Dr Adrian Healy

Dr Adrian Healy

Research Associate

School of Geography and Planning

Media commentator

My research spans academic and policy boundaries and explores themes of resilience, innovation and the development of places. It combines rigorous policy review with theoretical insights, promoting strong policy-led impact. I am currently developing an exciting strand of research that combines my experience of working in transition economies across the EU with urban development trends in sub-Saharan Africa. This tackles one of the most pressing societal challenges today, how to ensure secure access to safe water for all in the face of rapid urbanisation. In doing so I am contributing new insights into the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – notably SDG 6 and SDG 11.

I take a highly interdisciplinary perspective to explore the interplay between individual choices and the cumulative resilience of urban areas, and their wider communities. This is one of the least explored areas of resilience research, yet experience demonstrates it is of vital significance when governmental capacity to act is stretched to its limits. Using both slow burn water crises, such as in Lagos where fewer than 20% of a population of more than 20 million people have access to municipal piped water supplies, and more episodic shocks, such as in Cape Town, which in 2018 became the first major city in the world to announce it might run out of water, I am exploring the attitudes and perceptions framing individual actions and how these are shaped by more structural features.

My work has been supported by a number of recent grants (from the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund and a Water Leadership Award from Cardiff University’s Water Research Institute). I also work closely with key bodies including international NGOs, such as Oxfam and WaterAid; international agencies, such as UN-Habitat and OECD; commercial companies, such as ARUP and Welsh Water; and local municipal and public bodies in the cities concerned. These links help to ensure my work is both relevant and makes a difference on the ground.

I also have extensive experience of researching innovation and regional economic development in the EU, combining knowledge of innovation, education and research initiatives. In this capacity I have worked with local, regional and national authorities in the UK as well as with several of the European Commission Directorate Generals and other Member States. Previous policy work focused on the role of proximity in innovation and economic development, particularly the nature and activities of knowledge exchange networks. 

Innovation and Engagement

Working at the interface of policy and research, I am closely involved in activities that engage with policy makers and practitioners. Between 2015 and 2018 I managed Cardiff University’s flagship engagement project promoting the University’s contribution to the social and economic development of it’s surrounding city region.

I am regularly invited to speak at international conferences and policy events on themes ranging from EU regional programmes, research and innovation and economic resilience. Most recently, I was invited to address the Urban Resilience Summit in Toyama, Japan and, in 2018, and was invited to deliver the annual IAH Burdon memorial lecture (Dublin, Ireland) on the theme of Exploiting Groundwater in Urban Africa.

In 2017 I acted as an advisor to the OECD’s review of urban resilience and, previously, was an advisor to the UK’s House of Common's Select Committee inquiry into Regional Economic Disparities. I have provided evidence to inquiries of the National Assembly Wales and have acted as rapporteur to European Commission expert groups examining the EU's Structural Funds and regional innovation. I am currently a member of the UK’s Smart Specialisation Advisory Group.

I provide expert comment to practitioner publications and have contributed to news and current affairs programme on the BBC. I wrote a monthly column on the theme of European Policy for one of the leading economic development publications for a number of years.

Adrian undertook his PhD at Cardiff University, following a successful career in public policy consultancy. His PhD research into the regional dimensions of EU research policies enabled him to explore in more depth particular interests he had developed whilst working in practice. He has subsequently developed research into the urban and regional resilience, most recently focusing on urban water resilience in sub-Saharan Africa, alongside project management and engagement roles. Adrian holds a part-time post (0.4fte) at the University.

Prior to joining Cardiff University, Adrian was a Director of the European consultancy company, ECORYS, specialising in regional economic development, EU policy analysis and the regional dimensions of research and innovation. Whilst with ECORYS, Adrian managed the company's office in Brussels and also led the Innovation Policy Division of the company. Adrian is a keen sailor and prior to beginning work at Cardiff University he participated in a round the world sailing race. 

