Articulating the value of community engagement in the built environment

Applications are invited for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award at The Open University, in partnership with Future of London.

Available from October 2023, this fully-funded studentship includes: payment of university fees throughout the funded period; a tax-free maintenance grant for your living costs at the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) minimum rate (£17,668 for 2022/23); an additional AHRC stipend of £550 per annum to support costs incurred by working with the partner organisation. Further details about the benefits of an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP award are available on the DTP’s studentships page.

Closing date: 11 January 2023 (12:00 midday UK time)

Project overview

This project is focussed on exploring the value of community engagement in built environment projects and is a collaboration between the Open University and Future of London - the capital’s independent network for regeneration, housing, infrastructure and economic development practitioners, sharing best practice and build skills, knowledge and networks.

Future of London’s (FoL) 2022 Building Recovery project found that three quarters of built environment practitioners don’t think community engagement is done well enough. Tokenistic and superficial engagement, which is an industry-wide issue, raises suspicion, mistrust, anger and opposition and can lead to costly delays.

There is a need to better understand the value of community engagement in built environment projects and provide evidence and guidance that can help resource and support good practice (Alexiou et al, 2013). Based on feedback from FoL’s 5000+ network of built environment professionals from the public, private and not for profit sector, we know that urban practitioners are struggling to make the case for the kind of community engagement that gives local people genuine influence. For these professionals (working across housing, regeneration, infrastructure and economic development) it is difficult to justify the time, investment and innovation that meaningful community engagement requires to senior leaders who have difficult decisions to make with regards to budget and resources.

This project will look to define the mutual value effective community engagement creates, for local people and developers leading these exercises.

The project will adopt a design led, participatory approach to the collection and analysis of data. The candidate will work closely with FoL’s Knowledge team to develop a programme of interviews, focus groups, roundtables, expert interviews, creative workshops, and field trips to find out what is working in practice, what needs improvement and how different types of (human, social, cultural, environmental and economic) value can be captured, articulated and communicated. The candidate will have access to case studies of live community engagement programmes being run by FoL partners.


The student will be co-supervised by Prof Theo Zamenopoulos, Dr Katerina Alexiou from the Open University and Anna Odedun from Future of London. Zamenopoulos and Alexiou have an extensive experience in research focussed on community engagement in design, co-design and value-based approaches to project development and evaluation. Anna Odedun is Head of Knowledge at FoL and has been involved in cross-sector research & innovation programmes. The candidate will get direct access to FoL’s network of 60 member organisations (most of the London boroughs, TfL, GLA, housing associations, SMEs), ten core sponsor organisations (consultancies, developers, house builders) and their broader network of built environment professionals. They will be able to make connections for the student with live projects and the people delivering them, from very senior decision makers to the people engaging with residents and communities directly. The student will also gain from FOL’s back catalogue of research and publications to inform their project. FoL will also offer access to desk space in their offices and opportunities for knowledge exchange and peer learning.

How to apply

We invite applications from candidates from all backgrounds and ethnicities. Applicants will ideally have a First Class undergraduate degree and a Masters degree (or equivalent) in an area related to the project (e.g. design, architecture, planning). Practical experience working in the built environment sector and/or experience working in community engagement projects would be desirable. Applicants should meet the eligibility criteria for Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC studentships.

For an informal discussion about the opportunity and how you might frame your approach to the CDA project, please contact Dr Katerina Alexiou (on and Prof Theo Zamenopoulos (on in the first instance.

You should apply to the PhD in Design by 11 January 2023 (midday, UK time), indicate your interest in being considered for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP studentship and submit a completed copy of the OOC DTP Application Form at the same time. Further details on how to apply through the Open University and how to complete the OOC DTP Application Form can be found on our How to Apply page.