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ESRC WRDTP Collaborative Project: Evaluating the Social Value of Innovative Finance: A Case Study of Community Municipal Bonds


Key facts

Type of research degree
Application deadline
Friday 13 March 2020
Project start date
Thursday 1 October 2020
Country eligibility
UK and EU
Source of funding
Research council
Dr Mark Davis
School of Sociology and Social Policy
Research groups/institutes
The Bauman Institute
<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Summary</h2>

This project explores the opportunities and barriers to social value creation offered by a new model of finance for the public sector: Community Municipal Bonds. UK local authorities are on the front line of some of the biggest social and environmental challenges we face. But central government funding has declined significantly under austerity, around a 60% reduction in real terms. At the same time, the UK is the world&rsquo;s leading creator and innovator of investment-based crowdfunding, part of a national alternative finance sector valued at &pound;6.2 billion in 2017. The PhD study will work with Dr Mark Davis, Dr Katy Wright, and Abundance Investment to evaluate how this unique ecosystem can offer new capacity for local authorities to raise finance, to invest in local infrastructure to meet those challenges, at the same time as generating social value for communities. The successful candidate will benefit from a range of research, professional training and transferable skills opportunities. Based in the School of Sociology and Social Policy (SSP), ranked in the top 100 globally (AWRU), the candidate will be an active member of the Bauman Institute for Critical Sociology (BI) and the new Centre for Transdisciplinary Methodology (CTM). Both centres have a strong reputation as established providers of doctoral training. Both centres also have a vibrant research culture and environment, organising regular seminars, workshops, reading groups, and contributing to the School&rsquo;s annual postgraduate research conference. The candidate will also be a part of the Leeds Doctoral College and benefit from advanced research and skills training provided by SSP and the University of Leeds. SSP is part of the ESRC-funded WRDTP and offers accredited social research training. The candidate will auto-enrol into the mandatory PhD training framework for WRDTP-funded researchers providing those modules covering advanced social research and professional skills for research leadership. The candidate will benefit from broader professional development opportunities via the collaboration with Abundance, who provide two non-paid work placements enabling the successful candidate: unprecedented access to analyse a unique dataset; to participate in the design, preparation and publication of reports to a variety of non-HE audiences and wider stakeholders; and to embed an impact pathway into their doctoral studies from the start. Abundance will cover the travel, subsistence and accommodation expenses associated with the non-paid placements so they incur no additional costs to the candidate.

