Building Sustainable Societies

About Building Sustainable Societies


In this section:


Running between 2011-2015, Building Sustainable Societies was a dynamic, interdisciplinary research project within Leeds Social Sciences Institute. The project aimed to develop new knowledge, analysis and policy to address the major social and economic challenges facing contemporary societies across the globe.

Leading social scientists at the University of Leeds, including experts from across the Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law (ESSL), the Faculty of Medicine and Health, and the Leeds University Business School (LUBS), came together to make up the research teams behind Building Sustainable Societies.

Further information on the project’s achievements can be found by clicking around this website, which now acts as an archive of its many activities and successes. As of 2015, Building Sustainable Societies was integrated into the new ‘Cities and Sustainable Societies’ initiative at the University of Leeds.

Read the Director’s Mid-Term review of the work of the project from November 2014

Research Agenda

The Building Sustainable Societies team conducted interdisciplinary empirical research that was theoretically robust, methodologically innovative and policy relevant, building upon expertise within the University of Leeds in the key research areas of work, social and health care, and security and justice.

The Building Sustainable Societies research agenda involved addressing myriad and interlinked challenges that congregated within three main areas.

  • Population ageing
  • The economic downturn and pressures on public services
  • Political tensions and insecurity on a global scale

Within these areas, the team directed its research efforts upon three under-explored, yet crucial, dimensions for sustainable societies for the future.

  • Sustainable social and economic systems: meeting the challenges of demographic change
  • Sustainable healthcare: meeting expanding patient needs
  • Sustainable communities: meeting citizens’ needs for safety and security

In particular, the research concentrated upon three ‘hotspots’ of concern.

  • Meeting the challenges of elder care and working lives.
  • Developing more effective and efficient health services.
  • Fostering secure and supportive communities in a multi-ethnic society.

Building Sustainable Societies also focused upon developing intellectual traffic between researchers who were working in these key areas in order to address intersecting areas of concern and develop a holistic approach to building sustainable societies.

The project also prioritised the cross-fertilisation of ideas and methodologies across academic disciplines, and supported the development of interdisciplinary research projects that drew upon the expertise of researchers working in health, work, social care and criminal justice, as well as other research clusters at the University of Leeds, such as the Sustainability Research Institute, the Innovation and Knowledge Centre in Regenerative Therapies and Devices (IKC), and the Future Cities group.

This was a key part in enabling the smooth integration of Building Sustainable Societies into the University’s new ‘Cities’ and ‘Health’ research themes, as a part of the 2015 Strategic Plan.

Research Clusters

To meet its aims, Building Sustainable Societies was built around three substantive groups in key dimensions of sustainable societies that could address the intersection of work and social care, security and justice and health service delivery.

  • Work, Care and Global Transitions
    • Care
    • Work
    • Global Development
  • Security and Justice
    • Security
    • Justice
    • Technology
  • Healthcare
    • Realist methods
    • Health Sciences

Research Aims

The challenges of the early 21st century required new political and policy imaginations and evaluative frameworks, as well as multi-agency approaches that could empower individuals and create supportive families and communities around them.

Building Sustainable Societies sought to understand how to meet people’s needs for work, security, health and social care in the context of diminishing resources and widening inequalities, and how to build sustainable societies in terms of both service provision and community relations.

The project aimed to generate knowledge that made a difference to the service sectors, policy networks and communities that we studied and engaged with during our research.

An important aspect of our work was the identification of best practice and good policy, and the dissemination of these solutions across sectors and with other stakeholders in communities and government.

Amongst its many achievements, Building Sustainable Societies contributed to national and international debates on these issues, and engaged with the wider media to foster public discussion and input into the policy process in these important areas of social life.

Primarily, Building Sustainable Societies developed path-breaking approaches to work and care, health and security.

  • It enabled new insights into the changing nature of work, security, health and social care, and how they inter-relate.
  • It brought an international dimension to scholarship in these areas that took account of the global economy and population change in particular.
  • It combined leading methodological and substantive expertise to shed light on these complex features of social and economic change.
  • It expanded contemporary sustainability approaches, which had focussed narrowly upon ecological sustainability, to consider social and economic sustainability.
  • It understood, evaluated and shared evidence of sustainable service delivery across service sectors and multi-agency partners.
  • It developed policy and community interventions to foster sustainable communities, locally, nationally and internationally.
  • It contributed to building a theory of sustainable societies that took account of evidence from a range of sectors as well as the links between social, economic and ecological sustainability.

Research Context

The first decade of twenty-first century saw a growth in political, environmental and economic insecurity in the context of global recession, population ageing and climate change.

In response to these threats, ecologists and economists focused on the need for sustainable living: using resources efficiently to meet current needs and protect future generations.

Yet the Building Sustainable Societies team identified another set of challenges for societies across the world.

Demographic change, diminishing public resources and the internationalisation of crime and conflict also threaten to impact upon people’s security and wellbeing.

In short, sustainable societies must also meet people’s needs for work, security, health and social care in the context of diminishing resources and widening inequalities.

This required a radical rethinking of how we work together, care for ourselves, our families and friends, and live in secure and supportive communities, locally and globally. The research we contributed to these areas are our proudest achievements over the last five years.

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