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Staff Spotlight

This month we interview Philipp Ulbrich, a PhD Student at the EPSRC CDT for Urban Science and Progress and IGSD Research Assistant who has just returned from the URBE Latam kick-off meetings in Brazil and Colombia.

Philipp UlbrichWhat are your research interests and what impact would you like your research to have?  

I am interested in understanding how global urban development and resilience monitoring frameworks are localised in cities in the global South, the extent to which they are likely to result in a representative and inclusive picture of urban marginalised communities’ situation in terms of sustainable development and resilience, and the extent to which this localisation can empower marginalised communities.

Reliance on centrally defined methods and concepts for monitoring, easily measurable proxies and centrally produced datasets with little or extractive (as opposed to empowering) community engagement limit the extent to which evaluation of implementation is meaningful and thus transformative. Such a fragmented view of risk reduction and urban development in turn is likely to perpetuate intra-urban inequalities.

A critical engagement with these monitoring frameworks and an understanding of how they are implemented might provide opportunities to recalibrate and enhance their relevance based on local interpretations. By uncovering inherent yet hitherto undetected interlinkages and dynamics of political economy through the analysis of monitoring frameworks, I hope that my research can provide entry points for the systematic transformation of governance processes, or at least enhance stakeholders’ critical awareness of factors mediating them at different scales.

What projects are you working on right now ?

I am currently working on URBE LatAm - Understanding Risks and Building Enhanced Capabilities in Latin American cities. In addition to the close alignment with my research interests, I am particularly interested in its proposal of co-constructing methodologies with colleagues from disciplines from the natural sciences, computer sciences and STS, social sciences and communities.

As opposed to a conventional juxtaposition of approaches from the various disciplines and backgrounds, this project takes a critical pedagogical approach, which encourages the stakeholders to dialogically engage to jointly question and interpret existing concepts and methodologies for landslide risk reduction. The aim is for these processes of shared learning to lead to an enhanced understanding of risks, vulnerabilities and local capabilities and further capacities and empowered communities in disaster-prone urban areas.

We are also applying Theory of Change thinking in this project (for more on this topic please refer to IGSD’s resource bank). Since it is a relatively untested concept in research projects it is exciting to apply it in URBE LatAm and work with the project partners and wider stakeholders interpret the Theory of Change for our project, not least by uncovering implicit assumptions, and use it for the different stages of the project. For example, while it was useful during the proposal stage in summary form, the Theory of Change was crucial for more detailed project planning and operationalisation before and during project kick-off. This concept tends to evoke associations with a formal and bureaucratic process. In our experience in applying it in trans-disciplinary project such as URBE Latam however, it looks like a promising methodological approach for linking more robust and “reality-checked” project planning with meaningful impact.

How does your research relate to the UN Sustainable Development Goals ?

The focus of my research is on the localisation of urban resilience and development measurement frameworks, and SDG 11, as applied in Medellín, is one of them. I have chosen Medellín as case study for my current (PhD) research because it is one of the UN-Habitat pilot cities for reporting across all urban-related SDG indicators. An awareness of the factors that might affect representativeness and inclusivity when localising the monitoring framework is key for leaving no one and no place behind, especially in cities with relatively high levels of spatial intersecting inequalities.