GCRF: Building capacity for the future city in developing countries (PEAK)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Social & Cultural Anthropology


We propose to generate a step change in the capacity of a network of cities in developing countries to address development dilemmas and advance the new 'urban' Sustainable Development Goal (11), linking cutting edge research to governance challenges of the emerging metropolis.

The contemporary city presents a major development challenge. The majority of the world now lives in cities and the proportion is set to increase rapidly. All SDGs will need to be achieved in emergent cities and through understanding the combination of different development challenges, simultaneously realized. To recognize this and address the development challenges we need to combine the insights of traditionally discrete disciplinary expertise and link the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences in a new interdisciplinary configuration. We propose to 'grow' a new generation of urban researchers comfortable taking forward this new interdisciplinary field, working across an international partnership of research intensive universities renowned for their expertise in analyzing contemporary urbanisms.

A global team of partners from China (Peking University), India (India Institute of Human Settlements), South Africa (UCT African Centre for Cities) and Colombia (EAFIT, Medellin) will work together with the University of Oxford. Researchers work across natural sciences (including mathematics, medicine, transport and engineering), the social sciences (including anthropology, development, migration) and humanities (including law, history). We leverage expertise across the University of Oxford and the Alan Turing Institute, building capacity internationally through a partnership networking strategic sites of urban interventions globally, working with a cohort of postdoctoral fellowships to develop a programme of excellent research. The focus is international and interdisciplinary. International networks build on existing collaborations, strong links to cities themselves and on track records of research excellence.

Research proposed uses complex systems framing to synthesise our understanding of the development of future cities. Research addresses urban challenges that focus on data science opportunities of the city and socio-material systems that link built form, technology and behavioural pattern in complex interventions in public health, the nexus of water food and energy, informality, the city commons, mobility, land and the imperative to accommodate new populations. Research embedded in cities themselves will build new forms of learning, co-production and capacity building to promote sustainable urban development.

To maximize the impact of our work the five centres of research will create a platform that will link regionally to linked research centres, urban labs and city observatories in Latin America, Africa, India and China. The opportunity to link the challenges of the global south to the city futures of the global north will be addressed through formal links to impact pathways in London government and European Urban Labs and centres, liaising with three of the Innovate UK funded Catapults (Satellite, Transport, Future of Cities).

In order to meet the global goals of sustainable development cities will have to fundamentally shift developmental trajectories, implying a significant realignment in urban management practice. The knowledge base on which policy makers are expected to make such momentous decisions is fragmented but we will work with cities across the partnership to develop new models of co-production and knowledge exchange. All of the research partners have outstanding records of engagement and coproduction of knowledge with cities themselves, city regions, national bodies and emergent transnational organisations, including UN Habitat, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the World Bank/UN agency Cities Alliance.

Planned Impact

The PEAK programme leverages an existing network of research partnerships based in globally excellent universities to generate a multidisciplinary research response to the challenges of the emergent city. The architecture of the programme is structured by the first priority of the RCUK GROW call, "to grow research capacity and capability to meet the challenges faced by developing countries". PEAK uses complex systems theory to synthesise the particular contributions of humanities, social sciences and natural sciences to address major 21st century urban dilemmas.

Consequently three pathways will structure the impact of the programme, highlighting
1. A new generation of urban scholars, globally networked, working across disciplinary boundaries, competent in the most prestigious academic research fields and comfortable explaining the use of their research outside the academy in shaping the future city.
2. Research excellence demonstrated by a stream of publications, knowledge exchange and research impact both within conventional disciplinary fields and in a growing arena of new transdisciplinary scholarship.
3. Our commitment to grow the capacities of cities to address 21st century urban challenges, their comprehension of the power of new urban sciences and the generation of new data analytics and an understanding of the implications of urban path dependencies and trade offs in structuring urban futures.

1. A new generation of urban scholars
1a A cohort of researchers: The programme is designed and resourced to leverage this investment to 'grow' a new generation of urban scholars with a senior co-I - Parnell - in Cape Town, acting as a mentor to the fellows. Fellows are supported by annual summer schools, an internship programme and fieldwork exchanges.
1b Massive Online Open Course: We will develop at least one MOOC from the PEAK programme, making our work available globally at no cost. We will build on the design and delivery of the SDG academy, pioneered by our partners, an online MOOC resource, generated in partnership with and for the United Nations Sustainable Solutions Network and directed by Revi, the Bangalore Co-I.
1c Global Exchange and global regional contribution: a series of regional international events drawing in colleagues across Latin America, Africa and the whole of Asia, linking research findings and approaches to the new generation of urban researchers.

2. Research excellence
Research excellence and publication in a range of fields including:
2a. Public health and wellbeing
2b.Planning, finance and governance
2c. Technology, infrastructure and innovation

3. Building city capacities
We will develop capacity for cities and city publics to deploy new urban sciences to solve particular problems, to understand and analyse where path dependencies demand bespoke resolutions and where cutting edge knowledge production generates options, choices and trade offs for cities in making decisions.
3a Innovate UK Catapults: The PEAK proposals have won support from three Innovate UK funded Catapults (Satellite, Transport and Future Cities). In each case the PEAK timeline design will optimize the overlaps of interest in developing the international network of city partnerships that will be developed in China, Colombia, India and South Africa which are of particular relevance to the Catapult work.
3b Global learning and Networks of City Observatories and Urban Living Labs: We will link with urban labs and city observatories globally, developing models of city knowledge, research and innovation co-production and innovation.
3c PEAK web based platform: we will develop a web based platform for the PEAK programme through a programme of blogs, video, debates, social media and information in a multi media platform.
3d London and city governane structures We will hold events in London at the start and end of the program linking PEAK to city networks in the global north
3e International links


10 25 50
Description PEAK Urban Interim website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact We want to set up consistent branding and a professional looking website in order to attract high calibre postdoctoral candidates to apply for vacancies. We succeeded in this and have already begun attracting interest to the research programme.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
URL http://www.peak-urban.org/