Research Projects

SIID exists to facilitates, strengthens and amplify international development research in the University. The following projects provides an indication of the diversity of work that can be found across the University. They are just a selection of the work that we have supported and with which we are proud to be associated.

Psy-technologies as global assemblage: histories and social lives of quantification and digitisation in three former countries of the British Empire

Researchers: China Mills, Eva Hilberg (University of Sheffield), Elise Klein (University of Melbourne)

This new research has just received funding from the British Academy and will be led by China Mills, with co-investigators Elise Klein (University of Melbourne) and Eva Hilberg (University of Sheffield). It will investigate the colonial histories of psy-technologies in India, South Africa and Australia. For some, psy-technologies signify a ‘new field of investigation’, which raises new questions about identity and healthcare, and the need for novel methodological tools to research these (Rich and Miah 2017, 86). Yet, while many technologies are new, they are embedded in historical conditions of possibility, for example, calculative and classificatory technologies were central to colonial administration and governance (Ajana, 2013). Through archival work we will trace the historical dimensions of these technologies and how this shapes their reception and implementation, as well as fundamentally structuring how behavior and psychologies are understood and governed. By psy-technologies we are referring to both digitization (such as phone apps) and quantification (such as through algorithmic diagnostic tools).

This research aims to:

dig deeper into the historical conditions that enabled the development of psy-technologies in each case site, through archival work in Canberra, Geneva, and London

foreground a post-colonial analysis – given that each case study has a history linked to the British Empire

extend analysis to include the wider global assemblages of human rights politics and political economy in which our focus psy-technologies are embedded

Want to know more?

Our research team will also be presenting our findings and ongoing research at various events, including: a paper on "The Psycho-Social Lives of Diagnostic Algorithms" at the XIX ISA World Congress of Sociology (July 15-21, 2018) in Toronto, Canada. We have a conference in India on Psy-Technologies planned for March, with our partners at the Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS), Mumbai. So stay tuned for further information!

Changing behavior through technology: therapeutic culture and the digital revolution

Researchers: China Mills, Eva Hilberg (University of Sheffield), Elise Klein (University of Melbourne)

This British Academy funded project, led by China Mills, analyses the social life (production, use, appropriation and resistance) of psy-technologies for behaviour change within international development, with a focus on specific technologies in Australia, India and South Africa (including the Cashless Debit Card, the use of algorithmic diagnostics for mental health, and the use of apps to promote ‘healthy’ behavior).

Our research examines the way development ‘problems’ get framed as amenable to technological ‘solutions’. It seeks to explore:

a) the cultural processes involved in the development and use of digital technologies for behavioural change;

b) the kinds of stakeholders involved and consulted in the development of different technologies, and methods of consultation used;

c) the circulation and uses of data and digital technologies (including uses that exceed original design);

d) the effects that data and digitalisation have for users, particularly for the lives of those who count within the data (i.e. people targeted in the intervention).

Our findings so far points to an underexplored relationship of reinforcement between quantification and digitization – how they fold into each other to make visible behavioural and psychological ‘problems’ and to construct them as amenable to technological intervention (Mills and Hilberg, forthcoming). These technologies are often presented as entirely new and ahistorical, while our project emphasizes their immersion in social and cultural contexts with longstanding histories of the quantification of mental wellbeing.

Fieldwork included time spent at the WHO mhGAP Forum and in South Africa, doing focus groups with young people who use wellbeing apps.

Want to know more?

As part of this research, we have organized two workshops on therapeutic cultures and technologies, and have an upcoming conference on Global Mental Health and Therapeutic Assemblages. Our research team will also be presenting our findings and ongoing research at various events, including: a paper on "The Psycho-Social Lives of Diagnostic Algorithms" at the XIX ISA World Congress of Sociology (July 15-21, 2018) in Toronto, Canada. We have a conference in India on Psy-Technologies planned for March, with our partners at the Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS), Mumbai. So stay tuned for further information!

