ESRC GCRF IAA – International Development Conference on Vulnerability and Resilience

SpringAid was invited in a two-day high profile International Development conference around the over-arching theme of Vulnerability and Resilience was recently hosted by the Leeds Social Sciences Institute and Centre for Global Development, and was held on Wednesday, 23 November at Weetwood Hall in Leeds. The conference brought together academics, policy-makers, practitioners, private sector, civil society as well as regional and international organisations to explore the role of interdisciplinary research in advancing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The conference, which was funded through the ESRC Global Challenges Research Fund Impact Acceleration Account, was delivered around significant themes and provided a forum through which to debate current issues and explore new collaborations.

The conference had three main objectives:

  1. Raising awareness: providing participants with an opportunity to hear from academics with a strong track record of conducting research in developing countries.
  2. Capacity building: engaging social scientists who have not worked in the international development field to engage with the demands of global challenge research to help build new capacity in this area.
  3. Exploring new connections and strengthening existing relationships with external partners, particularly in low-middle income countries.

It focused on four themes running through the SDGs: inequalities, migration, urban public health, and urban security and justice. Interconnections across themes, disciplines and contexts were brought to the fore in presentations and breakout sessions.

The conference was designed around the RCUK and ESRC GCRF and UK Aid’s strategic priorities with the specific aim of exploring and reviewing the contribution of social science research to promote economic growth or the welfare of developing countries. Over 70 people participated in the two-day international development conference on the theme of vulnerability and resilience which focused on four themes running through the Sustainable Development Goals: inequalities, migration, urban public health, and urban security and justice.  It brought together representatives from universities, research institutes, civil society organisations (CSOs), and government from around the world to share experiences of impact-oriented research, and to foster new partnerships across academic disciplines and practice to take advantage of GCRF funding.

Keynote presentations on vulnerability and resilience

The first day of the conference opened with a keynote presentation from Juma Assiago (Coordinator of the Safer Cities Programme of the United Centre for Human Settlements UN Habitat) that introduced the overarching theme of vulnerability and challenges faced by LMIC. He focused particularly on urbanisation and the key challenges identified in the New Urban Agenda following the Habitat III global summit.

Professor Andrew Dougill (Dean of Faculty of Environment & Professor of Environmental Sustainability University of Leeds) then shared reflections from a multi-country research project on climate change vulnerability (and/or resilience) of African farming systems.

Topics raised included the role of in-country academic collaborators in the research process; working with former PhD students to build partnerships in-country; and working with national organisations to support research uptake.


Sharing best research in practice

James Newell (Professor of International Public Health, Leeds Institute for Health Sciences) spoke about setting up the Communicable Diseases Health Service Delivery (COMDIS).

The consortium has been developed in such a way that research questions are driven by stakeholders (NGOs and governments) in the global south, where governments are partners from the start ensuring the research is embedded within routine health systems.

Dr Anne Tallontire (Senior Lecturer, Business, Environment & Corporate Responsibility, Faculty of Environment) then reflected on the Official Development Assistance in practice.

She focused on the 2007-2010 ESRC DFID project, the Pretoria DFID-ESRC workshop from March (Sharing Lessons Learnt from a Decade’s ESRC-DFID Research on Poverty: Innovation, Engagement and Impact), and developing relationships with partners.

Exploring new connections

A number of themed presentations from external partners were delivered on the subject of pressing future challenges and opportunities.

On the theme of urban public health there were Dr Blessing Mberu (Head of Urbanization and Wellbeing, African Population and Health Research Centre, Kenya), Dr Ng Chiu Wan (Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, Malaysia), and John Anampiu (Assistant Director of Population (Monitoring and Evaluation), Kenya’s National Council for Population and Development).

Urban security and justice was discussed by Juma Assiago (Coordinator of the Safer Cities Programme of the United Centre for Human Settlements UN Habitat), and Markus Gottsbacher (Senior Program Specialist at International Development Research Centre).

