Towards managing risk from climate change through comprehensive, inclusive and resilient UK infrastructure planning

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Horizon Digital Economy Research


The UK, along with most other nations in Europe, is encountering a paradigm shift as the funding, management, and protection of infrastructure is increasingly expected to be managed through partnership-led governance ensuring better informed and more viable, long-term decision making. This shift in emphasis from 'top-down' direct government, to 'bottom-up' stakeholder engagement is particularly pronounced in managing risks to critical infrastructure and the environment.

Current methodologies and tools, such as surveys and stakeholder focus groups, aimed at consultation with stakeholder organisations and citizens are however generally limited in scope and insufficiently open or adaptive. Thus, they do not effectively inform the complex planning processes underlying comprehensive, multi-faceted infrastructure development planning as undertaken for example in the Thames Estuary. In order to inform and reconcile planning approaches to heterogeneous challenges such as environmental risk protection, economic viability (e.g., fisheries) and ecosystem management, new consultation methods and novel ways of combining multi-stakeholder views with quantitative data are urgently needed.

The Thames Estuary Partnership (TEP) and its partners are facing the challenge of stakeholder integration in the planning of imminent, major infrastructural development in the context of large scale projects in the areas of pollution (sewers), flood protection and ecosystem management.
This project is designed to leverage, apply and evaluate - in the Thames Estuary Infrastructure context, cutting edge methodologies and software tools for value-based, data-driven planning methods developed and tested as part of the recent, interdisciplinary EPSRC funded project "Towards Data-Driven Environmental Policy Design" (TDDEPD).
Building on novel developments in human data capture and computer science, these techniques enable the rapid and comprehensive capture of qualitative data; e.g., stakeholder opinion and their integration with quantitative data sources such as sensor measurements (e.g., rainfall levels) and process outputs.
While these planning methodologies were developed in a very different topical (i.e. environmental protection planning) and geographic (Western Australian wetlands) context, this project will explore their adaptation and application to the context of infrastructural planning in the Thames Estuary. In order to establish their viability, the project brings together an exceptional team, led by the TEP and including the Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute and School of Computer Science from the University of Nottingham (Horizon) and integrating key expertise in planning contributed (as an in-kind contribution) by the Department for Parks and Wildlife by the Western Australian Government.

The ambitious project will deliver a novel value-driven methodology for infrastructure planning, including an adapted framework for stakeholder engagement. A digital platform enabling the capture and processing of both stakeholder input and (often uncertain) quantitative data (e.g., water levels) will be developed and will provide essential management support tools such as sensitivity analyses for potential infrastructure changes. The latter will also directly support the evaluation of the proposed approach and will enable addressing a concrete use case within the project time frame (Clean Seas Please).

TEP believe that a values-based approach to managing infrastructure, risk, and habitat creation will be the only effective way forward. They believe that using the methods to be developed in this work by a team with a strong track record and significant expertise will transform the way they interact with those to whom they are responsible at the levels of policy setting, and policy implementation and will enable the comprehensive planning and development of infrastructure in the future.
Description In a previous EPSRC-funded project ('Towards Data-Driven Environmental Policy Design' - EP/K012479/1), the University of Nottingham and the Department of Parks and Wildlife (Western Australia) collaborated to develop a comprehensive, Values-based Decision Framework to support holistic conservation management and decision making in Western Australia. Building on that work, this research project is developed to explore the usefulness of this novel framework for planning infrastructure management within the Thames estuary.

In order to achieve this, the project focused both on new methodological challenges (such as the combination of abiotic elements, e.g., flood defences, with biotic elements) and a more comprehensive engagement with local stakeholders who hold insights into the priorities and extremely complex challenges of managing the estuary.

Through four comprehensive workshops, Thames Estuary stakeholders and experts from the Thames Estuary Partnership (TEP), and researchers from the Western Australian Government Department of Parks and Wildlife and the University of Nottingham (UoN) were brought together. As a result, the framework has been re-developed to fit the new context.

Based on results achieved, plus the very positive stakeholder and expert feedback, we are confident that the framework has the potential to contribute very positively to the management of complex multi-stakeholder systems, such as the Thames Estuary.
Exploitation Route It was clear from the progress made, the information achieved and the positive responses of stakeholders and experts that the developed Framework could make a useful contribution to infrastructure and environmental planning in the Thames Estuary and beyond, provided sufficient resources are made available.

Since the project has shown such scalability of the developed framework and the developed information processing tools, the experiences, methodologies and tools can be used by other environmental policy makers in other UK/non-UK contexts.

In addition to the project documentation (the above URL), the following publications have also been/being made out of the research findings:

- Smith M., Wagner C., Wallace K., Pourabdollah A. and Lewis L.: Of what value is nature? Using element properties to rate management importance of natural elements, Journal of Environmental Management (under review)

- A. Pourabdollah, C. Wagner, M. Smith and K. Wallace: Real-World Utility of Non-Singleton Fuzzy Logic Systems: A Case of Environmental Management, IEEE International Conference on Fuzzy Systems, Istanbul, Aug 2015.

- C. Wagner, A. Pourabdollah, M. Smith and K. Wallace: Generating Uncertain Fuzzy Logic Rules from Surveys, IEEE International Conference on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics (IEEE SMC), Hong Kong, Oct. 2015.
Sectors Agriculture

Food and Drink


Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)



Democracy and Justice



Museums and Collections


Description In this project, the usefulness of applying the Values-based Decision Framework, initially developed for conservation management in Western Australia, has been explored more widely in the context of infrastructure planning and management in the UK Thames Estuary. In summary, we found that the framework is adaptive and scalable to the new environmental context, thus has the potential to be similarly used for informed decision making and effective management actions.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment
Impact Types Societal


Policy & public services

Description Informed Public Policy and Planning in Western Australia
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Contribution to new or Improved professional practice
Impact The framework directly supports stakeholder-specific improvement of quality-of-life through guiding environmental management. A key challenge of environmental management is the complexity of leveraging limited resources to deliver maximum utility for stakeholders. Traditional methods employ economics-driven measures, i.e. seek to optimise the state of the environment in respect to a monetary valuation of its properties (e.g. clean water, various species, etc.). The framework developed here uses novel ways to capture information directly from local stakeholders directly affected by the management of a the given catchment. These data, which are often complex and uncertain (e.g. discord between stakeholder groups) are integrated with environmental data to provide managers with a a clear and transparent, i.e. explainable-to-stakeholders set of recommendations on which management actions are expected to deliver the maximum increase in stakeholder quality of life, for the level of investment/resource available.
Description Methodology employed in Recovery Plans for Western Australian RAMSAR wetlands
Geographic Reach Australia 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact Through enabling comprehensive and transparent (data driven) conservation planning, the project has contributed to the delivery of a management plan which captures stakeholders' expectations and maximizes the delivery of human value based on environmental conservation for the catchments. The Western Australian Government has published the 20 years management plan (November 2017) for the Toolibin wetland ( Toolibin is Ramsar listed as one of about 2200 worldwide wetlands of international importance and contains the following acknowledgement to the project: "We gratefully acknowledge the support and the research-driven methodological innovation contributed by the School of Computer Science at the University of Nottingham, led by Dr Christian Wagner and funded by the UK EPSRC (EP/K012479/1) and NERC (NE/M008401/1). The research conducted and its outputs have been instrumental in both informing key aspects of this management plan and advancing the methodological research underpinning it"
Description Leveraging the Multi-Stakeholder Nature of Cyber Security
Amount £770,473 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P011918/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2017 
End 03/2021