Urban development amid the new scramble for Africa: Trajectories of late urbanisation in a multi-polar world

Researchers: Dr. Thomas Goodfellow

As much of Africa undergoes an ‘urban revolution’, funded in part by Chinese investment, a new research project led by Dr Tom Goodfellow is looking at what impact ‘new’ forms of development cooperation are having on the continent’s cities. In recent years, China and other rising powers have come to the forefront of investment in Africa, rapidly increasing their involvement as aid donors, investors and sources of migrants. Unlike Western donors such as the World Bank, UK and USA, China in particular has no reservations about funding major urban infrastructure and construction projects, including new transport systems, housing projects and Special Economic Zones on the outskirts of African cities. Yet while there is an increasing amount of research around Chinese engagement in Africa, there has been relatively little work exploring how it is helping to reshape African cities, with potentially long-term consequences.

Dr Goodfellow’s two-year project, funded by an ESRC Future Research Leaders Grant, will look specifically at how these dynamics are playing out in Ethiopia and Uganda, with a particular focus on the cities of Addis Ababa and Kampala.

The Impact of Sexual Identity Acquisition on Children and Young People & Views and Understandings of Sexual Violence, Power and Oppression in Ghanaian Society

Researchers: Dr. Afua Twum-Danso Imoh, Prof. Mansah Prah, Dr. Georgina Oduro

In 2013 Dr. Afua Twum-Danso Imoh, in conjunction with partners at the University of Cape Coast (Ghana) – Professor Mansah Prah and Dr. Georgina Oduro – obtained funding for 3 years from the British Academy International Partnership and Mobility Scheme to undertake a project entitled ‘The Impact of Sexual Identity Acquisition on Children and Young People’s Views and Understandings of Sexual Violence, Power and Oppression in Ghanaian Society’. This project sought to foster collaboration between academics in the Department of Sociological Studies at the University of Sheffield and two universities in Ghana:- the department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Cape Coast and the Center for Gender Studies and Advocacy at the University of Ghana- Legon.

The collaboration established during the course of this project primarily focused on knowledge exchange and capacity building by providing a real world training environment for early career academics and postgraduate students in both countries in which they were able to develop their skills on relevant theoretical and methodological frameworks and data analysis. These activities primarily centred on the development of a pilot research study which aimed to explore the construction of sexual identities amongst children and young adults in Ghana and the implications this has for, not only their experience of sexual violence and power and oppression in relationships, but also for their own understanding and meaning-making of these issues.

Humanitarian aid and global crisis reporting

Researchers: Dr. Dmitry Chernobrov

This research is asking two principal questions: What are the current difficulties in the relationship between aid agencies and media in the rapidly changing field of communication? How do branding and the frequent focus on aid provider’s actions influence overall media representation of a crisis? I explore these questions in relation to emerging and protracted international crises as well as to domestic societal problems. The project involves in-depth interviews with representatives of humanitarian organisations, aid agencies and charity funds, journalists, and humanitarian experts. It goes beyond the traditionally explored relationship between major western aid agencies and media, to compare both European and Russian contexts.

Promoting ethical and sustainable supply chains through accounting and HR practices

Researchers: Prof. Pauline Dibben

Companies need to take responsibility for what happens down their supply chain. The ‘SCA-Emp’ project evaluates how companies tackle accounting and human resources down their supply chains, engaging with existing debates on global value chains, supply chain accounting and employment relations. The project has been funded by the UK government’s Economic and Social Research Council in addition to follow-on funding from the ESRC Impact Accelerator Account. It has involved a quantitative survey and qualitative case study research within textiles and automotive companies in South Africa and Brazil. Led by Professor Dibben (PI), the project team of scholars from the UK (University of Sheffield; University of Essex), South Africa and Brazil has worked closely with an Advisory Board of academics and practitioners. They have run nine workshops, produced publications and also developed a diagnostic toolkit that is free for companies to use and is available from

Digital latecomer economies and the digital trade agenda

Researchers: Dr. Chris Foster

International trade agreements have long been seen as an important aspect of international political economy. They define the rules of the game for international trade and influence the trajectories of national development. Such agreements have often been seen as problematic for low- and middle- income countries. Previous analysis of WTO agreements and TRIPS, for example, suggest they are driven by the political power of the US or the EU, and in turn the lobbying agendas of powerful private firms.