The final theme was migration, which was represented by Tony Bunyan (Statewatch), Yasemin Somuncu (Senior Specialist, Center for Energy, Environment and Economy, Özyeğin University), and Janet Munakamwe (African Centre for Migration & Society, University of the Witwatersrand).

The presentations were followed by a ‘thematic café’, which gave delegates the opportunity to interact with the speakers.

Keynote presentations: ODA and impact

The second day of the conference opened with a keynote presentation from Dr Paul Meller, Head of Strategy, Economic and Social Research Council, on the ODA and the impact agenda.

His talk covered, among other issues, the UK Aid Strategy, the GCRF research agenda for

Mberu (Head of Urbanization and Wellbeing, African Population and Health Research Centre, Kenya), and Anthonia James (Communicable Diseases Health Service Delivery).

Exploring new connections

The conference concluded with four parallel breakout sessions that gave delegates the opportunity to explore urban public health; inequality gender equality / disability; migration; urban security and justice. Read the post-conference report here

enabling change, and building research capacity and collaborations with academics in developing countries.

Achieving evidence-based impact through successful partnerships

The second session was a panel discussion on the subject of achieving evidence-based impact through successful partnerships.

Panel members were Dr Ng Chiu Wan (Equity in Asia-Pacific Health Systems), Dr Blessing

Collaborative research for impact: lessons learned

During the conference, speakers and participants shared valuable insights on best practice in research and achieving evidence-based impact through partnerships. These are clustered under three headings:

Capacity building for research

Discussions highlighted the importance of strengthening the capacity of researchers in-country to analyse data, thereby creating ownership of the process and results; and recognising the value of face-to-face interaction for exchanging ideas and sharing knowledge. Speakers also emphasised that capacity building is a long-term process, and should be co-created.

Participants raised questions around whether it is possible to factor in capacity building support for civil society partners into research collaborations; and the types of skills researchers need for engaging in high impact research in the global South.

Working in partnership and research consortia

Speakers and participants emphasized the importance of:

  • Taking time at the outset of partnerships to establish relationships and processes, including understanding the different contexts and ways in which partners work
  • Being very clear about what all parties want to achieve at the start of the partnership
  • Clearly stating management and decision making-structures when writing proposals involving research consortia  Not underestimating the amount of time needed for management and administration, and making sure this is budgeted for addressing problems in relationships in a timely manner
  • Maintaining communication throughout the partnership
  • Creating opportunities for collaboration between partners in-country
  • Exploring how space for networking and peer-learning between academics and practitioners can be built into research grants; can CSOs assist academics with raising awareness about networking initiatives?

Research impact

Lessons learned and questions raised around designing research to achieve impact included:

  • Integrating policy-makers and end-users from the outset when designing projects
  • Presenting possible solutions to challenges, not just problems, when attempting to gain the attention of policy makers
  • Recognising that undertaking research with children and using it to influence policy can be effective

Questions were also raised around:

  • The improvements needed to monitor and evaluate research impact and analyse failures when policies have not been changed; maintaining impact and relationships after the funding or project has ended; and ensuring that local partners and researchers are protected during and after the research when it may have been controversial or sensitive.

Research Showcase: Communicable Diseases Health Service Delivery (COMDIS), Professor James Newell, Leeds Institute for Health Sciences. Official Development Assistance in Practice, Dr Anne Tallontire, University of Leeds.

Research topics and collaborations

Potential research topics, questions and collaborations for each of the four themes were discussed during breakout sessions.

Thematic reflections from participants on the topic. These are a mixture of questions and observations.

  • Research questions and topics to pursue through new partnerships
  • Cross-cutting issues raised on the theme; research methods that could be used to collect and analyse data; and potential collaborations
  • Next steps




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

We tackle the root causes of poverty and its consequences by building capacities of disadvantaged individuals and communities, empowering them with sufficient skills, knowledge and resources, to maximise their full potential, lift themselves out of poverty.


  • Registered In England, Company Registration Number 9605594,

  • 18 Park Mill Drive, Armley,
    LS12 3UG, United Kingdom.

  • 07765 331 258



All Copyrights Reserved by Spring Aid @2020