The Development Studies Group (DSG) brings together multidisciplinary expertise on development-related themes from across the fields of Anthropology, Computing, Economics, Engineering, Environmental Research, Geography, Marketing, Medicine, Operations Research, Political Science and Sociology. Underpinning our work is a commitment to gender and ethnic equality, a desire to help reduce poverty and inequality, a belief in sustainable growth and the application of appropriate technologies, and a conviction that action needs to be taken to shield the most vulnerable from the devastation caused by disasters and civil turmoil.

The DSG is structured around four research pillars:

  • Health and Wellbeing
  • Just Society
  • Water and Aquatic Resources
  • Infrastructure and Technology

Each pillar groups a team of researchers with international recognition who are at the cutting-edge of their respective disciplines. The diversity of experience and expertise found within the four pillars enables our researchers to develop original ideas, to tackle development-related problems through different lenses, and to offer a wide area of competencies to development agencies.

Our researchers collaborate on a scientific level with researchers across the six continents, and are engaged in fieldwork in a number of developing countries around the world. The DSG hosts a vibrant multidisciplinary research seminar series.


Health and Wellbeing

The remit of this pillar is wide, covering concerns about infant and maternal mortality and the combatting of certain diseases (as espoused by the MDGs), it also encompasses research into fertility, neglected tropical/non-communicable diseases, health-related behaviours, harmful cultural practices and even health advertising.

Gender-Based violence is often treated as a health related issue. We also know that eradicating GBV will be a key Sustainable Development Goal post 2015 and the measuring of progress against that goal will undoubtedly include a number of health related indicators such as access to sexual and reproductive health provision. Additionally, the adoption of a biomedical perspective on the impact of certain cultural practices such as Female Genital Mutilation is seen as vital for long-term mind-set change which ultimately leads to its eradication. The reach of this pillar extends also into an analysis of the links between public health and ecosystems in coastal zones (with the paradox that the more an ecosystem is in good shape the more it produces services that affect people).) The pillar will therefore look at gathering and pooling  demographic data on a range of health issues but will also consider qualitatively the impacts they have for people’s lives and in particular the intersections between culture, religion and gender for people’s health well-being.

Topic 1: The eradication of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in Sudan

This is a three year research project funded by DFID and working with IMC Worldwide. The project seeks to understand what the triggers are for long-term and sustainable mind-set change around FGM/C in Sudan. This project sits within the evaluation of DFID’s flagship eradication programme and has direct impact in shaping policies and interventions to end this practice. The project will train two PhD students at Ahfad Women’s University in Khartoum who will conduct longitudinal and qualitative research exploring critical questions around behavioural change in relation to FGM/C.

The Just Society

The Just Society pillar covers a variety of themes related to trade, micro-finance and governance in developing countries. Researchers within this pillar are actively engaged in investigating the development and evolution of social, economic and political institutions in the global South.

Research interests encompass concepts such as: state power and state building, democratisation, the role of culture in these processes, self-determination and sovereignty, and the role of the colonial heritage. An important part of this pillar is dedicated to studying the role and efficiency of NGOs and development aid agencies in such contexts.

Particular attention is given by our researchers to the strategic orientation of NGOs, their accountability, and the political economy of such organisations. Moreover, we also focus on capacity of both state institutions and civil society to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals and build an inclusive and responsive post-2015 development framework.

Topic 1: Institutions, governments and development

There exists compelling evidence on the role of governments in achieving development goals and in channelling development aid. The quality of governments is reflected in the quality of institutions (political, economic, …) both at the national and sub-national level, and this in turn determines the nation’s and regions’ capacity to tackle development-related problems, such as poverty, sanitation, education, or women’s empowerment. It is therefore essential to understand the processes leading to nations’ sovereignty and state building. Our research also focuses on the process of democratisation, on the role of government and civil society, and on their role in formulating development policies. Among the various tools at the disposal of governments, our researchers give particular attention to education, technology, and market reforms.

Topic 2: Fair Trade

As a business model, balancing the demands of being ‘in and against the market’ has challenged and gripped Fair Trade. From the early 1990s, Fair Trade has developed from being an activist-led campaign interest, to become a popular and engaging customer value proposition. The primary device in promoting the market for Fair Trade has been the success of the FAIRTRADE Mark. However, our research reveals that, historically, Fair Trade’s success as a ‘consumer movement for change’ needs to be understood and recognised as highly contingent on its connection to wider social networks. What emerges from detailed archive research is the significant role played by civil society organisations as intermediaries - linking producers, businesses and consumers. In the global South, the main challenges for Fairtrade certification focus on questions of governance, representation and community impact, and the implications for developing a distinct and effective Theory of Change.

Topic 3: Micro finance institutions

Microfinance has been one of the primary tools in development policies in the last decades. The provision of formal financial services, including business loans, to low income populations in developing countries is believed to have an impact on the poor households’ income and well-being, and is considered to be a powerful instrument to reduce poverty. Thus, microfinance programmes have been attracting funds from differentiated sources from international donor agencies to individuals around the world through crowdfunding platforms.

There are a broad range of research questions associated with the sector both from the supply side (funders, microfinance institutions) and the demand (clients). Presently the DSG researchers are focusing on two main areas: crowdfunding in microfinance and accountability of the microfinance institutions, namely questions related with measurement methodologies and communication of the outcomes and impact of their programmes.

Water and aquatic resources

This Pillar brings together economists, scientists, engineers and geographers to seek holistic solutions to Water and Aquatic Resource challenges, recognising the interdependence of technology, environmental and social sciences.

Access to safe water and sanitation are major targets of the Millennium Development Goals, highlighting the key role of water in sustainable human development, social justice and gender equality.  Aquatic resources provide vital protein in low income communities, but also valuable ecosystem services to maintain agriculture, fisheries and health.

