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Adrian Healy

Dr Adrian Healy

Principal Research Fellow

School of Geography and Planning

Media commentator
Available for postgraduate supervision


I am a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow. My work explores themes of urban and regional resilience. This focuses on the social and economic resilience of people and places to natural and man-made shocks. My current research agenda explores the concept of resilience in the context of water stressed cities in sub-Saharan Africa. This combines my experience of economic geography with insights from behavioural psychology and hydrogeology. It is opening up new understandings of the role that individual choice can play in shaping collective resilience outcomes, and the considerations framing those choices. I maintain an interest in the resilience of European economies, and am collaborating on a Horizon 2020 research project examining the implications of carbon transitions for social and economic justice in Wales. This develops themes of justice and equality which span all of my working interests.














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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 current research explores concepts of urban water resilience in cities in sub-Saharan Africa.

Water Stressed Cities: individual choice, access to water and pathways to resilience in sub-Saharan Africa 

Financed by a UKRI Future Leader Fellowship, this ambitious programme of research examines how urban populations manage water shortages and what the implications of this are for the longer-term resilience of the city where they live. The research focuses on four cities in sub-Saharan Africa (Cape Town, Dar-es-Salaam, Lagos and Windhoek) and examines the interplay between individual decision-making and collective resilience outcomes. It marries insights from economic geography, hydrogeology and behavioural psychology. Through funding from the University's GCRF award provided by HEFCW, I am also leading work exploring Resilience in Water and Food Systems in low and middle income countries (CATALYST: Transforming Resilience in Water and Food Systems). This extends my work into Ethiopia (Addis Ababa), Kenya (Nairobi) and Somaliland (Hargeisa).

Every Living Thing

I am co-investigator on a British Academy project exploring themes of water resilience in Hargeisa, Somaliland. This project examines the nexus of economic and cultural values alongside (in)formal water practices in order to strengthen the resilience of urban water supplies and secure affordable access to safe water for all.

Energy Transitions from Coal and Carbon: Effects on Societies (ENTRANCES)

Financed by Horizon 2020 this research project examining the implications of carbon transitions for social and economic justice iacross the EU. It will contribute to a better understanding of Just Transitions. Wales's problematic transition from coal-based economic activities in the 1980s provides important lessons for other regions currently experiencing a similar industrial transformation, which current proposals for the 'decarbonisation' of the economy and society provide opportunities to promote more equitable outcomes and overturn past inequalities.

CATALYST: Transforming resilience across water and food systems

A multidisciplinary international collaboration examining key socio-economic challenges in urban water management and the interconnection of human, animal and environmental health and well-being. CATALYST focused on research in Brazil, Vietnam and East Africa (Hargeisa, Nairobi and Addis Ababa). My role was to co-lead the overall project with particular responsibilities for leading the research actions in East Africa alongside local partners and developing cross-cutting approaches to resilience. The project was a major strategic investment by Cardiff University and financed through an institutional commitment of GCRF funding from HEFCW.

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:,-behaviour-and-choice-in-west-africa-rigss

The Resilience Games

This explored 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 it can also be used as a participatory research tool. The project was 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 of 2008/09 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:

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.


Adrian holds a UKRI Future Leader Fellowship at Cardiff University. His Fellowship focuses on the uresilience of water stressed cities in Sub-Saharan Africa. 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 was followed by research into regional innovation and economic resilience.

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
  • 2011-18 : School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University
  • 2019 : University of the West of England
  • 2019 : Wales Centre for Public Policy, Cardiff University
  • 2020- : School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University


I am interested in supervising students in the areas of urban water resilience and water justice, particularly with respect to access to water in urban areas of low and middle income countries.