ahern). This will be important in increasing impact and reach of the research. It will also link across a number of themes within the CLAHRC Yorkshire and Humber and with the Yorkshire and Humber Academic Health Science Network (YH AHSN). Specifically it will build on expertise with the Evidence Based Transformation Theme by using behaviour change principles to understand how to support service transformation to reduce emissions (for example, implementing novel and innovative policies). It will also complement  a key air quality project within the Healthy Children, Healthy Families theme, exploring individual behaviour change to reduce emissions. It will link to the Air Quality theme within the Improvement Academy hosted by the YH AHSN.

This three year PhD studentship, funded by the School of Psychology and Bradford Institute of Health Research, is available beginning 1st October 2015, with a tax-free stipend of £13,863 with EU/home fees paid and a research training support grant of £750 per year.

The award will support one PhD student following a 3-year programme (known as a ‘+3’) of research and training. Applicants are required to possess an Undergraduate degree a related discipline and preferably also a postgraduate degree e.g., MSc in Health Psychology, Health Sciences, Public Health and Research Methods.  Applicants are required to submit electronically a CV, a personal statement outlining how their experience and skills are suitable for the project, copies of degree certificates, transcripts of marks achieved in degree-level qualifications, evidence of English language qualifications, and details of up to three referees to the Faculty Graduate School email:  Please note that this studentship is only available to UK and EU applicants. Informal enquiries can be made to

Closing Date for applications is 31.07.15 with interviews expected to be held on 13.08.15.

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