Art exhibition on problems of Dhaka

From May 27, Alliance Francis de Dhaka has inaugurated an extraordinary exhibition on the urban issues confronting Dhaka. The exhibition on ‘Urban Issues of Dhaka: An Artistic Gaze’ will run until June 7, 2022. This unique juxtaposition of art and urban research is an outcome of a year-long creative engagement with ten artists and 30 school children that teases out Dhaka’s unorthodox yet crucial urban struggles. The exhibition aims to provoke thinking regarding sustainable Dhaka.

The exhibition showcases works of the young artists like 'Rough Sleeper' by Sunanda Rani Borman and 'Eviction and Shelter' by Mahamudul Hasan in the background

The year-long impact activity and the exhibition are conducted by the Khulna University, Bangladesh, one of eight partners of the GCRF Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC). SHLC is an international research consortium studying urbanisation, health, and education challenges of 14 cities in Asia and Africa including Dhaka and Khulna. SHLC is exploring new pathways to ensure cities and communities are sustainable, and those living in urban environments have good health and well-being and access to quality education.

Visitors at the exhibition gallery
The show features Reconsidering Map, the work of an eminent artist Dhali Al Mamoon

Eminent and young artists bring more than 19 outstanding paintings, sculptures, and installations to light in this exhibition. At the same time, 30 artworks from school children from deprived communities of Dhaka city are jewels of this event. Dr Kazi Ghiyasuddin, Shahid Kabir, Dhali Al Mamoon, Tayeba Begum Lipi and Mahbubur Rahman are the participating eminent artists. The exhibition also includes five young artists: Sunanda Rani Borman, Mahamudul Hasan, Md. Mojahidur Rahman Sarker, Kuntal Barai and S.M. Shaha Anisuzzaman Faroque. Architect Salauddin Ahmed curates the show.

'Waif' by Md Mojahidur Rahman Sarker
'Topion' by Mahbubur Rahman is exhibited in the show

The works of the artists capture interesting and critical urban problems including rough sleepers, shelter and health vulnerability of the poor, lost neighbourhood life, (in) security, the life of non-human agents in cities, urban tranquillity, thrown togetherness, and hopes of urbanites.

While introducing the exhibition, the concept designer of the impact activity that resulted in the exhibition, Professor Tanjil Sowgat says, “We designed the exhibition following a storyline that starts from individual issues and ends by questioning philosophical standpoints. The exhibition curator Architect Salaudddin Ahmed adds ‘‘The interesting space design will surprise the audience as it will remind them of the challenges and the negotiations people confront in Dhaka. You will surely see a different Alliance Francis de Dhaka”.

Book opening ceremony

SHLC Co-Investigator and the event organiser, Dr Shilpi Roy, an associate professor at Khulna University, is optimistic that the event will provoke new thinking regarding the rhizomatic nature of problems in Dhaka. She adds, “we aim to reach out to the policymakers, citizens and scholars through this event so that they start thinking about and respond to the complex issues around sustainable Dhaka.”

Shilpi Roy and Tanjil Sowgat have documented the year-long research work and findings from the interviews with the artists in a book. The book shares SHLC findings on Dhaka to date, the method followed to conduct the engagement activity, narratives on the artworks, a curatorial note, and the unorthodox yet critical reflections regarding Dhaka revealed from this impact activity. While talking about the book, Dr Roy says, “the book showcases how cross-disciplinary work can benefit urban research and the fascinating outcome of our journey.”

Throwntogetherness in Dhaka: rethinking urban planning

This article was originally published by Routledge Taylor & Francis Online in ‘City’. Please visit the link below to view and download the full article.


Rapid spatial growth and rural-urban migration in Dhaka have influenced the dynamic evolution of the city’s unplanned and old neighbourhoods. Despite development control and planning regulations, following the diverse needs of the residents, most neighbourhoods evolve through organic transformation and restructuring of space. This photo essay argues that the ‘throwntogetherness’ of the citizens in these neighbourhoods results from cohesion, mutual support, and affordability priorities. In contrast, the pursuit of ordered and regimented urban space in the city denies the fluid transformation that has led to high value planned residential areas and condominiums, predominantly to provide exclusive urban services to those who can afford them. However, such placemaking creates fragmentation and encourages hostility and ‘thrownapartness’. This essay contends that the planned production of space in this city should recognise the value of diversity, fluidity and openness and move away from exclusive and rigid space making.

Sowgat, T. and Roy, S. (2022). Throwntogetherness in Dhaka: rethinking urban planning. City. 

Colonial legacies and contemporary urban planning practices in Dhaka, Bangladesh

This article was originally published by Routledge Taylor & Francis in ‘Planning Perspectives’. Please visit the link below to view and download the full article.


Effective urban planning is said to be crucial for ensuring liveable, equitable and viable urban areas progress towards sustainability. This study combines a review of the relevant literature, key informant interviews and field observations to explore contemporary planning practices in Dhaka, Bangladesh. We problematize ineffective urban planning practice in Dhaka as a prime expression and reproduction of colonial planning, which manifests itself through institutional bureaucracy and centralization, technocracy, and ad hoc planning. We argue that these imprints have rendered planning institutions weak and fostered dependency on imported ideologies and practices. The situation, we further argue, not only stifles local planning creativity but also makes the planning profession unattractive. Apart from limited local innovations and political aspirations for meeting global development targets, urban planning and city management have followed a reductionist approach under neoliberalism. With little to no social resonance, attempts at creating ordered spaces are, instead, contributing to increased spatial fragmentation and segregation, informality, and widespread urban poverty. To promote urban sustainability, this paper urges the contextualization of colonial ideologies and practices against the social, political and economic realities of urban Bangladesh.

Baffoe, G. and Roy, S. (2022). Colonial legacies and contemporary urban planning practices in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Planning Perspectives.

Between rural and urban: action research in peripheral areas of El Alto de La Paz, Bolivia

Between rural and urban: action research in peripheral areas of El Alto de La Paz, Bolivia
Lead Applicant:

Instituto de Investigaciones Geográficas IIGEO, Universidad Mayor de San Andrés (UMSA)


Instituto de Investigación y Acción para el Desarrollo Integral (IIADI)


Within the framework of the “right to the city”, an action-research study was developed with residents and leaders of the peripheral ‘urbanización’ (housing developments) of Districts 8 and 14 of the city of El Alto de La Paz, Bolivia. The research involved the participation of early career and senior researchers and was articulated around professional expertise from architecture, sociology and geography to address issues related to empowerment and construction of public policies around urban issues. It has been an interdisciplinary study and the results have been made visible to and have empowered the residents of Urbanización Cristal and Urbanización Nuevos Horizontes as a contribution to the resolution of demands and the construction of citizenship.

Carrying out action research and community workshops.
Carrying out action research and community workshops. Credit: Universidad Mayor de San Andrés


The overall objective was to: contribute to citizen empowerment in the knowledge and exercise of the right to the city, a fundamental principle of the New Urban Agenda (NAU), through the construction of knowledge, from a territorial approach of the urban periphery, with the same actors, through an Action Research approach, in the format of training workshops, complemented with the implementation of a quantitative survey whose final result will contribute to the strengthening of the current urban policy under construction.

This was further broken down as:

  • Citizen empowerment in the knowledge and exercise of the right to the city: Community workshops were developed in both housing developments with themes that allowed participants to see themselves and project themselves as an urbanización. The workshop activities included mental maps, neighbourhood history and right to the city.
  • Construction of knowledge, from a territorial approach to the urban periphery.
  • Action Research, in the format of training workshops. Development of training workshops (4 per development) with the following themes: Mental maps; History of the Neighbourhood, Right to the City and Construction of proposals from below.
  • Quantitative survey: For the implementation of the survey ballot, stratified random sampling was carried out that allowed delimiting of the number of people surveyed.
  • Strengthening of the current urban policy under construction.

The development of the entire research process was carried out by the early career researchers in the stages of design, elaboration and execution of the research techniques. It was the early career researchers who implemented the different techniques and activities. Their training was developed in classrooms of the Universidad Mayor de San Andres, in the subjects of Geography of the Population and Urban Sociology, and in the same way there were postgraduate students in the subject of Population Dynamics, Migration, Mobility and Environmental impact. This process included the review of secondary information sources, review of bibliography, construction of posters and bibliographic records. Going from the classroom to contact with the population was the priority for this project and for the early career researchers who spent time between the classroom and the developments of the city of El Alto, Urbanización Cristal of District 8 and the Urbanización Nuevos Horizontes Norte of District 14 of the city of El Alto of La Paz, Bolivia.

History of the Neighbourhood workshop
History of the Neighbourhood workshop. Credit: Universidad Mayor de San Andrés


The implementation of qualitative and quantitative research techniques had the following impacts on the Cristal and Nuevos Horizontes Norte developments:

  • Visibility of the neighbourhood association as a representative organisation of the residents of both housing developments.
  • Visibility of both housing developments in academic instances (universities and other research institutions) and other entities (Mayor’s Office, sub-mayor’s office and other neighbourhood association organisations).
  • Visibility of both housing developments from the publications produced: Documents, Peripheral Territories (research results) and History of the neighbourhood booklets
  • Construction of the history of the neighbourhood based on qualitative information
  • Identification of the main needs of both housing developments based on quantitative information
  • Agreements and conventions between both housing developments and the Universidad Mayor de San Andres

Project Outputs

  • In August / September 2019, the project team held six action research workshops, three in each Urbanización, with residents and early career researchers as participants. 30 – 40 residents and 30 early career researchers attended each workshop.
  • Interviews were carried out in the Cristal and Nuevos Horizontes Norte housing developments with 30 residents and 10 leaders per development, making a total of 80 participants.
  • The survey was conducted in the housing developments reaching 210 survey ballots for Urbanización Cristal and about 80 survey ballots for the Urbanización Nuevos Horizontes Norte. The data were entered to SPSS for the analysis of the information by variable and crossing of variables.
  • Coordination meetings were held with eight members of the Board of residents from each housing development.
  • An Inter-institutional agreement was signed for a period of three years between Urbanización Cristal of District 8 and Urbanización Nuevos Horizontes Norte of District 14 of the city of El Alto and the Universidad Mayor de San Andres.
  1. Book: Peripheral Territories. Study of two developments in the city of El Alto (or Territorios Periféricos)

The book begins with the following story that integrates some interesting experiences:

“From the classroom to the street. It was one of the challenges that broke down the barriers between the theoretical academic world, isolated and separated from the social life of communities and peoples. With the students, we managed to get out of the University, to access the poor, excluded and most needy populations. It was found that the greatest professional learning occurs through social interaction and not through the accumulation of authors and theories, often inapplicable and out of context.” (René Pereira Morató (MSc), Sociólogo Urbano y Coordinador del Proyecto).