Adrian also holds an undergraduate degree in economics and geography from the University of Newcastle and a post-graduate degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Strathclyde.

Key facts

  • 1986-1989 : BA (Hons) Economics and Geography. University of Newcastle
  • 1989-1991 : MSc Urban and Regional Planning. University of Strathclyde
  • 1991-1994 : Researcher, University of Strathclyde (local economic development)
  • 1994-2004 : Consultant rising to Director, ECORYS (European urban and regional development)
  • 2004-2008 : PhD Cardiff University (regional research and innovation)
  • 2009-2010 : Round the World sailing race
  • 2011- : School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University

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My research focuses on the development of places over time, exploring the interface of resilience to shocks and the capacity to innovate. This addresses key societal challenges and increasingly focuses on the interplay of individual agency in collective resilience outcomes. My most recent research explores concepts of urban water resilience in cities in sub-Saharan Africa.

I have led two recent projects exploring the role of groundwater in the resilience of urban centres (RIGSS and GRiSAN). Both were funded by the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund. These developed from my interest in the role of agency in shaping resilience outcomes and involved highly novel interdisciplinary approaches bringing together expertise from the worlds of hydrogeology, psychology, economic geography and journalism. I am currently also contributing to a small developmental project (The Resilience Games).

Groundwater Resilience in South Africa and Namibia (GRiSAN).

Financed through an award from Cardiff University’s QR GCRF funds (provided by HEFCW) this short project further developed the work piloted under the RIGGS project, below, to explore the role of context in framing individual perceptions and resilience outcomes. It examined attitudes towards the development of groundwater reserves in Windhoek (Namibia) and Cape Town (South Africa), focusing on the role of episodic drought and trust in institutional structures.

Resilience in Groundwater Supply Systems (RIGSS)

Financed through the GCRF: Building Resilience programme, RIGSS explored the role of agency in resilience outcomes. It focused on the proliferation of privately-commissioned domestic boreholes in Nigeria, with an emphasis on the coastal city of Lagos, Maiduguri in North East Nigeria and, for comparison, a rural area in central Nigeria. The project adopted a highly innovative approach, combining perspectives from hydrogeology, psychology, economic geography and journalism. Further details can be found here: https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/research/explore/find-a-project/view/523269-resilience-in-groundwater-supply-systems-integrating-resource-based-approaches-with-agency,-behaviour-and-choice-in-west-africa-rigss

The Resilience Games

This explores how novel gaming approaches might be applied as an educational tool to raise awareness of the choices and tradeoffs that influence the resilience of places. Initially aimed at school children we also intend to develop this as a participatory research tool. The project is funded by the GW4 group of Universities (Cardiff, Bath, Bristol and Exeter).

I previously led major research projects on the theme of regional economic resilience (ECR2) and innovation (SmartSpec and UBC), which developed from my past experience of working on EU policies and programmes. These are summarised below.

Economic Crisis: Regional Resilience (ECR2). The economic crisis raised important questions for policy makers and economic geographers alike. Why are some regions better able to withstand economic shocks than others? Why do some recover more quickly, whilst others appear to experience sustained stagnation. This pan-European research project was supported by the ESPON research programme with funds from the European Commission and all Member States. It reported in 2015.

Regional Innovation and Smart Specialisation (SmartSpec). Funded by the EU's FP7 research programme this high profile 3-year project examined the principles and practices underpinning the European Commission's new approach to stimulating research and innovation activity across European territories. Further details can be found here: https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/research/explore/find-a-project/view/461391-smart-specialisation-for-regional-innovation-smartspec

Measuring the outcomes of University-Business collaboration in the field of education (UBC). Whilst there has been much research examining the practices and processes underpinning cooperation between universities and businesses for research and innovation purposes, there is much less understanding of cooperation for educational reasons. Funded by the EU's DG Education and Culture this project filled this gap and provided practical advice on how cooperating organisations, or those funding cooperation activities, might begin to measure the success of their activities.