<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Full description</h2>

<p><strong>Context</strong><br /> Public sector finance remains under increasing pressure. Funding is needed now. And whilst local authorities are still able to borrow money, via the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB), the decision on 9 October 2019 to increase borrowing rates by 100 bps has resulted PWLB borrowing plummeting from &pound;2bn in August to just &pound;469.3m by the end of October (Room151, 2019).&nbsp;<br /> One option is to fill the funding gap with various forms of private project finance (PPP/PFI), but research by <a href="">Dr Mark Davis</a> has employed a &lsquo;relational economies&rsquo; approach to show that different forms of money come with different values and expectations attached (Zelizer 1994; Bandelj, Wherry, &amp; Zelizer, 2017; Wilkis, 2018).</p> <p><strong>Collaborator</strong><br /> Pioneered in the UK by <a href="">Abundance Investment</a>, investment-based crowdfunding provides investors with both a financial return through debt or equity business models whilst enabling them transparently to invest in ostensibly &lsquo;positive&rsquo; projects (e.g. renewable energy, community housing).&nbsp;<br /> They are a company at the forefront of UK financial innovation since 2012 and sector leaders in green and social infrastructure investment. Their offer is to help better align investor motivations with outcomes that reflect a sense of social and environmental responsibility.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>The Project</strong><br /> The PhD project investigates the extent to which people are choosing to allocate their capital to such projects via investment-based crowdfunding models specifically to realise higher levels of social and/or environmental value.<br /> With unprecedented access to anonymised data held by Abundance on 6000 investors via their platform, the candidate will examine how socio-economic characteristics and social roles (e.g. ethnicity, class, age, disability, labour market participation) shapes engagement with innovative finance.<br /> One hypothesis to be tested is whether or not having a long-term financial stake helps to reconnect citizens with their local areas whilst building new networks of trust and understanding between local authorities and their communities. Participatory and deliberative processes could be enhanced as local people engage more actively with their local authority and begin to change governance (and potentially asset ownership) structures.<br /> At present, most local money is held in traditional high-street banks in poorly performing cash, savings and investment products. This money leaves the local area via national and international finance circuits and so realises very little value in the local community.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Financing for Society</strong><br /> Recent collaborative research by Dr Mark Davis and Abundance Investment tested the technical, financial and legal feasibility of investment-based crowdfunding as a new model of finance for the public sector <a href="">(Davis and Cartwright, 2019)</a>. This led to the co-creation with local authorities of Community Municipal Bonds (CMBs) as a new model of finance designed to overcome this.&nbsp;<br /> Several CMBs will be introduced by local authorities across the UK during 2020 which could be transformative.&nbsp;</p> <p>Based on ONS and HMRC data, for example, citizens within the City of Leeds are estimated to hold a staggering &pound;15 billion of cash and investments. Redirecting just a small and appropriate portion of this money back into the local community via CMBs to finance projects that benefit the local community could transform local economies and generate high levels of social and/or environmental value.&nbsp;<br /> But will it work in this way, for whom and in which circumstances?<br /> Current research has not fully explored the role of social value creation in empirical terms as part of the investor motivation puzzle. The project applies these insights in the design and conduct of qualitative research (e.g. interviews, focus groups, and ethnographic techniques) to evaluate the social impact of CMBs as they are launched in at least three communities.&nbsp;<br /> Exploring the experiences of multiple stakeholders in this process, including who chooses to invest and why, will be key to assessing the ways in which social value is created or not via this new model of public sector finance.</p> <p><strong>Research Questions</strong><br /> The main research question is therefore:<br /> <em>&ldquo;How, if at all, do innovative finance mechanisms (e.g. Community Municipal Bonds) influence the creation of social value within local communities?&rdquo;&nbsp;</em><br /> Specifically, the project will focus upon evaluating the motivations of key stakeholders to solve the funding puzzle for local authorities by asking:<br /> 1) &nbsp; <em>&nbsp;Who currently invests in innovative finance and why?<br /> 2) &nbsp; &nbsp;How does an innovative finance offer by a local authority (e.g. Community Municipal Bonds) impact on the short-term and long-term creation of social value within a community?<br /> 3) &nbsp; &nbsp;How do attitudes and behaviour of community residents (as both investors and non-investors) change toward their local authority as a result?<br /> 4) &nbsp; &nbsp;What lessons emerge for our wider understanding of what constitutes social value and how it is experienced?</em><br /> The opportunity to assess the social impact of CMBs at the moment of their launch by local authorities is therefore both timely and exciting.</p> <p><strong>Project Structure</strong><br /> The project begins in year one by establishing a baseline understanding of motivations with unprecedented access to a unique anonymised dataset of 6000 investors via the Abundance platform, known to facilitate investment in socially and environmentally responsible projects. Alongside desk research &ndash; economic sociology, social studies of finance, social and public policy, ecological economics &ndash; analysis and coding of this anonymised data will test theories and conceptualisations of investor motivations and social value in existing literature.<br /> In year two, the project applies qualitative research methods (e.g. interviews, focus groups, ethnographic techniques) to evaluate the impact of CMBs as they are introduced in at least three communities. Exploring who invests and why, and assessing the ways in which social value is created or not via CMBs, will make a valuable contribution to social science research addressing the crucial challenge of ensuring the sustainable delivery of local public services in times of austerity.&nbsp;<br /> The final year will involve completion of the thesis writing process and building / enhancing a publications record in high-impact journals.</p> <p><strong>Work Placement</strong><br /> The candidate will also benefit from broader professional development opportunities via two non-paid work placements provided by Abundance (up to 4 weeks in year one; up to 6 weeks in year two) and allowing the successful candidate:&nbsp;</p> <ul> <li>unprecedented access to analyse a unique anonymised dataset;&nbsp;</li> <li>to participate in the design, preparation and publication of reports to a variety of non HE audiences and wider stakeholders; and&nbsp;</li> <li>to embed an impact pathway into their doctoral studies from the start.&nbsp;</li> </ul> <p>Abundance will cover the travel, subsistence and accommodation expenses associated with the non-paid placements so they incur no additional costs to the candidate.</p>