  1. Primer:  History of the neighbourhood of Urbanización Cristal and Urbanización Nuevos Horizontes Norte (or Historia del barrio Territorios periféricos), Daniel Hernando López Fernández, Investigador Temas Urbanos

Future Activities

The second stage of the investigation:

“Right to the City, perception and construction from the actors: in peripheral territories of the City of El Alto de La Paz, Bolivia”

The Right to the City is understood as the capacity for action and political advocacy of citizens. It is a concept that exceeds individual claims to urban services such as gas, water, sewage, garbage, transportation, etc. within a framework of understanding the city not as a commodity, but as a common good and, therefore, as a collective right. Given that the Right to the City is not on the country’s agenda and the City Policy is currently being debated, it makes it very pertinent to undertake a study that contributes to operationalising this paradigm, from different knowledge perspectives, in particular from the peripheral actors involved. The urbanizaciónes of Cristal and Nuevos Horizontes Norte of the city of El Alto have developed very organically and with considerable impact; therefore, studying the political agency will make both housing developments visible and highlighted.

Action research with early career researchers.
Action research with early career researchers. Credit: Universidad Mayor de San Andrés

Capacity Strengthening

The strengthening of the Cristal and Nuevos Horizontes Norte housing developments in Districts 8 and 14 is manifest in the following ways:

  1. Visibility of housing developments based on research results.
  2. Qualitative and quantitative diagnosis that allows identifying the strengths and weaknesses of both housing developments.
  3. Objectively, the main needs of the housing developments were identified.
  4. Both housing developments made an institutional agreement that allows them to generate other activities with other faculties of the Universidad Mayor de San Andres.

Further examples include:

Strengthening of Peripheral Neighbourhoods

The main needs and potentialities of the inhabitants living in the peripheries were identified, resulting in the Peripheral territories book.

A database was produced from the survey with Quantitative data in SPSS format.

The history of the neighbourhoods was constructed from in-depth interviews and this formed the basis of the Neighbourhood History Primer: Urbanización Cristal and Urbanización Nuevos Horizontes Norte.

The visibility of the peripheral neighbourhoods was generated from the management and identification of the themes in the construction of urban policy in the country and this resulted in negotiation and then an institutional agreement between the housing developments and the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés. This institutional agreement will allow the housing developments to manage other actions with the Universidad Mayor de San Andres, such as the implementation of studies in different areas such as agronomy, architecture, law, etc.

Strengthening of Leaders

Through training for the leaders of the housing developments, they strengthened their advocacy capacities within their Urbanización and improved their negotiation capacities with other entities, such as sub-mayorships and other neighbourhood associations. Similarly, the development of training workshops for boards of directors of the developments on the Right to the City were beneficial.

Strengthening of Organisations

Through the documentation and dissemination of project activities, including photographs, videos and other elements that were shared on social media, the Rural Urban Territorial Observatory of the Institute of Geographical Research of the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés was further strengthened.

New networks were generated around the theme of the urbanisation processes, with an emphasis on the peripheries. For example, networks within the Comunidad Urbano Territorial (CUT) (Territorial Urban Community), coordinated activities for the dissemination of research results. The CUT is made up of academics and institutions that develop research activities around the urban theme.

Strengthening of Early Career Researcher Capacities

Action research provided early career researchers with the opportunity to leave the classroom and move towards the communities in such a way that they developed and implemented qualitative and quantitative research techniques whilst in contact with their own realities.

The formation of a multidisciplinary team (Sociology, Geography, Anthropology, Psychology and Statistics) contributed to the training process of early career researchers as they interacted with senior researchers across disciplines.

Streetside plantain vendor, Colombia. Credit: Flickr Adam Cohn

Promoting Inclusive Governance for Informal Workers in Cali, Colombia

Promoting Inclusive Governance for Informal Workers in Cali, Colombia
Principal Investigator:

Lina Martínez, Universidad Icesi, Cali – Colombia


Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (Graeme Young), United Kingdom

Local government of Cali, Colombia

Fundación WWB Colombia


This project sought to establish a sustainable policymaking process that would allow informal street vendors to play a meaningful role in shaping the policies that impact their livelihoods in Cali, Colombia. To achieve this, the researchers conducted a major survey of the experiences of street vendors in the city of Cali during the COVID-19 pandemic to further understand their socioeconomic circumstances, experiences of governance and policy views; worked with street vendor organisations to publish policy proposals; and held a meeting with civil society representatives to discuss the project and a workshop about informal work and public policy.

Street vending serves as a major livelihood activity in cities in the Global South. Like other forms of informal work, however, it is defined by significant forms of exclusion and inequality. The project is based on the premise that economic inclusion must rest on political inclusion, a principle that can have profound implications for how cities are governed and how they can be made more equal. By seeking to put this into practice, it builds on SHLC work by highlighting how urban development that rests on sustainability and equality must recognise the connection between political and economic empowerment.

Streetside plantain vendor, Colombia. Credit: Flickr Adam Cohn
Streetside plantain vendor, Colombia. Credit: Flickr Adam Cohn


The original objectives are reproduced here with details about how these were met.

Objective 1: To allow street vendors, government officials and civil society groups to participate in an inclusive governance process that is sustainable beyond the initial funding period.

While the team had to make significant challenges to their original plans, they still sought to achieve this goal through: (1) conducting a major survey of street vendors that can inform policymaking; (2) collecting and analysing policy proposals from street vendors’ organisations; (3) communicating the outcomes of the project with vendors’ organisations and in a planned meeting with government officials, NGOs, and academics; (4) organising a workshop on informal work and public policy to bring together researchers and practitioners from a variety of different contexts; and (5) producing a variety of outputs to share the project findings.

Work remains to be done to ensure that street vendors in Cali are included in a participatory policymaking process that is sustainable. It is hoped that the conditions in which this can occur will return soon with the COVID-19 pandemic abating and governments having more capacity and willingness to engage, especially if there is a desire to ensure that recovery from the pandemic is just and inclusive. The researchers hope to secure future funding with international funders, research grants, and local initiatives to allow us to continue this work and expand it beyond Cali as the team believes that its potential value is significant. They are currently considering applying for funding from the University of Glasgow’s ESRC Impact Acceleration Account, possibly from the Follow-on Fund, which would provide up to £10,000 for a project that would allow them to undertake knowledge exchange activities based on this CDAF work.

Objective 2: To mobilise the extensive knowledge of the applicants on the governance of urban informality to have a practical policy impact.

This project has built significantly on the combined expertise on street vending in Cali, informality, and urban policy and governance, which has informed and been furthered by designing and undertaking the activities and producing the outputs. The potential impact of the work is discussed below.

Objective 3: To aid in capacity building for participants.

The project contributed significantly to capacity building for the researchers involved. This is explored in greater detail below.

Objective 4: To consider how similar processes can be replicated in cities in the Global South.

This is a primary focus of the current project activities as outlined below, and will be explored further in an upcoming report and a forthcoming policy brief. The researchers also plan to expand on this further by applying for additional funding to build on their project.

Contributions to challenges in low and middle-income countries (LMICs)

The informal economy plays a significant role in economic and social life in cities in the global south. In Latin America, it was estimated that the informal sector employed almost half of the working age population. The pandemic aggravated this condition and the informal sector may significantly increase as a consequence of the economic contraction it caused. Generally speaking, national and local governments in Latin America know little about the living conditions of informal workers and there is a lack of political inclusion for people in this sector. The project made contributions on three different fronts:

Activities to give voice to informal workers:
  • Through the survey, collecting information from 750 street vendors that is valuable for understanding their struggles and more urgent needs during the pandemic.
  • Creating an inventory of policy proposals, coming from informal workers’ organisations, to create a path for implementing programmes tailored to fit the most urgent needs of street vendors.
  • Creating a web page with complete information about the project, and with visual content in which street vendors express their main concerns and paths to access public interventions.
  • Four open forums to listen and exchange ideas and information.
Activities to provide evidence for a better policy making
  • Creating a catalogue of proposals with a policy analysis for programme implementation.
  • Providing updated information about the living conditions of street vendors during the pandemic through the survey.
  • Collecting data about political participation and views of street vendors through the survey.
  • Holding a forum to present results and policy recommendations.
  • Organising a final project workshop on informal work and public policy.
Activities contributing to the research of the informal economy in the global south
  • Providing open data with the information from the survey in Cali to promote comparative analysis.
  • Working to produce three academic publications (see below).
  • Working to produce two reports and three policy briefs (discussed below).
  • Writing two blogs (discussed below).


As explored in a paper that is being prepared for submission to the October 2022 issue of Environment and Urbanisation, the survey highlights the socioeconomic conditions of street vendors during the COVID-19 pandemic and provides important insights into their policy views and experiences of governance. It particularly highlights the significant livelihood constraints that street vendors experienced during the pandemic, their limited access to public services, and what programmes they believe the government should focus on. There is significant potential for this to inform policymaking as it highlights both issues that government officials should focus on solving and what, exactly, vendors would prioritise most. While this article remains to be published, data from this survey has been published in a second article in Data in Brief and a dataset can be accessed on Mendeley. The proposals that were gathered from vendors’ organisations provide further insights into the desires of these groups and, with the analysis from the team, how these might be translated into policy. This could provide an extremely useful tool for future policy discussions.

At the time of this report writing, the project activities have only recently been concluded and some of the publications are still forthcoming, so it is difficult to assess what the full impact of the project might be. The ultimate objective remains that a participatory policy process that can be sustained beyond the life of the project can be established, although given the changes that the team made to the project in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there remains much work to be done here. What they have done, however, provides a very useful platform for this to occur that builds on the extensive experiences and connections of the lead applicant. The project has led to the development of a detailed understanding of the challenges faced by street vendors during the COVID-19 pandemic and highlighted possible policy directions that the government can pursue, an important basis for future policy discussions. The next step is to ensure that vendors are meaningfully included in policy processes and can have an impact on the decisions that shape their lives and livelihoods. This is what the team will continue to pursue through future funding, both in Cali and in other cities in the Global South. They will ultimately assess the impact of the work by judging the apparent success of any participatory policy process that it leads to. This could most effectively be measured by demonstrating that such a process has led to concrete benefits for those involved in it and/or for street vendors, or even other marginalized urban groups or city residents, more generally.

Project Outputs

The team sought to follow the output plan outlined in their original application, although some changes were made in response to adaptations to the project as it evolved. Full references for outputs are provided in the final point below.

  1. Sustainable Participatory Policy Engagement Process in Cali

Through the project the team has used a platform to promote communication between street vendors and the local government, and to feed stakeholders with data, reports, and a policy proposals inventory. This is a stepping stone to promote political inclusion in key policy decisions regarding budget allocation for street vendors in the city. The information gathered in the project facilitates participation in inclusive policies for this population group.

  1. Policy Initiative Impact Report

Based on discussions with street vendors’ organisations, the project created a policy inventory of programmes proposed by street vendors to be implemented by the local government:

The report presents eight initiatives ranging from relocation in public space to access to health and education programs. The team has organised the initiatives and provided a policy analysis with costs, feasibility, and equity criteria to facilitate the policymaking process.

An English translation of this report has now been prepared and will soon be published.  Full reference details will be provided when it is available.

  1. Workshop Impact Report with ‘Best Practice’ Guide

Due to changes in the project, this report focuses on how to establish engagement processes to promote inclusion for informal workers. It is currently being written and will be made available on this site in the near future.

