About Social Development
Social Development is about improving society – the social environment that surrounds us – meaning the ways in which we organise our lives in our nations, societies, communities and cultures, and live collectively together; the ways we interact with and relate to each other or not (cohesive, neutral or conflictual relationships), and the maintenance of both formal relationships between leaders, communities and individuals (such as between governments, civil society and citizens), and informal relationships between groups (civic, ethnic, religious, racial, cultural, class etc) and/or between individuals (neighbours, friends, colleagues, family members) in our communities.
How we organise to live together in cities, towns, townships, villages, tribes, communities and households, and how well we get along is the underlying basis for potential social development, and also the cornerstone of issues and challenges in our social worlds. Vital is our ability to relate and cooperate collectively in spite of our similarities or differences (social cohesion) and reap the benefits of social networks, norms of reciprocity, social trust and shared identities or attachments to places (social capital). In order to maintain cooperative relations and collaborate in our communities to support each other (social support), having equitable opportunities to access and acquire key resources (economic, material, cultural, environmental, spiritual, educational etc) (social equity) is an important social condition, often determined by structural factors like the socio-political/governance systems, the distribution of power, access to decision-making and opportunities for voice, influence and holding key powers to account (democracy).
Social protections are measures taken (sometimes supposedly) by governments to ensure that all people, but especially those who are marginalised and vulnerable, have equitable access to welfare resources and education under circumstances of unemployment, poverty, loss of or low income, poor health and well-being, death, disability, natural disasters, war and conflict, and other vulnerabilities. Health and social care services are a critical part of social protection systems designed to protect, preserve and actively maintain our social, physical, psychosocial and mental health and well-being. Health systems strengthening (HSS) is the process of making health systems more accessible, efficient, cost-effective, robust and durable in low-resource settings where good health is harder to maintain and health and social care less available.
Most social development projects are aimed at finding solutions to these challenges, or laying the foundational circumstances, and support systems; and cultivating relationships and common understandings that will improve social conditions, and lead to greater social development.
My approach to Social Development
I approach Social Development analytically through an applied and interdisciplinary lens, informed by my education and training (see below) in Social and Behavioural Science and Public Health. My approach is socially and psychologically-informed, culturally aware and sensitive, greatly nuanced and at the same time, aware of the importance of generalisation and scalability for public and development policy and programming. I also emphasise the importance of good communications, the health and well-being consequences of decisions and actions, and the importance of gender equality and social inclusion.
I have a broad portfolio of experience conducting applied and academic research and consultancy within the Social Development field including:
- Roles as a Associate Gender Equality and Inclusion Adviser to the British Council, and Gender and Social Inclusion Adviser, Bid Writer (Business Development) and Quality Assurance Reviewer on overseas aid programmes for the UK governments’ Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) and before that, the Department for International Development (DfID);
- as a peer reviewer of evaluations of Social Protection policies and implementation in Uganda and prevention of violence against women, girls and boys in Malawi and Afghanistan, and consulting assignments on health systems-strengthening in a range of African countries for FCDO;
- ‘deep dive’ expertise in theories of social capital and cohesion as applied to the health impact assessment (HIA) of High Speed 2 (HS2), a UK government-funded national railway line, and a proposed nuclear power station on the Welsh island of Anglesey.
- measures of social well-being for use in the Social Impact Assessment (SIA) of the upgrade of a gold mine in Queensland, Australia and community-based trial of a social epidemiological measure of the impacts of pro-social volunteering in the English town of Stoke-on-Trent;
- a brief assignment working on the effectiveness of principles for access to education for people with disabilities for the Commonwealth Government of Australia.
I am a highly experienced Social and Behavioural Scientist, a true ‘people person’ in every sense. I am also a world-class communicator, relating in the same kind and empathetic way to people at all levels, having started my career as a Social Affairs and Disability Trainee Researcher and Reporter on BBC Radio 4 making content investigating consumer and disability affairs on programmes ‘In Touch‘ and ‘You and Yours‘.
My analytical approach to Social Development is shaped by my training through an interdisciplinary PhD located in the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford, supervised by the late Professor Marcus Banks and Dr Robert Parkin. I received additional supervision from world leading Sociologist, Professor Anthony Heath, at Oxford’s Department of Sociology, and pursued deep emersion in Social Psychology theories of experiential knowledge, place attachment, and conversational analysis methodologies. My post-PhD academic work (see Publications) has followed a different disciplinary trajectory, being deeply informed by Social, Community and Environmental Psychology, Public Health, Social Epidemiology and Public Policy (see Psychosocial Health). More recently, I have completed a Masters of Public Health (MPH) at the University of New South Wales, Australia, where I developed my writing partnership with Clinical Psychologist and Behavioural Epidemiologist, Dr Patrick Rawstorne. I am currently under the Mentorship of Professor Sally Wyke, University of Glasgow, one of the UK’s only Applied and Interdisciplinary Social and Health Scientists.
I make no secret of the fact that all my work is informed by my lived experience of disability and neurodiversity because it’s bloody time that somebody did! Otherwise, how on earth will things change and the world appreciate the talents of those with an alternative outlook? I am mobility impaired and a Proud Dyslexic/Dyspraxic, gifted with a brain that prizes systems/global big picture/international overview thinking. In my work, this has been a huge advantage, as I’m able to identify and connect the disparate parts of a problem and generate solutions that utilise novel combinations of otherwise not united factors to go a step beyond single disciplinary or sectoral approaches. I was also a child carer to a parent with severe head injuries (frontal lobe) so my interest in neurological/psychological health and the biopsychosocial factors that drive human behaviour, cognition, affect and response is thus informed by lived experience since the age of one. I am a huge champion of talented individuals from challenging and tough backgrounds, and value the diversity of perspective, experience, resilience, adaptability and tenacity that we bring to our professional work.