A comparative analysis of the spatial patterns of diffusion of grassroots innovations in the United Kingdom and Italy

This project will generate a quantitative data set and employ basic spatial statistics to uncover and analyze the spatial patterns of diffusion of grassroots innovations towards sustainability

Department: Geography & Environmental Science

Supervised by: Dr Giuseppe Feola

The Placement Project

Grassroots innovations (GI) are ‘networks of activists and organisations generating novel bottom-up solutions for sustainable development’ (Seyfang and Smith, 2007, p. 585). They are potential precursors of a more widespread transition toward sustainability and have therefore attracted growing attention among researchers and policy-makers. Recent work showed that the geography of GI matters for their diffusion and success (Feola and Nunes, 2013). GI are often networked in multi-scalar arrangements in global networks, and their economic, material and social context can significantly influence the dynamics of social learning, group governance and alliances of local actors (Feola and Nunes, 2013). In addition, GI are very diverse ideologically and organizationally, which could help explain why they diffuse only in particular contexts (Feola, 2014). However, no study so far has investigated the spatial patterns of GI diffusion, e.g. in what geographical contexts GI diffuse most, whether different GI diffuse in the same regions, and to what extent spatial, rather than ‘virtual’ proximity matters in their diffusion. This study investigates these issues in two countries, i.e. the United Kingdom and Italy, both characterized by a rapid emergence of GI, and significant regional economic, social and material differences. The study will map and analyze the spatial diffusion of a diverse set of grassroots innovations: transition towns, eco-villages, local currencies, and voluntary simplicity groups. This study will improve our understanding of the spatial patterns of GI diffusion, and inform policy and action towards the successful development of GI.


The work will be planned in collaboration with the student, but is likely to be structured in three main phases. In the first phase, which is likely to take roughly 40% of the time, the student will collect the data and prepare it for analysis. The student will identify relevant data requirements, create protocols for data collection from the grassroots movements’ websites, collect the data, and organize it in spread sheets. In the second phase, which is likely to take roughly 40% of the time, the student will carry out a basic spatial statistical analysis to test the study’s hypotheses, and produce maps and, when relevant, graphs, of the data analyzed. In the third and final phase, the student will contribute to the writing up of a co-authored publication in a leading international journal such as ‘Geoforum’, ‘Applied Geography’, or ‘Environment and Planning’. The work will be carried out by the student with the support of the supervisor, and training will be given, if necessary, in data preparation and analysis.

Skills, knowledge and experience required

Students from a range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary backgrounds are welcome, including Geography, Planning, Economics, Sociology, Political Science, Mathematics and Statistics. Essential candidate attributes are: a demonstrated ability to work with quantitative data; an interest in sustainability, low-carbon innovation and/or grassroots movements; reliability, attention to detail, and ability to work independently. Desirable, but not essential, candidate attributes are: knowledge of GeoDa or other spatial statistics software; basic command of Italian.

Skills which will be developed during the placement

The student will learn how to (i) select relevant data to test a particular hypothesis, (ii) organize a systematic data collection, (iii) prepare quantitative data in spreadsheets for analysis, (iv) carry out a basic spatial statistical analysis (e.g. spatial cluster analysis), (v) effectively visualize findings in maps and graphs, (vi) write up research findings for an academic audience. In addition, the student will (i) gain an understanding of the whole research process and learn good research practice, and (ii) be able to improve time management and communication in an academic environment.

Place of Work

Department of Geography and Environmental Science, University of Reading, Whiteknights

Hours of Work

9-5, Monday-Friday. Flexible arrangements possible

Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Monday 02 June 2014 - Friday 11 July 2014

How to Apply

Note that the closing date for application for this project has been extended to Friday 4th April. Students should apply by sending their CV, cover letter and a writing sample (e.g. written assignment) to Giuseppe Feola ( Interviews will be carried out with short-listed candidates. The successful applicant will be selected based on their fit with the desired criteria listed above. Feedback will be provided to all applicants.

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