  1. Academic Articles

The focus of the first article produced was changed to analyse the results of the survey. A draft is complete, and it will be submitted to Environment and Urbanisation for an October 2022 issue on urban inequalities. An article summarizing the data from the survey has been published in Data in Brief.

The final article is in progress and will still focus on theoretical issues surrounding political and economic inclusion, building on work presented at this year’s European Consortium for Political Research General Conference and will be submitted to a Special Issue of the journal Land on COVID-19 and urban food security and there is interest in a submission from this project.

  1. Blogs and Newspaper Articles

Two blog posts about the project have been written and will be published on the SHLC blog.

Two newspapers articles were published in the major newspaper in the city using information from the project:

Half of Cali’s informal workers are unemployed amid the pandemic

Half of Caleños who work do so informally

  1. Policy Briefs

Two policy briefs have already been written, disseminated, and discussed with street vendors.

The first policy brief focuses on the social and economic consequences of the pandemic. The second policy brief refers to street vendors’ physical and mental health after the pandemic. The forthcoming third policy brief will also address important issues that accompany establishing processes to include informal workers in policymaking.

  1. Additional Activities
  • Web site creation
  • Three meetings with informal workers, one meeting with local government officials, and other relevant stakeholders.
  • Final forum held on November 4, 2021 attended by representatives of two civil society organisations in Cali at which the results of the project were discussed. While local political officials were invited, they did not ultimately attend, illustrating ongoing challenges in building sustained policy engagement activities. The team will continue to seek further engagement activities with local government as they plan further activities that build on this project.
  • Workshop on Informal Work and Public Policy held on November 18, 2021 and organised with SHLC. Graeme Young delivered a presentation on the project entitled “Promoting Inclusive Governance for Informal Workers in Cali, Colombia” as part of a broader presentation about SHLC and CDAF. Seven other speakers gave five presentations on their academic or civil society work on informality in a variety of national and international contexts. The workshop had approximately 15 attendees.
  • Two reports with partners (explained in point 7 above).
  • One large report in partnership with Chamber of commerce and Fundación WWB Colombia (explained in point 7 above).
Output References

Martínez, Lina, Graeme Young, Valeria Trofimoff, Isabella Valencia, Nicolas Vidal, Andres David Espada and Esteban Robles. “Socioeconomic conditions of informal workers during the pandemic in Cali, Colombia.” Mendeley Data, V1, 2021, doi: 10.17632/w5x3dp8t4z.1

Martínez, Lina, Grame Young, Valeria Trofimoff, Isabella Valencia, Nicolás Vidal, Andrés David Espada and Esteban Robles. “The Hardships of the Poorest During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Data About the Socioeconomic Conditions and Governance of Informal Workers.” Data in Brief 40 (2022).

POLIS. Vendedores informales en el espacio público durante la postpandemia. Datos en Breve No. 38, 2021. Available at:

POLIS. Los vendedores informales no sólo han visto afectados sus ingresos, también su salud. Datos en Breve No. 41, 2021. Available at:

POLIS. Intervenciones para trabajadores informales en el espacio público: Una construcción colectiva para atender un problema olvidado. Datos en Breve No. 42, 2021. Available at:

POLIS  Creando Puentes Entre los Vendadores Informales y el Sector Público. Available at:

Local Involvement

During the project the team created a strong relationship with street vendors and leaders of organisations of informal workers in the city. The most relevant example of this relationship was the collection of the survey. There are no public records for contacting street vendors and given the impediments of conducting face-to-face interviews in public spaces, the most viable mechanism was phone interviews. Thanks to the relationship and the participation of street vendors during this project the team was able to survey 750 street sellers. Likewise, through different meetings they have been able to create an inventory of policy proposals representing the desires of street vendors.

City administrators have also provided support during the project. They actively participated in a meeting organised by the research team and promptly provided information requested for the project such as official records of street vendors in the city. As indicated above, while city administrators did not ultimately participate in the final forum we organised, the team will continue to seek to find opportunities for engagement as they build on this project.

Other relevant stakeholders such as local news stations (radio and newspapers), NGOs, and the chamber of commerce have been actively involved in the project.

Diario el País, the most important newspaper in the city, published front-page news about the informal economy in Cali using data from the project.

Fundación WWB Colombia is the largest NGO in the region working towards the improvement of the quality of life of informal workers. Thanks to this project and their involvement, the team jointly created two additional reports about informal workers in Cali during the pandemic:

Plan reactívate Mecanismos para la recuperación económica

Paro Nacional Colombia la necesidad de una agenda pública enfocada en la economía informal en la ciudad de Cali

Likewise, in collaboration with the chamber of commerce and Fundación WWB Colombia, the team is creating an extensive report about the informal economy in the city. The report will be released in summer 2022.

With those actions, the researchers are promoting the use of the information and the dialogue platform created in this project to foster the involvement of key stakeholders in the city.

Future Activities

It is hoped that further opportunities for collaboration will emerge from the project activities, first to work with the local government or other relevant public bodies to continue to build a participatory policymaking process that ensures the inclusion of informal workers, and second to build international ties to engage in knowledge exchange and possibly collaborate on future work. Likewise, the partnerships created with the chamber of commerce and Fundación WWB Colombia helps to build a larger network to continue this work locally.

The project plan, as stated in the original application, has always been to apply for further funding to continue this work. The ultimate objective is to establish sustainable participatory processes in which informal workers can participate in governance in cities across the Global South; given the extent to which the team altered the project activities as the project unfolded, continuing to work to establish the participatory process that has been the ultimate objective in Cali is also of paramount importance. 

Capacity Strengthening

New forms of co-operation:

Researchers: The PI and Co-I involved in this project, both of whom are early career researchers, benefited from being able to develop their understanding of street vending and public policy; being able to design and carry out a project of this nature and scale; and being able to establish or further strengthen existing networks. The project also included six younger researchers playing vital roles as research assistants, giving them valuable experience in conducting this type of work that should aid in their skills development.

Within street vendors’ organisations: The project helped to create a policy inventory of programmes proposed by street vendors to be implemented by the local government. This outcome helped street vendors to organise their demand to the local government and helped to create new co-operations amongst the street vendors’ organisations and informal workers who participated in the process.

Academia – local government: The project provided a new channel for collaboration between academia and the local government to improve the quality of evidence for decision making.

Academia – NGOs and private sector: New collaboration emerged as a consequence of the project between academia and relevant stakeholders.

Street vendors – government: It is hoped that the project activities and outputs will serve as a catalyst for policy inclusion for street vendors, something that the team hopes to build on in the future.

Dar es Salaam’s new bus transit system. Credit: World Bank

Raising Voices through Design Charrette: Contextualization of Bus Rapid Transit Terminals and Stations by Neighbourhood Context and Needs

Raising Voices through Design Charrette: Contextualization of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Terminals and Stations by Neighbourhood Context and Needs.
Principal Investigator:

Dr. Fatma Mohamed, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania


University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania


This research had the aim of capacity building and sensitisation towards contextualisation of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) terminals and stations by neighbourhood context and needs. Through questionnaires to 1200 BRT users and a subsequent design charrette involving 50 representatives from all stakeholder groups, inclusive solutions were designed and communicated to the implementers for consideration. Moreover, early career researchers’ capacity in carrying out research projects which feature community engagement and collaborative design approaches was increased.

This project extends the current SHLC research in the area of social spatial segregation, division and classification in relation to access and distribution of services in cities. The main focus was in the sustainability of Transport Infrastructure in cities resided in by diverse people from different economic and social backgrounds. This project looked at the BRT system due to its significance as one of the most important modes of transport in Dar es Salaam and its potential of being the main public transport system in Dar es Salaam in the near future. Since neighbourhoods surrounding the BRT system are diverse with different needs, the BRT should be designed with the understanding of this diversity in order to enhance social cohesion contrary to the current condition where prototypic designs are used.

Dar es Salaam’s new bus transit system. Credit: World Bank
Dar es Salaam’s new bus transit system. Credit: World Bank


The objectives of this research were achieved using three activities:

Activity 1 involved data collection. Here spatial mapping and documentation of all BRT terminals and stations was conducted in order to understand how the space inside the terminal/ bus stop was designed; what the architectural considerations were and which kind of elements and amenities had been put in place to accommodate all types of transport system users with respect to contextual needs of the neighbourhoods. A meeting was held with 30 stakeholders from different government institutions including Tanzania Rural and Urban Roads Agency (TARURA), Urban planners from four municipalities, Dar es Salaam Rapid Transit Agency (DART), Usafiri Dar es Salaam (BRT Operator), private Architects and Engineers involved in designing of BRT, urban planners, and users of BRT, with the aim of hearing their voices on experiences and challenges and how they would like the project to be designed to cater for their needs. Moreover, structured interviews with 1200 BRT users at terminals and stations were conducted at this stage.

In Activity 2, the collected data from Activity 1 were analysed, and then collectively discussed in the design charrette of 50 stakeholders sampled from the people involved in the Stakeholder meeting and from the structural interviews/questionnaires. Here challenges facing users in different neighbourhoods in relation to BRT were discussed. Solutions that included changes to the planning of neighbourhoods, terminals and stations were proposed. The objectives set under this activity were also reached.

Activity 3 involved dissemination of findings. This Activity was conducted through a dissemination meeting of 30 stakeholders involving stakeholders from government institutions including TARURA, DART, UDART, Municipalities, BRT vendors, urban planners, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Private engineering consultants and other BRT end users. The general findings of the research were presented to obtain feedback and gather opinions and comments from stakeholders.

Contributions to challenges in low and middle-income countries (LMICs)

Like many LMICs, public infrastructures are a prototypic design of a success story from another country – Bogota, Colombia for the case of the BRT. These designs usually do not cater for the needs of the hosting countries in terms of cultural, social and economic context. Moreover, public infrastructure design is mainly a top-down approach with minimum involvement of local stakeholders at the design stage.

The activities completed in this project included data collection through stakeholders meeting, relevant reports, observation and structured interviews with BRT users. With other stakeholders, this data was analysed in a design charrette together with the representatives from municipalities and other agencies directly involved in the design, operations and management of the BRT. This process helped authorities to understand challenges and solutions related to a prototypic BRT design from the perspective of diverse stakeholders.

Additionally, this research increased the capacity of the relevant authorities in involving stakeholders in the design of infrastructure.


