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Research at St Andrews

Kirsty Lee Holstead


Research overview

Kirsty Holstead is PhD candidate in the School of Management at the University of St Andrews and The James Hutton Institute (Aberdeen). Her work is funded by the Scottish Government's Hydro Nation Scholars Programme.

Kirsty’s work explores the involvement of communities in drinking and waste water services and flooding in Scotland. She is interested in what happens when people work together to manage water, how people make decisions in these situations, the issues that affect these decisions, and how this type of governance affects peoples' relationships with water and other systems. 

In particular her research aims to:

-       map and categorise the potential roles of communities in water governance;

-       understand how water practitioners view communities and their role in the water environment and how organisational and institutional factors shape these views;

-       interrogate how communities understand water governance and what shapes their interactions; and 

-       explore the implications for community involvement in governance in Scotland.

Questions about how water should be allocated, used, managed and governed have gained interest across academic, policy and practitioner spheres. Part of this is a shift from technical interests to a consideration of wider democratisation of decision-making leading to calls for increased involvement by community actors (whether they be identified as public, communities, water users or consumers). For example, in Scotland in the area of flooding, communities are encouraged to buy personal protective equipment, and have a flood bag ready. In the area of drinking water, customer representatives are part of the price setting process to make the water industry more consumer centric.

Still, gaps remain in understanding community involvement in governance such as the underlying assumptions, expectations and implications of involving communities in governance, and the ways that communities relate to, value and make decisions about water. Kirsty’s work aims to respond to these gaps.

Kirsty worked in the Social Economic and Geographic Group at the James Hutton Institute (Aberdeen) and was involved in research that related to making Scotland a more just, sustainable and healthy place to be; this included a number of Scottish Government and EU level research projects.  During this time, she led or contributed to various journal articles, reports and presentations to different audiences. As well as delivering academic outputs and outcomes part of her role was to do applied and policy relevant research. In particular she worked on understanding the barriers to natural flood management.

She has presented her work in Westminster and at the Scottish Government. Her work with Drs Julia Martin-Ortega and Wendy Kenyon led to a change of the wording of the Water Resource Management (Scotland) Bill to include non-economic value of water in water valuations. This is important because it means that non-economic, and less dominant ways of understanding water should be taken into account in decision-making about water.

Recently in 2020, Kirsty contributed to and was an expert reviewer for an interdisciplinary review of evidence of Natural Flood Management for the Parliament of Science and Technology, Westminster. 


Key research interests: water governance, water and flood management, community, participation, public policy and organisational change.

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