<h2 class="heading">How to apply</h2>

<p><strong>Stage 1</strong> - Applicants applying on both a +3 (3 year PhD) and a 1+3 (MA Social Research Interdisciplinary + 3 year PhD) basis should first of all apply for the relevant research postgraduate programme to commence 1 October 2020 on the University of Leeds<a href=""> online application</a>, clearly stating that the funding you wish to apply for is &#39;ESRC WRDTP Collaborative Studentship&#39; and the project title you are applying for.</p> <p><br /> <strong>Stage 2</strong> - Once you are in receipt of your 9-digit Student ID Number, you should complete the <a href="">online studentship application form </a>by the Scholarship deadline (17:00 UK time on 13<sup>th</sup>&nbsp;March 2020)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Awards are available on +3 (PhD) basis or on a 1+3 basis (MA Social Research (Interdisciplinary) plus PhD. Applicants applying for a +3 award must demonstrate that they have already completed the full social sciences research methods training requirements at masters level. i.e. to be eligible for a +3 award, the student must demonstrate that they have already completed substantial social sciences training in research methods which would enable them to undertake an independent research project in a particular discipline or interdisciplinary field. A candidate must have at least 60 credits at M level of core social sciences research methods training acquired in the last five years. This must include a broad range of methods, including quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods and the use of appropriate software/tools for their application, and comprehension of principles of research design and strategy, and an appreciation of alternative approaches to research.&nbsp;</p> <p>Further details about the different schemes, pathways, eligibility criteria can be found at on the <a href="">WRDTP website</a>.</p> <p>After receipt of your studentship application, the relevant <a href="">Graduate School</a>&nbsp;can&nbsp;provide further advice on your suitability for either a +3 or 1+3 studentship and advise whether&nbsp;the MA Social Research (Interdisciplinary) is required.</p> <p>You will be required to provide 2 academic <a href="">references</a> in support of your studentship application.</p> <p><em>We welcome applications from all suitably-qualified candidates, but UK black and minority ethnic (BME) researchers are currently under-represented in our Postgraduate Research community, and we would therefore particularly encourage applications from UK BME candidates. &nbsp;All scholarships will be awarded on the basis of merit.</em></p>

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">Entry requirements</h2>

Applicants to research degree programmes should normally have at least a first class or an upper second class British Bachelors Honours degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate discipline. If applying on a +3 basis applicants should also have a Masters with a Merit (or expected Merit) grade in an appropriate subject area. Applicants who are uncertain about the requirements for a particular research degree are advised to contact the Graduate School prior to making an application.

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">English language requirements</h2>

The minimum English language entry requirement for research postgraduate research study in the School of Sociology and Social Policy is an IELTS of 6.5 overall with at least 6.0 in each component (reading, writing, listening and speaking) or equivalent. The test must be dated within two years of the start date of the course in order to be valid.

<h2 class="heading">Funding on offer</h2>

<p>Full awards provide UK/EU academic fees and a maintenance grant at standard Research Council rates (&pound;15,009 in Session 2019/20) for full-time study, together with other allowances if appropriate. EU applicants will be eligible for an award paying tuition fees only, except in exceptional circumstances, or where residency has been established for more than 3 years prior to the start of the course.</p>

<h2 class="heading">Contact details</h2>

<p>For further information about how to apply please contact the Graduate School Office<br /> e:&nbsp;<a href=""></a>, t:<a href="tel: +4411334338056"> +44 (0)113 343 38056</a></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For further information about the project please contact <a href="">Dr Mark Davis</a>&nbsp;</p> <p>email:<a href=""></a>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p>

<h3 class="heading heading--sm">Linked funding opportunities</h3>
<h3 class="heading heading--sm">Linked research areas</h3>