All these benefits are threatened by overexploitation, pollution and climate change.

This pillar draws on experts from the University of Portsmouth Environment Network (UPEN).

Topic 1: Water resources management

Water is a renewable resource; however, it is finite and exhaustible. There is increasing evidence that climate change is having an impact, and degradation further reduces available supplies of safe water. Demand for water, on the other hand, has increased in relation to supply, largely due to population growth, reducing per capita availability. Governance arrangements in contexts of stress and scarcity assumes greater significance, and many developing and middle-income countries, such as South Africa and Brazil, are pioneers of globally agreed principles for water resources management best practice with policies that pursue Integrated Catchment Management, stakeholder participation and devolution, and place an economic value on water.

Research evaluates the implementation of Catchment Management Agencies in South Africa, and questions whether participatory processes can overcome inherent power differentials. More recently, and in collaboration with the Federal University of Espírito Santo, Brazil; SOAS, University of London; the Environment Agency and the Westcountry Rivers Trust and she is exploring the establishment of Watershed Committees in Brazil.

Rural Groundwater Management and the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals

The Community Based Management Model dominates rural water management across Sub-Saharan Africa, however, at any one time, a third of handpumps are non-functional.  Researchers working with The Water Trust (a Ugandan NGO) have explored the disappointing outcomes of the CBM model. Their focus now turns to evaluating alternatives to the CBM model because until there is a resolution to the financing of handpump maintenance, the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals will not be realised.

Topic 2: Fisheries and ecosystem services

Developing countries export more fish products than all other commodities together (cacao, coffee, fruits, etc.). Links between trade, economic development and food security of developing countries, both coastal and landlocked with large freshwater surfaces, are therefore something that we have looked at with regard to many African, South East Asia, Pacific and Caribbean countries. Our research acknowledges that trade and fishery management are also closely linked: compliance with IUU (illegal, Unreported and unregulated) rules and implementation of new technical barriers to trade such as mandatory product certification impact on the way fisheries are operating. We have also published various reports and papers on the concept of the blue economy and ocean governance – where fisheries are considered to be just one element of the whole marine ecosystem. Within the context of climate change, we are currently developing different risk scenarios to help countries to mitigate and adapt to the negative impacts of sea level rise, water acidification, and higher sea temperatures.

Ecosystem services valuation is a new area of intervention producing methodological guidelines for the French Initiative for the protection of coral reefs (IFRECOR), the West African Network for Marine Protected Areas (RAMPAO) and for the International Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and also realised a series of studies in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Pacific and West Africa. Research has also focused on the specific problems affecting fisheries development and livelihood opportunities within the Central Asian region.

Infrastructure and technology

This pillar covers three key topic areas in relation to infrastructure and technology and the significance of both natural and human infrastructures in enhancing development capacities and capabilities.

The topics areas cover key issues identified by RCUK by focusing on the services provided by both humanly produced and natural resources as well as the development of sustainable, resilient and local solutions to living in uncertain and hazardous environments.

The topics areas focus on using appropriate and advanced technologies in development to promote sustainable economic growth through influencing behaviour and practices. The promotion of capacity and capabilities building at different scales through these technologies will enhance the potential for a fair and just social development. The key topic areas covered by this pillar are:

  • Valuation and impact of infrastructure - the identification and valuation of human and natural infrastructure and their significance in development
  • Appropriate technologies and development of infrastructure - the development, evaluation and application of appropriate technologies in the construction of resilient and sustainability infrastructure and their significance for development in practice
  • Technologies and capability expansion - technologies as creators of capacities and capabilities in development

Topic 1: Valuation and impact of infrastructure

A key research focus is the identification of the impact of geophysical disasters on infrastructure  in developing economies and the impact of such events no the physical, technological, economic and social infrastructure. Importantly, the vulnerability of infrastructure and populations can be mapped and analysed before a disaster strikes through the use of low-cost imagery and this information used in preventative planning and management of urban spaces. The same technologies and methods can be used to develop resilient infrastructure with the potential for this information informing community-based decision-making.

The long-term resilience of  infrastructure to both shocks of disasters and the chronic issues of development are an essentials research focus that require the detailed analysis of often incomplete datasets as well as the ability to produce robust forecasts of future resilience to impacts.

Topic 2: Appropriate technologies and development of infrastructure

There is a compelling necessity for the scientific analysis and development of appropriate technologies for the production of building materials from different types of wastes. Agricultural and industrial wastes are terms use to describe waste produced on farms and industries through various activities. The concept of waste as a building material is the use of agricultural or industrial by-product in the form of fibres, grains and ashes in addition to other materials such as earth and binders to produce building materials that are environmental friendly, socially accepted and affordable in order to produce low-cost and low-energy housing to promote sustainability in construction.

Sustainable development of urban areas is a key driver of research into effective rainwater harvesting and into the development of ‘green space’ in urban areas. Effective regulation of urban space to enhance sustainability requires an understanding of both the physical nature and use of that space as well as the socio-economic and cultural context of urban space.

Development of appropriate technologies needs to recognise the key role of mobile technologies in enabling and enhancing community-based actions. The technical as well as the social and educational problems of communities using mobile technologies in developing a complex and interconnected infrastructure is a key research focus.

Topic 3: Technologies and capability expansion

Mobile technologies can enable both individual and community development through their ability to connect individuals and communities into local and wider economic and social networks. The innovate use of such technologies and their enabling role in expanding individual and community-based capabilities is a key focus of research.

Software and information technology policies in Brazil, with particular reference to inclusion, the development of social capital and knowledge goods through the use of digital resources, in alliance with civil society and the third sector. On an international level, global internet governance and the assertion of the autonomous ownership and distribution of knowledge are a central developmental goal for the Global South.

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