PhD: The Role of Social Innovations in Enabling Nature-Based Solutions in Cities

PhD: The Role of Social Innovations in Enabling Nature-Based Solutions in Cities

Published Deadline Location
15 Jan 20 Feb Utrecht

You cannot apply for this job anymore (deadline was 20 Feb 2024).

Browse the current job offers or choose an item in the top navigation above.

Do you want to help cities adapt to climate change? We seek a PhD candidate to research social innovation and its potential to enable more sustainable cities!

Job description

We are looking for a PhD candidate who will investigate, theoretically and empirically, the role of social innovation in enabling nature-based solutions in the Mediterranean region.

Your job
Nature-based solutions are climate adaptation solutions for dealing with climate pressures, biodiversity loss, and regenerating people-nature connections, which are an increasingly important part of how cities respond to climate change. Recently, there has been much research about the drivers and barriers of planning and governing nature-based solutions and the importance of engaging with a multitude of actors to ensure just processes and outcomes. This project focuses on key research frontiers: how social innovation initiatives and networks enable the implementation and mainstreaming of nature-based solutions in such a way that they contribute to more just and sustainable cities and regions.

As PhD candidate, you will deepen these themes empirically and theoretically, generating actionable knowledge for inclusive governance of nature-based solutions in cities and regions while building strongly from action research in a plentitude of real-life case studies in the Mediterranean region. Alongside research, you are expected to contribute to the European project “CARDIMED: Climate Adaptation and Resilience Demonstrated In the Mediterranean region” (see below) through an effort to develop and host a trans-local network of nature-based solutions initiatives. Join us in this exciting research opportunity to help shape the future of urban and regional resilience.

This PhD project is based at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development and at the Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning and it will be supervised by Professor Flor Avelino, Professor Niki Frantzeskaki and Dr Jonas Torrens.


Utrecht University


You bring the following skills and competences:
  • a Master's degree in Urban Planning, Environmental Planning, Geography, Political Science, Policy Studies, Sustainability Science, or a related field;
  • excellent research skills and ethical research practices, including the ability to gather, analyse, and interpret qualitative data; experience in conducting and analysing structured and semi-structured interviews, large and small workshops, focus groups, and participatory research activities;
  • an excellent command of the English language (in both written and oral form);
  • a good command of one or more of the following Mediterranean languages: Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, or Turkish;
  • the ability to work both independently and in a team;
  • good time management skills to be able to balance between the PhD and the research project demands;
  • excellent communication and interpersonal skills.

The following qualities are desirable:
  • experience in publishing, as lead author, in a conference or a peer-reviewed journal;
  • knowledge of European environmental policies;
  • familiarity with social innovation, action research, activist networks, and climate adaptation/resilience.

Conditions of employment

We offer:
  • a position for one year, with an extension to a total of four years upon a successful assessment in the first year, and with the specific intent that it results in a doctorate within this period;
  • a gross monthly salary between €2,770 and €3,539 in the case of full-time employment (salary scale P under the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities (CAO NU);
  • 8% holiday pay and 8.3% year-end bonus;
  • a pension scheme, partially paid parental leave and flexible terms of employment based on the CAO NU.

In addition to the terms of employment laid down in the CAO NU, Utrecht University has a number of schemes and facilities of its own for employees. This includes schemes facilitating professional development, leave schemes and schemes for sports and cultural activities, as well as discounts on software and other IT products. We also offer access to additional employee benefits through our Terms of Employment Options Model. In this way, we encourage our employees to continue to invest in their growth. For more information, please visit Working at Utrecht University.


Universiteit Utrecht

A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major strategic themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Pathways to Sustainability. Shaping science, sharing tomorrow.

Utrecht University’s Faculty of Geosciences studies the Earth: from the Earth’s core to its surface, including man’s spatial and material utilisation of the Earth – always with a focus on sustainability and innovation. With 3,400 students (BSc and MSc) and 720 staff, the faculty is a strong and challenging organisation. The Faculty of Geosciences is organised in four Departments: Earth Sciences, Human Geography & Spatial Planning, Physical Geography, and Sustainable Development.

The Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development wants to have a positive impact on the transition to a sustainable society, which includes a focus on both the climate and nature challenges and how they interrelate. We do this by developing excellent and relevant knowledge in interdisciplinary teams and by educating the change agents of the future. The Copernicus Institute has had an excellent research evaluation in 2021 and the institute takes pride in maintaining its leading position in national and international sustainability research, and by developing new, internationally oriented teaching programmes. The institute consists of five research groups (sections): Innovation Studies, Environmental Governance, Environmental Sciences, Energy and Resources, and the Utrecht Futures Studio. This PhD project will be embedded in the Innovation Studies group.

The Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning investigates sustainability challenges in the context of an ongoing worldwide trend of increasing urbanisation. The Department’s ‘Urban Futures’ research programme focuses on the enhancement of long-term economic developments of cities, the inclusion and social inequalities in relation to transnational mobilities, the health outcomes of urban living as well as on the governance and planning of sustainability transformations of cities and urban regions. It develops novel theoretical and empirical approaches that are not solely at the forefront of academic debates but that also create new perspectives on successful policies and interventions to address urban challenges.

CARDIMED will introduce a framework to build Climate Resilience in the Mediterranean biogeographical region, efficiently unifying individual efforts of regions and communities across different countries and continents. This will be achieved by deploying the digital infrastructure to harmonise the data collection and evaluation processes, providing open data to all the actors involved in the Nature-based Solutions (NBS) value chain and integrating crucial functions for Climate Resilience. Among these functions, innovative digital tools for citizen participation and capacity building will supplement an ambitious multi-stakeholder engagement strategy focused on knowledge translation and impact pathways. Furthermore, holistic modelling tools introducing the Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystems (WEFE) Nexus approach will provide comprehensive knowledge on the complex NBS interfaces that will decisively contribute to addressing socio-ecological challenges, along with issues of valuation and low-investment rate in NBS. These actions will be implemented across 9 demonstration sites, composed of 10 regions, 20 locations, 28 communities, and 47 NBS that directly relate to over 80 interventions and supporting units tackling climate change and circularity challenges. Consolidating the demonstrating regions and communities will establish the CARDIMED Regional Alliance, which will function as the vehicle for expanding the network via upscaling existing sites and adding new ones. The project includes 5 transferability cases, as well as an additional 10 that will be defined during the implementation. Through these actions, the CARDIMED alliance will achieve at least 28 regions and 70 communities by 2030, create 8000 jobs, especially in the NBS sector, and leverage over 450M€ in climate investment.


  • PhD
  • Behaviour and society
  • 28—40 hours per week
  • €2770—€3539 per month
  • University graduate
  • 3519



Princetonlaan 8a, 3584CB, Utrecht

View on Google Maps

Interesting for you