Research findings

This research found that there is a strong relationship between neighbourhood context and needs to BRT stations/terminals. These are:

  1. In analysing the mode of transport to reach the stations, it was found that more than 50% of the commuters reach the station by walking which indicates a close relationship between the neighbourhood context and the BRT.
  2. The activities around the neighbourhood determine the intensity of use of BRT where stations around neighbourhoods in commercial districts are more vibrant than neighbourhoods with offices and residential characters. This is also reflected in differing peak hours between different neighbourhoods.
  3. It was evident that neighbourhoods with self-sufficient social infrastructure such as workshops, markets, shops, schools and entertainment areas have less transport needs hence users do not travel long distances along the BRT route.
  4. It was observed that along the whole of the BRT Phase I, the areas in the immediate context of the BRT terminals and stations are used for shopping mostly from petty traders and hawkers.
  5. From the survey, it was found that more than 80% of the BRT users recommend the need for features to identify stations and orient themselves, as all stations are modular and prototypical.
  6. The research found that the pedestrian experience is not favourable due to unsuitable environment to reach the stations, including: lack of trees, benches, shelters and other amenities; congestion in the immediate context of the station due to hawkers and petty traders in pedestrian walkways. Furthermore, more than 50% of users are not willing to use the pedestrian bridge crossings and would rather get off one station before or after their intended stop.
Anticipated changes and impacts of the research project:
  1. The research has been used to provide analysis on how the BRT stations and terminals are to be designed with reference to the neighbourhood context within which it is located, therefore, it is expected that the findings from the research will inform other phases of BRT development. The team’s expectation is that the current design process for the BRT stations and terminals will change from one that considers all neighbourhoods as homogenous and thus produces a prototypic design to one that studies the neighbourhood in order to design BRT stations that carters to its context.
  2. It might lead to establishment of a policy that necessitates the efficient coordination of different governmental organizations and agencies in the design, implementation, operations and maintenance of the BRT infrastructures in relevant municipalities. This will also affect monitoring and financial management of public transport system (e.g. considering smart cards.)
  3. The team also anticipate that the BRT system will be more inclusive in-terms of diversity of users.
Assessment of potential project impact:
  • a more diverse group of people will use the BRT;
  • people (users) will identify the stations better and in turn orient themselves better in the immediate context of the stations;
  • public transport will be eased and this will lead to people’s lives being improved;
  • connectivity and mobility of areas in the city will be improved after the different infrastructure and transportation systems having been better coordinated;
  • an integrated system that allows the petty traders to coexist with the BRT will have been devised and thus give employment opportunities to the people while allowing for the BRT users to access the needed services rendered by the petty traders.

Project Outputs

This project produced the following outputs:

  1. The creation of technical notes on design considerations for different neighbourhood typologies:

Neighbourhood Amenities Technical Note

Park and Ride Technical Note

It was found to be more relevant to create technical notes on general issues that were pertinent to all neighbourhoods to support local and other authorities that are connected in designing of current and future BRT stations.

  1. Reports and Publications (pending). Planned papers are on the following topics:
  • Analysing the relationship between the neighbourhood character and the commuting behaviours of the BRT users.
  • Architectural qualities of the BRT stations and terminals in aspects of identity, orientation, visibility and legibility.
  • Evaluating pedestrian experiences in the Dar es Salaam BRT Phase I project.
  1. Policy Paper and Abstracts for policy makers. An abstract of report and abstract policy paper was created and will be discussed in the final stakeholders meeting before submission to the relevant authorities.

Local Involvement

In carrying out Activity 1, data collection, a meeting with different stakeholders of the BRT system was conducted. There were mainly two groups of stakeholders. The first group included users of BRT and built environment professionals (architects, civil engineers, quantity surveyors and urban planners) not directly involved in the design of BRT; and the second group comprised of representatives from municipal councils, regulatory authorities as well as DART, as the main government agency responsible for the design and overseeing of the BRT project and UDA-RT, the company handling the operations of BRT buses. Also, JICA, an international organization involved in several transport and infrastructure projects in the country, was one of the participants of the discussion.

The users and professionals were involved so as to find out about their experience and challenges in using the system and their suggestions on how to make the design better to suit the needs of the community. The second group were also part of the discussions since they would be the major implementers of the suggestions brought out. The meeting was very useful for exchanging opinions from different sides of the BRT project and it helped to establish contacts for further collaboration in the course of the project.

In Activity 2, the design charrette, community engagement was featured so as to reach conclusions and ways forward that were creative and well-rounded. The aim was to ensure that solutions were not merely derived from professionals while disregarding the experience of the direct users of the BRT. A 4-day collaborative data analysis and design workshop was conducted to find solutions to integrated problems of BRT and make firm decisions on the challenges from different groups and neighbourhoods. The charrette brought together all of the people associated with the BRT, not just designers; including experts who could provide more information on the system, and people with the ability to make this transformation happen; as well as a diverse group of community members. Having established an acquaintanceship with some stakeholders during the stakeholders meeting, e.g. DART, UDA-RT and JICA, it was easier to engage them for this activity. Other participants included representatives from municipal councils, ward councils, neighbourhood government officials, government regulatory authorities like TARURA, representatives from association for the disabled and small-scale entrepreneurs along the BRT corridor.

Through these activities the team was able to set an example of how government officials can work with the community directly affected by a project so as to implement something that works for them.

Dar es Salaam’s new bus transit system. Credit: Hendri Lombard World Bank
Dar es Salaam’s new bus transit system. Credit: Hendri Lombard World Bank

Future Activities

Following the dissemination meeting, JICA, who prepared the Infrastructure Masterplan for Dar es Salaam requested to use the findings of this research as a reference for the purpose of developing a plan titled Infrastructure for Development. A summary report was provided as an overview, and a detailed report will be provided once it has been published by the University.

Capacity Strengthening

  • Researchers

The team conducting this research project was entirely made of female professionals in the academic and engineering field. The research has helped this team of early career researchers to develop skills of engaging stakeholders in analysing challenges and bringing forth solutions that can help to elevate their communities.

The project helped the team to develop skills on working with large amount of data including how to use technology to collect data and how to analyse and interpret such data.

The project team has also developed skills on dissemination of research outputs especially in the form of Technical Notes that can be used by architectural designers as well as the general public.

  • Home institution

The project has also helped the research team to increase their knowledge of barrier free/inclusive/collaborative design that includes practical knowledge to supplement their theoretical understanding. This will trickle down to architectural students that the team comes in contact with, as well as other consultancy works that comes to them via the university.

The university has increased the number of researchers who are able to produce academic writing and this will enhance the exposure and prestige/reputation of the University. This writing includes the research report as well as the expected peer reviewed published articles.

  • Other organisations that the team worked with

Through the design charrette, government authorities and other agencies involved in this research were able to understand the need for contextual design of the BRT considering the diverse types of users and neighbourhoods. Therefore, they are in a better position to apply the knowledge for future BRT projects in the country

The technical notes, report and paper publications that will be disseminated will serve as a resource for other organisations including NGOs, community organizations, city administrations and the private sector, to do further researches in the field of transportation and infrastructure planning

  • Communities that the team worked with

Through the design charrette that was conducted, the capacity of non-academic, local members of the community to express their ideas and opinions in the presence of different people was improved. Since all opinions were given the same weight, the research was able to show the invited members of the community that their opinion matters in bringing positive change to their communities.

Symposium on Urban Water Governance, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Symposium on Urban Water Governance, Dar Es Salaam
Principal Investigator:

Dr Neil Munro, University of Glasgow


University of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania; Water Witness International, Scotland;  Shahidi wa Maji, Tanzania.


From 5-8 July 2021, University of Glasgow and University of Dar Es Salaam (UDSM) hosted a Symposium on Urban Water Governance in partnership with the Tanzanian NGO Shahidi wa Maji and Edinburgh-based Water Witness International (WWI). Sixty-seven attendees from civil society, academia and government heard from eight speakers over four days on the politics of urban governance, theories of change, trust in water providers and decentralised water, sanitation and hygiene technologies. The symposium also showcased video testimony, interviews and a survey of residents of Dar Es Salaam. Full details including Zoom recordings and videos can be found at

The symposium highlighted dynamics of urban water governance in Dar Es Salaam, with a focus on the issue of social accountability for water provision, including reporting problems with broken pipes and leakage. Speakers included natural and social scientists, academics and NGO leaders. The team used the networks of their NGO partners to attract a wide audience of practitioners and academics working in the urban water sector across Africa. The symposium stimulated thought, discussion and the sharing of experience on a key governance problem touching on the sustainability of cities and communities as well as health and wellbeing of citizens.


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the symposium was moved online. An external facilitator was invited to chair the event: Sareen Malik of the Kenyan NGO KEWASANET. The team used the extensive international network of Water Witness International (Edinburgh) to publicise the symposium to a core audience of NGOs active in the water sector across Africa and other parts of the developing world.

The team also commissioned additional fieldwork and a series of four short films by Dr Vicensia Shule recording interviews with residents and street-level (community) officials. The films were blended into the online format and used to enhance participants’ understanding of the context. In parallel, Dr Opportuna Kweka conducted interviews with an additional 92 residents and officials, and presented initial findings from this research. Ethical approval was sought and obtained from the University of Glasgow College of Social Sciences Research Ethics Committee.

The project team commissioned a website, which served as the symposium platform and cloud recordings of the presentations were posted there, as well as a link to the UK Data Archive record of survey data collected by Munro and Kweka in 2018 which was used in Munro’s presentation.

Contributions to challenges in low and middle-income countries (LMICs)

The team’s activities met the needs of communities in Dar es Salaam and more broadly across the African countries represented by the symposium attendees by:

  • providing a forum in which scientific and social scientific data relating to the urban water governance crisis in Dar es Salaam was discussed amongst groups of concerned practitioners from diverse and complementary disciplines;
  • enhancing the skills-base of NGO practitioners by exposing them to methodologies used by experts in diverse disciplines. The team brought together unique expertise in large scale water and wastewater infrastructure development, advocacy for social accountability in the water sector, decentralised WASH technologies, epidemiological research, analysis of public opinion on WASH-related issues, the politics of urban water governance, and the challenges of using film to support advocacy in the water sector;
  • connecting academic research to practitioners working in local communities and to officials responsible for delivering government policy.

The project underwent considerable adaptation as a result of the COVID pandemic, and these adaptations can be seen as part of the capacity-building contribution. Specifically, the project demonstrated how a symposium can be conducted entirely online, without the carbon emissions and expense associated with international travel, and still provide a lot of information about the local context, alongside meaningful opportunities for interaction. The use of film and audio-visual recordings mean that the symposium can also be used for asynchronous learning, which has the potential to extend its impact, and means the content can be re-used, signposted and/or shared on digital platforms to ensure that even those who could not attend are able to benefit from the insights generated by bringing together a diverse range of experts and juxtaposing their contributions with the testimony of residents and officials who are confronting water governance problems on a daily basis.

The cost effectiveness of the online symposium allowed the team to redirect funds towards generating high quality recorded testimony on film, and also to carry out additional fieldwork. This in turn enables them to deepen the collaborative, transnational and transdisciplinary relationships which allowed them to conduct a successful event. The strengthening of these relationships of trust are essential for continuing collaboration with LMICs in the post-COVID era.


The symposium took place from 5-8 July 2021, with additional fieldwork and filming taking place in the previous weeks. Research findings have yet to be published and impacts on the economy, society, culture or public policy are yet to be felt. However, there plans for future impact-related activities. For example, Sareen Malik of KEWASANET, who chaired the symposium, is planning to organise a webinar involving presentation of Munro’s findings to the CSOs they work with in informal settlements. They plan to invite partners from Uganda, Tanzania, West African Anglophone and Southern African regions to participate.