While trade in traditional goods and services is already subject to enforceable rules through multiple trade agreements, areas relevant to the digital economy are weakly regulated. This gap in global rules has provided policy space for countries behind the digital curve (digital latecomers) to implement (often contentious) digital policy to support digital skills and sectors.

Examples of such digital policy include digital market access rules, data localization, and technology transfers in a number of countries including China, Brazil, Vietnam, India, Indonesia and Nigeria. Digital policy represents a threat to leading nations and digital firms, and so we have seen the emergence of a digital trade agenda, particularly present in the rules of recent regional trade agreements such as the TPP.

Our study looks to explore the actors and political economy of the digital trade agenda with respect to digital latecomers. So far we have undertaken pilot interviews with digital firms, firm associations, lobbyists and politicians in two key centres of policy making – Brussels and Washington DC. This work looks to explore the key political economies of policy making and their potential impact on digital latecomers.

For more information see:
‘The TPP and the digital trade agenda: Digital industrial policy and Silicon Valley’s influence on new trade agreements’, LSE Working Paper 175
‘Digital latecomer economies and national internet policy: The case of China’, Conference paper at Internet Policy & Politics Conference 2017

Suitability of SDG indicator data for impact evaluation

Researchers: Dr. Johan Oldekop, Debbie Coldwell and Dr. Karl Evans

To measure progress towards the SDGs’ targets, the Statistical Commission of the UN’s Economic and Social Council has proposed a series of 230 indicators that have now mostly been agreed upon by the UN’s inter-agency Expert Group. These indicators include measures of policy implementation as well as specific metrics to assess potential policy outcomes and effectiveness. Gaining a better understanding of the quality of the linkages between and among goals, targets, indicators and the datasets identified to measure progress is critical for designing SDG-related evaluation mechanisms. A number of research groups have, and are, exploring the availability of the data needed to measure the indicators (finding that only a small proportion of indicators are thoroughly well covered). This project goes one step further and seeks to understand the usefulness of the proposed data to carry out impact analyses of interventions related to the SDGs. We have been invited to submit the results of this work to World Development.

We are assessing if each of the 230 indicators captures policy uptake or the outcome of policies. For outcome indicators we are reviewing the data sources recommended for use in evaluating each and determining the spatial resolution and temporal frequency at which data are typically collected. We do so because these are the two key factors that determine the appropriateness of data for use in analyses assessing the effectiveness of interventions; we use this information to quantify a ‘data appropriateness score’ for impact evaluation. Assessing intervention effectiveness is crucial for meeting SDG aspirations and we have shown that a great deal can be learned about interventions from intelligent design of tests that use existing data and quasi-experimental techniques. We have used these techniques to test the impact of different forest management policies and demographic changes on environmental and socioeconomic outcomes in Nepal, and the impact of food security reduction measures in Brazil. The results of this research project will be a comprehensive evaluation of all 230 indicators, allowing for a series of quasi-experimental projects on existing interventions; future evaluations of future interventions as well as suggestions as to how to improve the effectiveness of data used to examine these indicators.

Resilience policymaking in Nepal: giving voice to communities

Researchers: Dr Simon RushtonDr. Julie Balen, Prof. Bhimsen Devkota, Prof. Jonathan Joseph, Dr. Jiban Karki, Dr. Andrew Lee, Dr. Martina McGuinness, Dr. Sarita Panday

An intensive resilience policy-making process is currently underway in Nepal, with significant input from international donors and advisers. But how (and how far) do international ideas about resilience building filter down to the communities who are supposed to benefit from them? And, the reverse, how well do these international ideas reflect the perceptions and needs of communities on the ground?

This project is using a participatory video approach to create new and potentially challenging interventions in the ongoing resilience policy process. In using participatory video, we seek to address the gap that exists in Nepal between national-level resilience policy-making (undertaken with the support of the international community) and community-level perceptions and expectations. In so doing, the project will seek to give those most-affected by the overlapping challenges of poverty, conflict and environmental change a powerful way to engage with – and potentially influence – high-level policymakers.

