Overview of the built environment research landscape and funder recommendations


Overview of the built environment research landscape and funder recommendations

Lucy Earle, IIED and Kate Goh, IIED

Executive Summary


The built environment is critical to international development and to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. By 2050, an estimated 68% of the world’s population will live in towns and cities. The majority will dwell in small and medium-sized urban centres in Africa and Asia, approximately half of which are yet to be built. This presents policymakers and built environment professionals with a huge challenge but also a significant opportunity: to change how towns and cities are built, incorporating affordable, low-carbon building techniques that are resilient to climate change and support the equitable and sustainable provision of basic services.

UK research funders have acknowledged the need to engage with the built environment, given its intersection with and impact on some of the most critical challenges the world faces, notably climate change, poverty reduction, sustainable development and rapid urbanisation. This report details the findings and recommendations of a review of research on the built environment and its intersection with the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the global south. IIED was commissioned by UKCDR to undertake the review to identify research gaps and provide recommendations to research funders.

Our review was informed by the following definition from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment: ‘The built environment encompasses all forms of building (housing, industrial, commercial, hospitals, schools, etc.,) and civil engineering infrastructure, both above and below ground and includes the managed landscapes between and around buildings.’  Given this broad definition, the comprehensive nature of the SDGs and the timescale of the review, IIED, in discussion with UKCDR, opted to focus on the impacts of the built environment on human development outcomes, as defined by the Human Development Index: the ability of individuals to have long and healthy lives, have knowledge and earn a livelihood.

Four tools were used to map out the built environment research and funding landscape: (i) an expert-led assessment of recent outputs from centres of research expertise on the built environment and human development in the global south, covering 48 research centres and 336 projects; (ii) a survey of academics and built environment professionals, completed by 113 respondents; (iii) 17 key participant interviews with built environment academics and representatives of UK funding bodies; and (iv) a consultation workshop with representatives from research funders, built environment professions and academia.

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