The team will continue to engage with international and Tanzanian NGO networks active in the water sector and to find ways to benefit from their networks, including potential impact and opportunities for future UKRI funded projects.

Project Outputs

The principal output of our symposium is the website The website forms a permanent record of the symposium, as it includes cloud recordings of each presentation. The symposium was held over four days, with two one-hour sessions each day. Each speaker spoke for 20 minutes, followed by a forty-minute Q&A. Sixty-seven attendees from civil society, academia and government attended the sessions. WWI conducted a formal evaluation afterwards and fifteen attendees returned questionnaires, confirming a high level of satisfaction with the content and organisation of the event and gleaning some useful suggestions.

Speakers included Mr Abel Dugange, Director of Shahidi wa Maji (SwM); Dr Opportuna Kweka, Senior Lecturer in Geography at UDSM and co-PI; Dr Nick Hepworth, founder and Executive Director of Water Witness International (WWI); Dr Vicensia Shule, an independent film producer in Tanzania; Dr Poppy Lamberton, Reader in parasitology and epidemiology at the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine at Glasgow; Dr Jesper Katomero, coordinator of SwM’s and WWI’s Accountability for Water research programme; Dr Stephanie Connelly, Lecturer in Infrastructure and Environment in the School of Engineering at Glasgow; and Dr Neil Munro, PI, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Glasgow.

Additional fieldwork by Dr Kweka in the city of Dar Es Salaam generated 92 interviews with residents and officials across the city. These complement the representative sample survey that was conducted in 2018, and provide the basis for new publications and research impact. Dr Katomero has expressed interest in joining the writing up of this research.

Four short films by Dr Shule recorded interviews with residents and street-level (community) officials, as well as including scenes of water pipes, storage facilities, and urban streetscapes. The films were blended into the website and provide visual context for the presentations and interviews.


Local Involvement

The team worked with street-level officials in order to identify sites for conducting interviews and filming. A number of officials with responsibility for handling complaints about water governance also agreed to be interviewed and, in some cases, to have their responses recorded on camera.

The team also worked hard to build relationships with the water utility and they managed to get the DAWASA Kimara office to provide their response as service providers. The team hopes to inform them with future policy briefs. By involving Shahidi wa Maji, a local NGO, and their international partner, Water Witness International, as collaborators, co-organizers and speakers at the symposium, the team gained access to networks of water governance practitioners at central and local levels and they will continue using the website in their day-to-day activities. One of the assistants for data collection is from TAWASANET which is a network of NGOS working on water issues in Tanzania. She has shown interest in using the project reports when they are ready.

The participants of the symposium were a mixture of government officials, NGO leaders and academics from across Africa. As an official from the Kenyan WASH ministry commented, the symposium helped her to understand “resource mobilisation and partnerships with donors and other players in WASH.”  An NGO leader from Uganda mentioned that the symposium helped her to understand “Use of data and evidence to lobby for change.”

A Kenyan academic commented:

“I learned quite a number [of things] but these three stood out for me: 1. Competing interests in water sector requires that water governance be all inclusive. 2. Involving the community in the management of WASH sector can reduce costs in WASH management. 3. Bottom-up approach in WASH sector is good for sustainability of the sector.”

Future Activities

Four directions are being considered in the next stage of collaboration:

  1. Producing a policy brief for the Ministry of Water, DAWASA and EWURA. The brief will be based on the recent research findings, including an article recently published in Journal of Development Studies based on the 2018 survey.
  2. Producing a research report for the project (October 2021) that can be used as the basis for drafting a new journal article as well as the policy brief (Nov 2021)
  3. Engaging a well-known Tanzanian cartoonist, Masoud Kipanya to produce materials highlighting key messages of the policy brief. The cartoon can be disseminated through newspapers, TV and radio Clouds where the cartoonist works as well as social media such as twitter and can be posted on the project website. The latter will be linked to the UDSM’s website.
  4. Producing messages on urban water governance for broadcast on radio, taking advantage of particular occasions like Water Day.
  5. Producing additional films to show more of the urban water governance, generating meaning beyond the usual “talking head” format.
  6. Presenting in the University of Dar es Salaam Research week (Unit and University level (March to May 2022) and hopefully being selected to join the Sabasaba Trade Exhibition (end of June to beginning of July, 2022) similar to the 2018 Project which won the UDSM College of Social Sciences award.

Capacity Strengthening

The project has built the capacity of participating individuals and organisations by:

  • demonstrating how problems of urban water governance directly impact the quality of life and living standards of ordinary citizens in diverse neighbourhoods;
  • illustrating coping strategies to ensure access to services through both official (public sector) water provision and informal (private) provision;
  • demonstrating potential of “social accountability” and other “rights-based” approaches to ensuring provision of basic services;
  • illustrating the variation amongst neighbourhoods and households within a complex urban environment and its intersection with social, economic and political inequalities.

The project has enabled the development of skills within the team by demonstrating how scientific and social scientific data, whether captured at the neighbourhood, household or individual level, can enhance the precision of policy analysis, sharpen the perception of options and serve as an effective tool of policy advocacy.

The project has also built on the capacity of the team reinforcing connections and building trust with an established urban water governance network in Africa connecting academics from diverse disciplines, advocacy groups, policy-makers and managers.

Finally, the project has built capacity beyond the team by engaging private subcontractors in the production of online content including the website and short films to meet international expectations and standards. Further, it has demonstrated how these activities can enable international communication and the sharing of experience even in circumstances where international travel is impossible, leveraging technology to adapt to the post-Covid world.

Mobile-based survey with adolescent boys and girls in Gurugram

Healthy Cities for Adolescents: participatory research in Gurugram, Haryana, India

Healthy Cities for Adolescents: participatory research in Gurugram, Haryana, India

Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA)


Gurugram University, Gurugram, India


The key objectives of the study titled ‘Our Health, Our Voice’ were:

  1. To enquire into, from the perspective of marginalised adolescents, the health needs and health education necessary for transition into healthy adults.
  2. To examine existing government funded health policies and programmes for adolescents; this includes identifying the right tools and techniques as well as the right triggers and incentives for engaging adolescents in the planning, implementation and monitoring of adolescent specific health services.
  3. To offer practical proposals for national and state policy and programmes, based on existing successful models of engagement and knowledge exchange.

Through this study, the project team explored the relationship between urbanisation, migration and health, in line with SHLCs’ priority areas of research with low-income communities across the world. This project’s work with adolescents living in urban informal settlements in Gurugram, one of the satellite cities of New Delhi, has provided rich insights into the lived realities of the target group, primarily from the perspective of the population. Drawing on a mixture of participatory research methods, the team attempted to involve adolescents as ‘co-researchers’ in every step of the research process, thereby developing a model that emphasises active ‘participation’. A unique feature of the participatory action research has been adolescents’ reviewing and subsequently influencing health policy.

Participatory Research in Gurugram, Haryana, India. Credit: S. Ram Aravind
Participatory Research in Gurugram, Haryana, India. Credit: S. Ram Aravind


The study was designed with the objective of institutionalising adolescent participation to improve health outcomes and well-being. Through the participatory survey, adolescents reported poor health-seeking behaviour as well as low levels of awareness regarding adolescent friendly health services. The strength of the programme was its health promotion approach. It involved a paradigm shift from the existing clinic-based services to promotion and prevention and reaching adolescents in their own environment. The entire study design was strategised around this framework.

  • The participatory survey as well as Focus-Group Discussions were conducted to generate evidence into the prevalent situation of adolescent health in the urban informal settlements in Gurugram. The key findings from the survey enabled the identification of priority areas of work which influenced the design of participatory activities, consultations as well as learning circles as part of the study. As a result, the health service providers, city authorities and state government will have access to better analyses, knowledge and recommendations which will help them to improve policies, programmes and schemes that fulfil the needs and aspiration of the adolescents from low-income communities.
  • A participatory review of the flagship health scheme for adolescents, Rashtriya Kishore Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK) in Gurugram, revealed that the strategy of implementation was not in line with the guidelines of the scheme. It was observed that the Peer Educator (PE) component of RKSK had been discontinued, thereby reducing participation to mere tokenism as opposed to integration in line with RKSK guidelines. A key actionable area that was identified by the research team was to advocate for integration of adolescent population into health systems and delivery design in Gurugram. In order to increase the capacity of adolescents to independently exercise health-seeking behaviour, various participatory tools and techniques were designed and adapted to the local context.
  • A ‘visioning exercise’ was conducted to facilitate adolescents to design the Adolescent Friendly Health Clinics (AFHC) in Gurugram, thereby promoting participation of the primary stakeholders in planning, implementation and monitoring of adolescent specific health services. Following an audit and monitoring of the services and facilities in the sole AFHC facility in Gurugram, adolescents ‘designed’ the ideal AFHC from their vantage point. Policy recommendations to improve health service delivery through AFHCs was presented as a ‘manifesto’ by adolescents themselves to the city level health authorities like the Civil Surgeon who heads the administration of health systems in Gurugram.

A key policy change was adolescents influencing the city level health officials to revive the defunct peer educator programme in Gurugram. It is planned that PRIA will facilitate the training of the adolescents in urban informal settlements as ‘peer educators’ and designate them as community champions who will motivate youth in the community to exercise responsible health seeking behaviour as well as provide information on the nearest adolescent friendly health clinics. PRIA has also drawn up plans to ensure sustainability of the ‘peer educator’ component and to provide periodic training in co-operation with Health Department, Gurugram.

Contributions to challenges in low and middle-income countries (LMICs)

The project was implemented in the DAC listed Lower Middle-Income Country (LMIC) India. The achievement of SDG 3 – “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” – globally, is dependent on how India aligns national priorities and allocates resources to achieve this target. India has the largest adolescent population in the world, 254 million and every fifth person in the country is between the age of 10-19 years. For adolescents to contribute productively to the development trajectory of the country, their phase of transition to adulthood should be marked by sensitive handling of emerging physiological and psychological changes. Lack of information regarding the phenomenon of ‘adolescence’ was found to be one of the biggest impediments to seeking preventive health-care among adolescents, along with health systems insensitive or unreceptive of health needs of adolescents.

The team identified three critical barriers impairing health outcomes among adolescents in LMIC:

  1. Poor knowledge of adolescent health needs and demands in the local context
  2. Lack of participatory spaces or avenues for adolescents to talk about adolescent health issues
  3. Inadequate participation of adolescents in planning, implementation and monitoring of health policies, especially RKSK.

Adopting a participatory approach to developing interventions, the following activities sought to tackle the gaps identified during the course of study:

Generating awareness and evidence regarding adolescent health: Co-creation of local knowledge and evidence regarding adolescent health with active involvement of community and multiple stakeholders like public health officials, elected representatives and frontline health workers enabled the team to identify the priority areas where adolescents reported lacking knowledge. Through mixed-method data collection techniques (survey and FGD), conducting data dissemination sessions and designing locally relevant Social and Behavioural Change Communication (SBCC) material, the project sought to address the gap in the information deficit prevalent among adolescents in urban informal settlements.

