Participatory Futures

Published: 12 February 2021

This project seeks to re-examine 5 GCRF projects to evaluate the way partnerships have been conceptualised and practiced across diverse research contexts.

Group photo of the Sustainable Futures in Africa Network
The GCRF Challenge Cluster Participatory Futures directly addresses the challenge of Equitable Access to Sustainable Development as identified by the UKRI GCRF strategy: "Partnerships should be transparent and based on mutual respect... equitable distribution of resources, responsibilities, efforts and benefits... recognising different inputs, different interests and different desired outcomes." As a central component to this challenge area, the proposed cluster looks to the Sustainable Development Goal 17, Partnerships for the Goals, to ensure that innovation and knowledge is shared between countries via strong global partnerships. This goal is gravely underrepresented in development-related research and yet critically underpins and determines the quality, impact and sustainability of outcomes of our research and practice.

This project recognises the need for a critical examination of what we mean by partnership, how these are enacted within development practice, and how we might learn and enable the research community to "partner better." The practices, tensions and experiences relating to the ongoing challenges of partnership working are largely overlooked in reports and papers of interdisciplinary, transboundary projects. Compounding this problem, the evidence of the impacts of "projectitus" (short-termism in planning without concern for the longer-term implications of research or interventions, and "research fatigue" amongst over-burdened communities), the examples of unintended detrimental consequences of well-intentioned research and of abandoned and failed initiatives and the rise of post-development literature as a response to the western dominated nature of development, continues to amass.

Despite the increasing affluence and capacity of the Global North, people in the south still suffer disproportionately from disease, poverty, war, famine and climate change. We have come together in recognition that partnerships and participation represent a fundamental but complex component of all GCRF. We contend that without genuine and equitable partnerships at the foundations of our research, the potential impact, relevance, and sustainability of the research will forever be limited or negated. Partnerships not only determine the very design and implementation of research, but the outcomes. As innovation is a requirement of GCRF and part of wider research and development working, creating and maintaining successful and equitable partnerships is advantageous, leading to new insights and perspectives, engagement with harder to reach countries and populations, leading to new possibilities for sustainable impact.

By moving partnerships to the foreground, the Participatory Futures Challenge Cluster will bring together strands of early successes and recognised failures in GCRF research to address the problem of equity in sustainable development. This project is fuelled by critical insights and analysis of completed and ongoing projects, and ultimately driven by a focus on proposition and solution. Phase 1 of the Cluster will include: (1) an ethnography of cluster projects to analyse partnership practices in terms of equity, participation, and impact; (2) a synthesise of research findings and outputs; (3) the development of a framework and proof of concept case study in accessible forms (written report, documentary, media); and (4) a transition pathway to tools of translation, education, impact, and influence to mainstream international research. These outputs predicate the objectives of a larger project (Phase 2) focused on rolling out this framework through concurrent projects led by different disciplines in multiple distinct regions beyond those reflected in this cluster.


First published: 12 February 2021