In particular the project will examine:

1. What are the study communities’ own perceptions of the threats they face? Are these reflected in the views and perceptions of policymakers?

2. How have the study communities faced previous challenges to their wellbeing? What adaptation strategies have they employed and what can be learned?

3. What are the perceived/identified roles of government (national and local) vis a vis building community resilience? How effectively is government seen to be fulfilling those roles?

Academics from the University of Sheffield and from Nepal will be working alongside PHASE Nepal, a well-established development NGO, in three communities where small groups of residents will produce short films capturing their experiences and perceptions of risk and resilience that will then be shared and discussed with key audiences at the village, District and national levels. The overall aim is to facilitate and improve the sensitization of policymakers to community-level perceptions, thereby potentially opening up new policy directions, ideas and opportunities.


Researchers: Prof. Rosaleen Duffy

Levels of poaching and trafficking of some of the world’s most iconic species have increased. NGOs, national governments and international organisations have claimed that wildlife trafficking generates ‘threat finance’ – that is that it funds organised crime and terrorism. But the evidence for this is sparse – and we need to develop a much better understanding of whether there is a relationship between them.

BIOSEC – Biodiversity and Security: Understanding Environmental Crime, illegal wildlife trade and threat finance – is a four-year project, funded by a EURO 1.8million European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Investigator Grant. The Prinicipal Investigator is Professor Rosaleen Duffy, Professor of International Politics at the Department of Politics, University of Sheffield. Alongside the PI, the wider project team comprises two PhD studentships, two Post-Doctoral Research Associates and a project manager. BIOSEC also has an Advisory Board comprising of academic and non-academic partners who have relevant research and policy interests. Running until August 2020, BIOSEC will look into what constitutes an environmental crime, the responses by the European Union to the illegal wildlife trade, and how new technology is being used to tackle poaching and trafficking. The project aims to generate new data on the illegal wildlife trade to demonstrate the ways that biodiversity protection and security are linked, as well as providing new approaches to understanding the links between the two.

Find out more on the project website.

Mapping the Development NGO Sector

Researchers: Prof. Dan Brockington

The UK INGO sector is likely the most remarkable in the world; many of the most influential development NGOs are based or have originated here. Relative to the size of the UK, the sector is the largest and most complex globally, and one that has experienced persistent growth in recent decades. Despite these observations our understanding of the sector as a whole is surprisingly limited.

The purpose of this project is to provide an overview of the structure, networks and foci of the UK development NGO sector. Using information already available in the public domain, the project will focus on members of BOND, along with those that form NIDOS, SWIDN and SYIDN (all four networks established to connect UK-based development NGOs). By cross-referencing the membership directories of these networks with financial reports already publicly available via the Charity Commission and the Scottish Charity Regulator we aim to effectively ‘map’ the sector.

Find out more on the project website.

Longterm livelihood change in Tanzania

Researchers: Prof. Dan Brockington, Dr. Olivia Howland

This research project tracks long-term changes in prosperity and livelihood in Tanzania over the past 30 years. We revisit families which have been surveyed in the past and document changes to their prosperity and well-being as well as discussing the reasons for these changes. We are doing this because this covers a period of economic growth in Tanzania, for which there is very little data as to how that growth affected rural areas. We want to understand the relationship between national level economic growth and rural change. The project is funded by the ESRC-DfID

Find out more on the project website.

Studying African Farmer-led Irrigation

Researchers: Prof. Dan Brockington

International commitment to funding African Irrigation is rising as a response to increased food prices and continuing low productivity of agricultural production in sub-Saharan Africa.

This research project, funded by ESRC – DFID, brings together a team of social science researchers and irrigation scientists from the UK, Europe and Africa. The project seeks to understand if current investment by farmers in small-scale irrigation can offer a model for broad-based economic growth in rural areas of Africa.

A clear systematic analysis of existing initiatives will inform policies to generate growth in agricultural productivity, give a greater understanding of social and economic consequences, of changing land and water rights, and the choices of technical and financial support required.