Creating a safe space for adolescents: A participatory ‘visioning exercise’ was conducted with adolescents to create a ‘space’ for adolescents to congregate and learn from each other about adolescent health through skits, poetry, painting and games. The project demonstrates the effectiveness of engaging adolescents to gain agency over their life issues through cost-effective participatory methods in under-resourced settings. Such spaces would be critical in engaging adolescents, not as passive receivers of top-down service delivery, but as ‘active citizens’ capable of engaging with governance mechanisms to demand rights tailored to cater to their aspirations.

Incorporating adolescent voices into policy: A consultation with city-level health officials was organised to bring adolescents closer to the health policy space. Adolescents were capacitated to evaluate the prevailing health systems in Gurugram and to recommend policy changes to design facilities and services responsive to the demands and aspirations of adolescents. The consultation also served as a space to build the capacity of district level health officials to conceptualise frameworks for institutionalising adolescent participation in RKSK implementation.

Adolescents from urban informal settlements will be trained as Peer Educators (PE) by the district health administration to this effect and efforts will be made to sustain the PE model, thereby emphasising health promotion as the ideal framework for reducing adolescent related mortalities.


Summary of research findings:

  • Poor health-seeking behaviour as well as awareness among adolescents was observed, especially with regard to sexual and reproductive health and nutrition.
  • Nutrition patterns among adolescents living in under-resourced settlements was cost-sensitive and hence, adolescents were unable to consume nutritious food items in line with national guidelines.
  • Low level of awareness regarding adolescent friendly health clinics was observed among the respondents.
  • The outreach among adolescents through frontline health workers or community workers on sensitive adolescent health issues was low, increasing their dependence for health-related information on mother, teacher, peers and the internet.

The actionable component of the study sought to address the emerging gaps at multiple levels.

  • Information deficit among adolescents: For adolescents to transition to healthy adulthood, it is important that they be exposed to the right information and practices regarding health and well-being. SBCC materials were designed by identifying the priority areas of adolescent health as was evidenced by the survey and FGD in local languages. The material, tailored to the local context, is expected to address the information deficit among young people. Further, the cadre of peer educators will also be trained to disseminate information as well as undertake referrals. Five hundred adolescents across the urban informal settlements were provided with SBCC materials.
  • Access to health systems needs to be improved if adolescents are to exercise independent health-seeking behaviour. However, the lack of knowledge of AFHCs impedes their ability to take agency over health and well-being. Through participatory exercises, adolescents were facilitated to take the promotive route to health-seeking; identification of available health facilities in the vicinity of the community should enable them to reach out. The frequency of visits and the referrals made by the peer educators in the community will however need to be monitored and evaluated over a significant time period which is beyond the scope of the study.
  • Institutionalising an adolescent participation framework: The consultations were successful in getting recognition of adolescents as active influencers of health policy at the Governmental level and their training as peer educators by the district Health Department will lend credibility to their role in the community and enable more adolescents to volunteer thereby ensuring sustainability of adolescent participation. It is planned that 30 adolescents will be trained initially through 3 training sessions and participation will be scaled up subsequently. The level of adolescent enrolment, training sessions conducted in the community as well as frequency of outreach will need to be measured over a period of 12 months to reflect accuracy and effectiveness.
  • International co-operation and cross-learning: The development of international partnerships between PRIA, a local university, and SLHC based at the University of Glasgow has facilitated strengthening of capacity of academics in India in the field of adolescent health (with a focus on social determinants of health) and related policies in the context of smart cities.

Mobile-based survey with adolescent boys and girls in Gurugram
Mobile-based survey with adolescent boys and girls in Gurugram. Credit: Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA)

Project Outputs

The section lists the key activities, materials produced and partnerships formed during the course of the study

Study reports of individual events and activities:  

PRIA (2021). Our health, our voice; preliminary findings of mobile-based participatory survey with adolescents in Gurugram, India.

PRIA (2021). Learning circle on strengthening facility-based intervention to improve health outcomes among adolescents- a case of adolescent friendly health clinics.

PRIA (2021). Our health, our voice; online focus-group discussions with adolescents.

PRIA (2021). Our health, our voice; online focus-group discussions with mothers of adolescents.

PRIA (2021). The voices from the ground; re-imagining working with adolescents.

PRIA (2021). National consultation; Our health, our voice-institutionalizing adolescent participation for improving their health and well-being.

PRIA (2021). City-level multi-stakeholder dialogue on strengthening adolescent participation to target adolescent health.


Aravind, R. (2021). From Challenge To Opportunity: Shifting Community-Based Research Online [Blog].

Aravind, R. (2021). Adolescent Health in Gurugram: Mobile-Based Survey Findings [Blog].

Aravind, R. (2021). Is There Healthcare For Adolescents On The Margins? [Blog].

Aravind, R. (2021). Is It Right To Defer Conversation About Sex Anymore? [Blog].

Aravind, R. (2021). When Health Clinics Become Friendly: Adolescents’ Vision for the Future [Blog].

Policy brief:

PRIA (2021). Manifesto by adolescents living in urban informal settlements in Gurugram to make Mitrata Clinic facilities effective and adolescent friendly.


Our health, our voice: participatory research with adolescents in Gurugram (3:38) PRIA India

Our health, our voice: participatory action research with adolescents in Gurugram (10:22) PRIA India

New Partnerships formed during the course of the study:
  • Health Department, Gurugram
  • Martha Farrell Foundation
  • Pro-Sport Development
  • Dasra 10to19 Adolescent collaborative
Workshops and footfall
  • National Consultation: 54 participants, including key participants
  • City Consultation: 13 participants
  • Learning Circle 1: 25 participants, including the key panellists
  • Learning Circle 2: 35 participants, including key panellists 

Local Involvement

The study was envisaged as participatory action research led by adolescents. At the onset of the research study, the research team adopted a multi-stakeholder approach to achieve the objectives. The team primarily worked with adolescents belonging to urban informal settlements in Gurugram and in order to recruit participants as co-researchers, it was imperative to build trust with not just the target group, but also parents and care-givers of adolescents and gate-keepers in the community. To build trust, partnerships were formed with members of the community, facilitated by a local NGO for the purpose of mobilisation as well as to assist with people management at different stages of the research process. Due adherence to COVID-19 protocols as well as informed consent protocols was observed.

Following the analysis of data, the data generated through the survey was validated with the actors in the problem situation, the adolescents. In the study, the data was disaggregated at the level of settlements to ensure context-specific insights were presented. Data that was analysed was validated with the adolescents and disseminated with the wider community and stakeholders to generate awareness about the prevalent situation of adolescent health and to decide the future course of action and policy change through participation.

The study has built on PRIA’s extensive engagement with youth and adolescents in different thematic areas over the years. PRIA’s expertise in participatory action research methodology was utilised to develop the study design, from research phase to action phase. In Gurugram, PRIA has worked with domestic workers living in urban informal settlements over issues related to gender violence and entitlement of rights. Their extensive engagement with district administration in Gurugram was leveraged to enable adolescents to present their views on ideal health system, which led to actionable points, namely the creation of peer educator cadre as well as more awareness surrounding adolescent friendly health systems. In addition to partnerships with local community, local NGO as well as a local university, partnerships were also formed with leading civil society and research organisations working on the theme of adolescent health to generate evidence as well as dialogue on different facets of adolescent health.

Adolescents Present the Manifesto for Improving AFHC Services.
Adolescents Present the Manifesto for Improving AFHC Services. Credit: Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA)

Future Activities

It has been agreed that the participatory action research study, led by adolescents will create a cadre of Peer Educators, trained by the health department and facilitated by the research team, to link adolescents to the AFHC or referral services. This effort will benefit out-of-school children as well as children of migrant families who reported requirements of training and information sessions on sexual and reproductive health as well as nutrition. At the time of writing, the team is currently in talks with the Health Department, Gurugram to ensure that peer educators are periodically trained on health issues. Local NGO partner are anticipated to monitor the activities of peer educators and recruit new batches.

The study findings will be used to advocate for the establishment of more adolescent friendly health clinics in the district. The evidence will also inform re-prioritisation of components of RKSK to better reflect the localised needs of health care. The process will however, be led by the peer educators and adolescent champions who will be trained to exercise tools of democracy to voice their demands on behalf of adolescents in the informal settlements. PRIA will also support the city-level health department, to integrate participation into implementation documents.

The model of engaging adolescents in planning and implementing action research projects has been disseminated to city and national consultations and through conferences to ensure that similar models are replicated and scaled up across the country. The study methodology, findings and learning will be disseminated as academic articles, in popular writing, such as blogs, working papers in open access journals and platforms to be accessible to academic as well as non-academic audiences.

Capacity Strengthening

Capacity building of the following stakeholders associated with the study was undertaken:

Researchers, based in partner university as well as community

The initial research team, compromised of university students and community animators were identified as ‘co-researchers’ in the context of the study. The primary objective of initiating partnerships with the local university was to build capacity of university students

The Kisenyi Resilience Youth during community sensitization to trigger community engagement.

How to improve understanding of sustainable and healthy neighbourhoods through youth participation in Kisenyi Slum, Kampala, Uganda (Sustainable Neighbourhoods with the Youth: SustaiNY study)

How to improve understanding of sustainable and healthy neighbourhoods through youth participation in Kisenyi Slum, Kampala, Uganda (Sustainable Neighbourhoods with the Youth: SustaiNY study)
Principal Investigator:

Doreen Tuhebwe, School of Public Health, Makerere University, Uganda


Kampala Capital City Authority, Uganda


The Sustainable Neighbourhoods with the Youth (SustaiNY) study aimed to inform a community-based process on how to improve understanding of sustainable and healthy neighbourhoods through youth participation in LMICs. Sixteen young people from the informal settlement of Kisenyi, Kampala, Uganda were trained over six weeks on how to assess neighbourhood risks and equipped with transformative leaderships skills to effectively advocate for sustainable and healthy neighbourhoods. Working in youth led teams, the young people implemented three actions: i) cleaning up a community spring, ii) community sensitisation and iii) dredging an open trench in order to exemplify resilience leadership and trigger community engagement. See Research Brief SustaiNY for more details.

The SustaiNY study extended aspects of work by SHLC that seeks to “understand what makes a sustainable, healthy and learning neighbourhood”. Through group discussions, transect walks, leadership training, community dialogues and action plan implementation, the youth in Kisenyi slum reflected on what they perceive as a healthy and sustainable neighbourhood and what they can change by themselves and in the wider community. The youth became more aware about their community in terms of challenges (hazards) and existing opportunities (resources). They also appreciated how humans interact with the environment and how the youth can contribute to and/or lead solutions to neighbourhood challenges.

