Supporting the social mobility of trapped populations in very poor urban areas

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Urbanisation is the defining feature of global population distribution. Until at least 2050, city growth will be concentrated in developing countries and most of that growth will come from migration from rural areas. Many poor, rural migrants will end up in the poorest neighbourhoods of these cities. These population movements have always been important pathways into poverty, but this is exacerbated by the increasingly rapid pace of urbanisation and by important new contexts such as the vulnerability of urban centres to climate change. A recent UK Government Office of Science report highlighted the potential for migrants to be 'trapped' in these impoverished environments since their extreme poverty means that they unable to return to the areas they have come from or move elsewhere in the city. In contrast, other recent research suggests that urban areas provide valuable opportunities for migrants which are typically preferable to the rural poverty many of them have left behind. 

This project investigates when migration from rural to urban areas becomes a pathway into poverty and how policy can support rural-urban migrants to access urban opportunities and escape from poverty. There are three central questions. First, research considers under what circumstances rural-urban migration presents an opportunity for poor people and what factors contribute to them becoming 'trapped'. Second, the project investigates the relationship between physical and socio-economic mobility. This will consider both mobility within the city and ongoing connections with migrants' rural households. It focuses particularly on migrants' own perspectives of what they consider to be successful integration in the city. Finally, the project assesses the attitudes of city government and other significant actors, such as community organisations, police, NGOs and international organisations. This will focus on ways in which these institutions facilitate or prevent new migrants integrating into city life. 

In order to respond to these three questions, the project draws on a series of innovative methods to capture migrants' own attitudes to their migration, combining in-depth, individual interviews and broad surveys. The limited recent research on these issues has tended to focus on a single urban area at a single time period. This project contributes to this recent research with a comparative, longitudinal approach. The project investigates the success of migrants to four cities in four different countries: Harare (Zimbabwe), Hargeisa (Somaliland), Dhaka (Bangladesh) and Colombo (Sri Lanka) at two time points one year apart, in addition to interviews during the course of the year. These four cities allow investigation of the same processes in very different contexts, yet there are sufficient similarities to make comparison worthwhile. All four cities face significant ongoing rural-urban migration, both political conflict and climate change have been important factors encouraging this migration and all four face rapid urban development as a result. 

This project is conducted in close collaboration with research centres in all four cities. It has also developed in partnership with the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) associated with the Migrants on the Margins research programme. The RGS-IBG will provide additional support for the programme through educational outreach and communications expertise. The project will have three main impacts. First, it will generate new knowledge about how rural-urban migration can help to provide a route out of poverty. Second, it will communicate the results of this research to a variety of audiences who will be able to use it to inform new policy interventions. Finally, it will help to build capacity to conduct similar research in the future with international collaborators and community organisations in the research neighbourhoods.

There are five key target groups of beneficiaries of this research. Each will require different strategies to ensure that they are able to fully benefit from the research. 

  1. Academic audiences. Although beneficiaries extend far beyond this group, they are important, not only as potentially interested individuals, but as guarantors of the quality of the research. This guarantee forms the basis on which all other potential beneficiaries value the research. Strategies for communicating with this group involve presentations at academic conferences and publication in high quality peer reviewed journals. All publications will be open access. 
  2. International research collaborators and target research groups. International collaborators will have the opportunity to attend the initial training programme, focusing on Q methodology, survey methods and (if appropriate) agent based modelling. The initial training course will be followed up during visits of Smith and the relevant CoI. There may also be capacity building opportunities with target research groups in the selected neighbourhoods. At the very least, research results will be communicated to them through regular meetings with researchers and a final research briefing translated into a language they can understand. This will provide the community with access to the research data which may be useful in advocacy. 
  3. National and city level stakeholders. Research collaborators in each city have considerable experience engaging with relevant actors, including community groups, local/city government, police, religious organisations, civil society and local representations of international NGOs and IOs. Engagement with this group will help develop contacts for governance interviews and may provide an opportunity to advocate for urban policy approaches that are more inclusive of rural-urban migrants. In each city a stakeholder group will be formed at the beginning of the project to consult on specific research strategy. These groups will meet three times during the project, at key stages. They will have a genuine opportunity to influence the research process and they will have results communicated directly to them. This should ensure a higher level of interest and engagement from this group. 
  4. International level policy makers and advocacy groups. At an international level, representatives of specialised UN organisations, such as Habitat or UNDP or International NGOs such as Water Aid will be invited to form an international advisory group that will meet virtually at key stages of the research in a similar way to stakeholder groups held in each city. Regular, short web briefings written at different stages of the research, posted on the project website and highlighted through social media will provide an effective way of ensuring this group get access to the research materials and results. will Representatives of the project will also attend the Habitat III conference in October 2016 in Quito to communicate with potential beneficiaries at the beginning of the project. The final research meeting in Johannesburg will include a public dissemination event to which relevant international policy makers will be invited (but not funded) to attend.
  5. Finally, the broadest and least defined group is made up of students at a variety of levels and the general public, in the countries where research will be carried out and in the UK. This is the specific area of expertise of the RGS-IBG who will provide the necessary support to develop educational resources targeted at appropriate school stages. Broader engagement with the general public may be supported through any of the techniques mentioned above but the RGS-IBG media strategist will assist with media communications with the aim of communicating research to a very wide audience through newspapers, radio or TV.
Primary theme: 
Grant Reference: 
ES/N01474X/1
Project Status: 
Active
Grant Category: 
Research Grant
Lead Organisation Department: 
Sch of Global Studies
Fund Start Date: 
September 1st, 2016
Fund End Date: 
August 31st, 2018
Fund Currency Code: 
GBP
Fund Value: 
430,624
environmental planning
human-geography
demography
development geography
environmental geography
urban design
urban geography