Professor Phil Woodhouse and Professor Dan Brockington discuss the research project in a podcast from the Global Development Institute.

Find out more on the project website.

The Implications of Green Growth for Different Natural Resource Users in the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania

Researchers: Prof. Frances CleaverProf. Dan Brockington, Dr. Brock Bersaglio

The Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) was launched in 2010, as a model for achieving green growth through agriculture-led development. SAGCOT authorities use the term ‘green growth’ to describe efforts to intensify and expand both the agriculture sector and its benefits in rural society, while prioritizing the conservation of natural resources, reduction of climate change vulnerability, and control of greenhouse gas emissions.

According to SAGCOT, smallholder farmers are primary beneficiaries of green growth. Yet little research has tried to determine how the pursuit of green growth inside SAGCOT actually impacts smallholder farmers, let alone different natural resource users. The goal of this research, therefore, is to determine how the pursuit of green growth impacts different natural resource users inside SAGCOT, as well as how different groups act in response and why. The research will focus on artisanal miners, farmers, fisherfolk, and pastoralists, although consideration will also be given to wage labourers contributing to the production of hard and soft natural resource commodities. Towards this goal, this research will (1) investigate key changes to natural resource governance, institutions, and management since the launch of SAGCOT, (2) document different natural resource users whose livelihoods have been or might be impacted by such changes and how, and (3) analyse how and why natural resource users experience such changes differently, as well as the various factors that shape their responses.

Through a case study of Mbarali Cluster in southwestern Tanzania, the researchers will scrutinize the strategies, technologies (i.e. mechanisms), and programmes being used to pursue green growth, drawing attention to the experiences, perspectives, and responses of natural resource users often ignored in high-level decision-making processes. This will involve the use of key informant interviews, formal and informal interviews, focus group discussions, site visits, and primary and secondary sources. This approach responds to the urgent need to understand how the pursuit of green growth impacts different natural resource users inside SAGCOT, for better or worse. When complete, the research findings will be disseminated through academic articles, a working paper and research report, and social media.

HyperConnecting Children & Young People

Researchers: Michalis Kontopodis, Senior Lecturer, School of Education

Communication is nowadays taking place through interactive, mobile and online platforms that enable the speedy distributed production and circulation of multimedia designs across different institutional, geographical and community spaces. In this frame, children and young people are hyperconnected in two ways:

• The boundaries between life online and life offline are increasingly blurred while the human body cannot be perceived independently of its connections to multiple devices, interfaces and networks

• Children can increasingly share information and experiences across the globe

Departing from the position that

• knowledge, cognition as well as affect are distributed, situated and embodied

• certain interfaces and web-designs privilege particular forms of communication and knowledge while they constrain others

HyperConnecting Children & Young People brings together a variety of projects that explore how children and youth create profiles, (snap-) chat and engage in social networking, (quad-)blogging, video-blogging and discussion forums as well as engage in programming, 3D printing and experimentation with hardware production. The project is inspired by research led by Prof. Jackie Marsh (Makerspaces in the early years: and explores the most recent developments regarding children and media in a global perspective, including case studies from a variety of European countries as well as India, Russia and Brazil.


Veiled voyagers: Muslim women travellers from Asia and the Middle East

Researchers: Siobhan Lambert-Hurley, Sunil Sharma (Boston University) and Daniel Majchrowicz (Northwestern University)

This project recovers, translates, annotates and analyses Muslim women's travel writings originally produced in Persian, Urdu, Turkish and other languages from the seventeenth century up to circa 1950. In doing so, it historicises more recent Muslim travel-writing that has proliferated over the past half-century within a longer literary tradition. The rare sources are also used to draw out the gendered relationships between travel and Muslim identities, nationalism, and the shaping of global power.

The project thus makes an important intervention into the study of world and women's history, Islamic studies, and travel literature. Its final outputs will include an annotated book edition, as well as an online repository of Muslim women’s travel texts in both the original and translation.

More information is available on the Leverhulme website