The Kisenyi Resilience Youth during community sensitization to trigger community engagement.
The Kisenyi Resilience Youth during community sensitization to trigger community engagement. Credit: Makerere University


Objective one.  The team explored young people’s understanding of a sustainable and healthy city by conducting two focus group discussions (FGDs), one prior to the training and one at the end of the action plan implementation. Participants were 20 young people aged 15-19 years old, born and raised in the vulnerable neighbourhood of Kisenyi. Six key informant interviews (KIIs) were also held with local leaders, urban authorities and city planners. From the content analysis of the FGDs and KIIs, the team generated a matrix of resources, land use patterns and activities of Kisenyi slum. It was noted from the FGDs and KIIs that Kisenyi slum land was mixed used with various land activities including: street side businesses like food vending, business premises like shops, residential houses (permanent and temporary structures), small scale industries like welding and social amenities like the churches. Some concentrations existed especially for ethnic groups that lived together and density spots for criminal gangs. The youth perceived a healthy and sustainable neighbourhood as one with: trees, enough walkways, safe roads, and one that is hygienic, has employment for the population, has security, schools, hospitals and where people of all ages, sexes and backgrounds cooperate with no discrimination. These perspectives resonated with bringing into place the resources that are not currently in place in this community.

Objective 2.  The project trained 20 eligible young people from the initial FGDs and 16 of them completed all training sessions. The curriculum covered 10 training sessions.  Session 1: People and the Environment; 2: Understanding My Changing Environment (Concepts); 3: Hazard mapping; 4: Creating the Community Map; 5: Awareness of my neighbourhood; 6: Identifying Priority Community Challenges; 7:  A Strong/Resilient Leader; 8: Action Planning; 9:  Sharing in a Community Forum and 10: Action Plan Implementation. Through the training activities, the young people understood their community better and through participatory methods they learnt how to take initiative in areas related to sustainable development for prosperous, convenient, liveable and safe cities.

Objective 3.  The post-training and action plan implementation follow up FGDs showed that the young people’s perspectives on what makes a healthy and sustainable neighbourhood had changed and resonated more with having a community where there is respect for law and order and all community members including the youth are more engaged in efforts towards the development and wellbeing of their neighbourhoods.

Contributions to challenges in low and middle-income countries (LMICs)

By 2050, the United Nations estimates that 3 billion more people will be added to the urban population. As countries work towards attainment of health and wellbeing for all (Sustainable Development Goal 3) and inclusive, safe and resilient cities (Sustainable Development Goal 11), young people, especially those living in informal settlements are being left behind. The current scale of urbanisation provides a positive opportunity for economic growth and social change, but alongside this rapid growth, cities also face major demographic, environmental, economic, social and spatial challenges.

The high rates at which urban informal settlements are developing in Uganda, a LMIC, make wellbeing for the urban poor an urgent priority. Uganda is experiencing a high rate of urbanisation exceeding 5% per annum with Kampala having the highest urban population growth rate estimated to be between 5.2 and 16% per annum. These high rates make city resource sustainability an urgent priority.

Kisenyi slum (the largest slum in Kampala) has 70% of its population in the youth bracket. These young people increasingly face pressures of infrastructure such as lack of housing, economics including lack of gainful employment, security, poor basic services such as lack of access to health care, and environmental issues like pollution, environmental degradation and urban flash floods. Within the context of sustainable development, young people in Kisenyi face a major problem of poor land use and environmental degradation which has hindered the realisation of a sustainable neighbourhood in Kisenyi. The youth in Kisenyi also present an opportunity where they can be skilled to effectively advocate for and contribute to sustainable and healthy neighbourhoods if they are skilled in approaches that help reduce exposure to hazards, lessen vulnerability of people and property, inform wise management of land and the environment, and improve preparedness for adverse events.

Through the SustaiNY study, the project team worked with young people in Kisenyi slum and facilitated them to reflect on causes of vulnerability in their immediate neighbourhood and identify solutions that can be implemented by themselves to overcome these vulnerabilities in the short and long term.  Through these engagements, the young people in this slum community became more aware about their community in terms of challenges (hazards) and opportunities (existing resources). They also appreciated the extent to which they can contribute to the challenges in the community and more importantly the fact that they are part of the solution.


Project outcomes included:

  1. A network of young leaders with potential to champion change for sustainable cities and who are ready to lead efforts within their immediate neighbourhoods.

“…we as strong leaders, whoever we find disposing of waste in a drainage channel, we shall take them to the police station. From the police station, we shall take them to court to be questioned why they dump waste in a drainage channel. If the reason is insufficient, then they will also be taken to jail. Other community members will learn from there and pick a leaf. You first warn the community members, and if they are persistent, then you use the law. That is what we must do as strong leaders.” (Final FGDs with the Kisenyi Youth Resilience Club)

  1. A community that has been triggered to think about and take actions that can make their neighbourhoods healthy, sustainable and resilient
  2. An informed community which benefited from the community sensitisation exercise that was led by the young people. The actions that were implemented by the youth i.e. cleaning up the community spring and open trench contributed to health and wellbeing of the community which will sustain the gains of the study.
  3. During the training sessions and engagements, the young people had their capacity built and they established themselves as change agents for sustainable neighbourhoods despite difficult circumstances. The lessons learnt can also be applied in existing networks like schools and civil society organizations within this community to identify youth leaders and systematically engage them.

“We have learnt a lot of things and also places which we never knew. Through the community mapping, I have been able to learn the hazards and resources in my community” (Final FGD with the Kisenyi Youth Resilience Leaders)

Project Outputs

The SustaiNY study outputs included:

  1. A team of trained youth who are skilled in applying hazard and vulnerability analysis to understand their neighbourhood. The 16 trained youth have formed a club called “Kisenyi Youth Resilience Leaders”. They are excited, curious, interested and engaged in community wellbeing activities with the support of the community leaders. Even after the end of the study the young people have continued to engage in regular community clean ups, mobilisation for COVID-19 vaccination and scouting law and order in their neighbourhoods.
  2. Documentation of community validated perceptions of what a sustainable and healthy neighbourhood looks like, provides a case study of the urban poor setting of Kisenyi. Through the study the youth and community leaders deliberated on the land use activities that can be initiated and encouraged in order to ensure a sustainable neighbourhood and how to adapt and thrive in their community despite existing challenges of poverty, poor infrastructure, lack of employment, insecurity, poor basic services and environmental issues.
  3. A matrix of resources, land use patterns and activities of a sustainable neighbourhood informed by the key stakeholders in the project. Through the focus group discussions, key informant interviews and community dialogues, the project was able to generate a list of resources that exist in Kisenyi community and the vulnerabilities that need to be overcome in order to attain a vibrant urban community.
  4. A team of researchers with operational insights on how to conduct research in the topical areas of urban development and sustainable cities. The researchers from Makerere University in collaboration with Kampala Capital City Authority were able to engage and learn from each other during the implementation of the project. This further strengthened the collaboration between academics and non-academics.

One of the Kisenyi Resilience Leaders during action plan implementation on cleaning the spring
One of the Kisenyi Resilience Leaders during action plan implementation on cleaning the spring. Credit: Makerere University

Local Involvement

  1. This project mainly worked with the youth from Kisenyi and the urban authority leaders in Kampala and Kisenyi. These key stakeholders were engaged in the project through the inception meeting where they input ideas on how best to implement the study in the Kisenyi setting.
  2. Through the key informant interviews, a new partnership with an NGO called “Slum Dwellers Association” was formed and the chairperson of this NGO became a facilitator in one of the community engagements where she guided the young people on how to effectively communicate a message to community members.
  3. A team of Village Health Team members supported the youth as mentors during this project. This built confidence between the community and the research team
  4. The Kisenyi Parish Chairperson appointed the Kisenyi Male Youth Councillor as Patron for the “Kisenyi Youth Resilience Leadership Club” in order to sustain the gains and momentum of the project. Through the community engagement, it was widely made known to the Kisenyi and city leadership that the Youth Resilience Leaders are available as a resource for the community and can be tapped into to support development initiatives and should be prioritized for emerging youth advancement opportunities.

“such programs (SustaiNY study) are good and give hope to the community….I promise to continue encouraging the youth to come and participate in our programs so that they can transform their communities” (Kakajjo Zona, Kisenyi II Chairperson).

Future Activities

Future activities include seeking more opportunities to disseminate the project findings and continue to engage the Kisenyi Youth Resilience Leaders in activities that can further enhance their transformative leadership abilities.

The project team is engaging a multimedia developer to transform the project photos and video recordings into a documentary clip that can be disseminated widely on social media, websites and other relevant platforms in order to interest other people in the work, seek additional funding and scale up the study approach for others to adapt in research and practice.

A member of Kisenyi Youth Resilience Leaders presenting on community mapping, problem prioritization and action planning.
A member of Kisenyi Youth Resilience Leaders presenting on community mapping, problem prioritization and action planning. Credit: Makerere University

Capacity Strengthening

The project was designed and implemented by a team from diverse academic and practice backgrounds/specialisations. The study involved two young and promising researchers as Co-investigators from Makerere University (Doreen Tuhebwe and Jimmy Osuret) in collaboration with the Kampala Capital City Authority Community Development Officer (Jackline Akello). This promoted exchange of knowledge by sharing different methodological approaches and operational insights in both directions of research and practice.

The research team expanded to include another six young researchers at Masters level training who supported the data collection, facilitation of training sessions, transcription, data analysis and documentation. These new researchers learnt from the Lead Research Team and they were introduced to new perspectives and topics in urbanisation, sustainable development, liveable and efficient neighbourhoods and the UN-HABITAT principles of urban development. Three of the young researchers subsequently applied for research positions in projects at MakSPH and were recruited, launching them in University work with a lot of growth potential.

The capacity of the 16 young people that participated in resilience leadership training was built. They learnt new concepts in disaster risk reduction, resilience, leadership and championing change. They became more aware about themselves, their neighbourhood and implemented actions that could improve their neighbourhood. They also interested other youth in the concept of sustainable neighbourhoods.

The trained young people also acquired other skills such as mapping, making presentations, time keeping, planning for events, communication, mobilising resources in the community, for example asking community members for wheel barrows to use during the clean-up exercise. They also learnt how to engage with adult leaders and this was demonstrated during the community dialogue with the Kisenyi and urban authority leaders where they were able to negotiate and interest the leaders to be part of the action plan implementation exercise.

The young people also have access to all the project training and dissemination material for future reference and use. In addition, they expanded their network of friends by meeting other young people from different neighbourhoods during the project activities.

“We have learnt discipline, respecting others, time management and working together as a community.”

“I have learnt to respect others”

(Final FGDs with Kisenyi Youth Resilience Leaders)


The young people had a positive attitude change and this was demonstrated by their commitment to the training sessions and their change in perception on what makes a health and sustainable neighbourhood.

The capacity of the two community health workers also known as Village Health Team members (VHTs) was strengthened as the team appointed them as mentors for the youth. The VHTs learnt about the project and the concepts applied and they received training material from the Research Team

The Kisenyi Leaders and urban authorities also learnt about the concept of sustainable and healthy neighbourhoods and the perspectives the youth have on what makes a healthy and sustainable neighbourhood. These insights triggered deliberations on how to better use the land in Kisenyi and avoid degradation despite Kisenyi being a slum. In total 10 Kisenyi leaders participated in the dialogue and community dissemination.

Over 2000 Kisenyi community members specifically in Kakajjo zone benefited from the efforts of the youth who cleaned up the water spring and open trench in China town during action plan implementation.

Fieldwork to understand how people adapt to changing land use.

Transformation of agricultural land and waterbodies in rapidly urbanising Bangladesh: recognising the extent of sustainability concerns

Transformation of agricultural land and waterbodies in rapidly urbanising Bangladesh: recognising the extent of sustainability concerns
PrincipaI Investigator:

Dr Bowei Chen, Aerospace Information Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences


Khulna University, Khulna, Bangladesh (Dr Shilpi Roy (CO-I), Associate Professor of Urban and Rural Planning)


Bangladesh has a high dependency on agricultural land and water bodies.  However, the spontaneous urbanisation process over the last 30 years has been taking over these invaluable ecological assets. This study reflects on the urban transformation in the top 10 rapidly urbanising cities and their peripheries in Bangladesh between 1991 and 2020 and traces the impacts of urban growth on agricultural land and water bodies and associated sustainability challenges. Using time-series satellite imagery, interviews and photographic analysis, the team identified the areas that have observed the most changes, related driving forces responsible for these changes and their implications on the life and livelihoods of people.

This project finds the extent, rate and pattern of urban growth and changes in agricultural land and water bodies in Bangladesh and further informs how these changes affect livelihoods and challenge environmental sustainability. Findings in blogs, policy briefs, easily accessible dashboards and journal papers will inform policies and practices towards sustainable urbanisation in Bangladesh.

Innovative programming-based methods applied in this research for image downloading, image classification, analysis of classified images, and data visualisation were shared in a public workshop in March 2022 that enhanced the capacity of the early career researchers for improved, accurate and efficient monitoring of the changes of land use that have implications for sustainable development.

Housing and industries are rapidly taking over the water bodies and agricultural lands in Borpa, Narayanganj, Dhaka. © 2020 SHLC Bangladesh.
Housing and industries are rapidly taking over the water bodies and agricultural lands in Borpa, Narayanganj, Dhaka. © 2020 SHLC Bangladesh.


The project team fulfilled the planned objectives in the following ways:

  1. Assessing the extent, rate and pattern of urban growth and changes in agricultural land and water bodies for the past 30 years:

Based on several indicators, the team selected the top 10 urbanising cities in Bangladesh and the areas surrounding these cities with possibilities of urbanisation in the next 20 years.

For producing reliable and repeatable results in a short time, they developed a fully automatic approach using the open-sourced R programming software to implement the process of downloading cloud-free satellite images, calculation of indices from these images, attribution extraction, feature selection and land use classification.

Classified time-series images, change detection, distribution of changes in space and concentration of land cover in different years show the extent, rate and pattern of urban growth and changes in agricultural land and water bodies in 10 major cities for the past 30 years.

  1. Exploring forces of urban growth and its implications on livelihoods and the environment:

The team visited 114 areas, each with an area of at least 2.5 sq. kilometres, in 10 cities and their peri-urban areas where major urban growth has been observed. They interviewed 345 people from these areas and gathered photographs to trace the forces of urban growth, changes in livelihoods of the people here and experience and potential challenges related to environmental sustainability.

  1. Contributing to attaining SDG 11 and spread the impact:

Dr Chen presented some of the initial findings on behalf of the whole team during the 5th Quantitative Remote Sensing Forum, the biggest remote sensing international conference in China. Over 300 people attended the session to listen to the latest findings of Bangladesh and its contribution to SDGs.

In addition, Dr Chen’s host institution inaugurated the International Research Centre of Big Data for Sustainable Development Goals (CBAS) this year. The capacity building through this funding will strengthen the collaboration between the teams on both sides, and this study will be presented as a case of successful international collaboration.

  1. Enhancing capacity

The innovative programming-based remote sensing methods applied in this research were shared in a public workshop in March 2022. Early career researchers in Dr Shilpi’s host institution, Khulna University, also learned about these new methods through two technical sessions. In addition, a team of 26 early career researchers from Bangladesh who were involved in the interview and photographic data collection, data cleaning, data analysis and interpretation, now have the skills of applying the qualitative tool in urban growth studies. Most of these researchers are graduate urban planners working for SHLC and national non-government organisations.

Contributions to challenges in low and middle-income countries (LMICs)

This project responds to rapidly diminishing agricultural lands and water bodies in a DAC listed country, Bangladesh. This contemporary issue challenges sustainable urbanisation and, therefore, will contribute to the thinking, studies and policymaking reality of the DAC listed countries. Moreover, there is little research on the national scale impact of urbanisation and its consequence on food and water. Therefore, the implementation of this project helps contribute to SDG 11: Sustainable Cities, in the context of the rapid urbanisation of developing megacities.

The project team formed an integrated remote sensing dataset of the study area from cross-sensor Landsat images. They developed a cloud-free composite algorithm based on the Google Earth engine platform to produce pixel-level cloudless, seamless, and clear images to extract maximum value from these innovative datasets. Furthermore, they have developed fully automatic tools using the open-sourced R programming software to implement the analysis for reliable and repeatable results with the great reduction of human interactive time, providing the capacity towards a continuous monitoring system to quantify land-use changes.

This project will allow Dr Shilpi and her team to be included in the DBAR-Coast network as well as in the newly founded International Research Centre of Big Data for Sustainable Development Goals (CBAS).

Dr Chen received the Young Talents of Science and Technology Innovation award by the Hainan Association for Science and Technology in Sep 2020. This has a follow-up funding focus on social sensing data mining for the foreign study areas, and Bangladesh has been chosen as a case.


The project team assessed the extent, rate and pattern of urban growth and changes in agricultural land and water bodies in the top 10 urbanising cities in Bangladesh (Dhaka, Gazipur, Chattagram, Barisal, Comilla, Coxs_Bazar, Khulna, Mymenshing, Rajshahi, Rangpur and Sylhet) since 1991. They have also explored how these changes are affecting livelihoods and challenging environmental sustainability.

Major findings are follows:

  1. All ten major cities in Bangladesh have been in a phase of rapid urban growth over the past three decades, of which Barisal, a secondary city, has the highest annual urban growth rate of 37.78 over the past 30 years, while for this period Dhaka has observed the highest gain of built-up area of 73.60 sq. kilometres.

  1. All the cities are sprawling rapidly. Alarmingly, the annual urban growth rate in the outskirt of Rajshahi has been as high as 4702 since 1991. Between 1991 to 2020, peri-urban Dhaka has sprawled areas of 237.44 sq. kilometres.

  1. Irrespective of the city types, growing built-up areas are taking up the invaluable farming lands in all cases. Larger cities will have a stronger negative relationship between these two classes. Peri-urban Dhaka has lost about 263 sq. km of farming land over the last three decades.
  2. The loss of water bodies within the city is highest in Dhaka. Since 1991 the city has lost about seven sq. km. of water bodies. However, peri-urban areas of the three major cities Dhaka, Khulna and Rajshahi, have gained an average area of more than 20 sq. km. of water bodies over the last three decades.
  3. In the process of urbanisation, the balance and dynamics of the urban area, vegetation and farmland can be used to cluster different city groups. The transformation among different classes results in similar behaviour that can be clustered accordingly.

The results above highlighted the changing areas and allow the team to do field visits to understand the driving force and mechanism of this transformation and further the impact of everyday living for local people.

  1. As few as five forces to as many as 22 have influenced sprawling patterns and processes in the study areas. Fundamental forces include industrialisation, transport network expansion, employment opportunities, increased housing demand, land development by private and public authorities, low land value and low living cost.
  2. The urbanisation process has resulted in the extinction of cultivable water bodies, decreased soil fertility, and increased farming costs, leading to the loss of agricultural production. As a result, residents now suffer from the unavailability of freshwater, waterlogging, income loss and shortage of agro-food supply. In many cases, marginal farmers sell their agricultural land and migrate to the nearest large cities.
  3. However, people adapt to the changing land use pattern by shifting their occupation and using fertilisers, pesticides, hybrid seeds, and new crops with high yields. Some farmers worked as day labourers in construction, factories, and rickshaw pooling.
  4. Dhaka has gained the most policy attention concerning urban growth management. This research finds that the urban planning and national development policies should not underestimate the rapid growth of the secondary cities to aim for a sustainable future for Bangladesh’s cities.
  5. Urban growth has improved the residents’ standard of living but degraded their quality of living.

Initial findings were presented at China’s biggest remote sensing forum and have drawn the attention of researchers and students for the very first time as this topic is not widely known to the domestic remote sensing community, especially in the context of sustainability. In addition, with the newly founded International Research Centre of Big Data for Sustainable Development Goals, the team will maximise the impact of this study through joint publications, media coverage and workshops. The follow-up workshop in knowledge transfer between top remote sensing communities from China and top urban communities from Bangladesh will lead to new insights for sustainable urbanisation.

Fieldwork to understand how people adapt to changing land use.
Fieldwork to understand how people adapt to changing land use. Credit: Khulna University

Local Involvement

Dr Shilpi’s team in Bangladesh was involved in all project stages, from signature extraction, signature verification, field checking of the classified images to collection of primary data from 114 areas that observed significant urban growth. Her team was also involved with transcription and analysis of 345 interviews and photographs to trace out the forces of urban growth, changes in people’s livelihoods due to loss of agricultural land and water bodies, coping strategies in place and potential challenges related to environmental sustainability.

The research team closely worked with the local people who lived in the areas that went through significant transformation for at least 30 years. In addition, people from different city regions shared their life experiences during data collection due to urban transformation.

Future Activities

Future research work will move towards the recent changes in the past five years with the support of the 3-m resolution Planet data from Dr Chen’s team. It will be interesting and worthwhile to look at how Covid-19 has impacted the land-use change and potential explanations.

The International Research Centre of Big Data for Sustainable Development Goals (CBAS) is an ideal channel to share the project findings and maximise the impact. Through the networking between Dr Shilpi and Dr Chen, the Bangladesh team will continue to be involved in this ambitious plan and expand the existing network significantly.

Capacity Strengthening

This project on a DAC listed country has strengthened the capacity of the researchers from both the partner institutions, one located in China and the other is based in Bangladesh.

  1. Dr Chen’s team is mostly from urban geography. The techniques developed by Dr Chen’s team, such as cloud-free composite algorithm based on the Google Earth engine platform, and R scripts to automatically produce the classification result, has been beneficial to Dr Shilpi’s team for efficient and quality urban growth analysis.

Dr Shilpi’s team is from Urban planning background. With extensive knowledge about the cities under study they extracted a very large number of signatures on land covers that helped refine the algorithms for the classification and best represent the real scenario.

The application of qualitative tools in growth and impact analysis by Dr Shilpi’s team have helped Dr Chen’s team to better understand the driving forces of urban growth and the impacts of urbanisation. They have new insights about using mixed methods for the research on sustainable urbanisation.

  1. Dr Chen is the liaison officer of the coast workgroup of the Digital Belt and Road (DBAR) Program, which was initiated by Chinese scientists, shares data, experience, technology and knowledge to realise the scientific mission of earth big data in the Belt and Road Sustainable Development Goals. This project will allow Dr Shilpi and her team to be included in the DBAR-Coast network for the sustainability study.