The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Research Impact

Research Impact

Case Studies

Much of the research in the School makes an impact in the wider world. We contribute to better understanding of major societal challenges and the formulation of public policies designed to address particular issues of concern.

The following examples showcase how our research is making an impact across the areas of human and physical geography:

Local Economies

For more than three decades, the School’s Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS) has played a key role in defining how policy makers and practitioners allocate resources for economic and social development in the UK and other countries.

CURDS' Professor of Geographic Information, Mike Coombes, leads a research team pioneering new methodologies that have redefined the concept of Travel to Work Areas (TTWAs). They have set new standards for the analysis of local social and economic statistics.

The basic concept of the TTWA is the local labour market area, but with the absolute requirement that all TTWAs are defined robustly so that rigorous comparisons can be made between areas. By using data on TTWAs, government agencies can confidently assess the relative need of different local areas in allocating large sums of public money.

Using other areas could result in a misallocation of funds because their areas are not comparable. For example, the city boundary of Newcastle upon Tyne excludes all its neighbouring areas, while that of the City of Sunderland includes other towns like Washington.

The research involves defining boundaries such that few people cross a TTWA boundary when they commute from home to work. Commuting patterns are getting more complex all the time, so TTWAs have to be revised when there is new information available (from the 10-yearly Population Census).

Professor Coombes says: "TTWAs reflect the commuting patterns of more than 20 million people and these indicate the real economic building blocks of the country, which are obscured by standard administrative areas."

Read the full case study - Redefining the definition and analysis of local economies (PDF: 191KB)

Connecting Universities

Professor John Goddard and the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS) have successfully managed to build an understanding of the importance of universities in their local socio-economic environments.

Their research has also improved the knowledge of policy makers and practitioners about the drivers and barriers to the effective mobilisation of universities for the benefit of their local areas, and more importantly, understanding how to build capacity to overcome these barriers.

"The significance of this has been to bring direct social and economic benefits to regions which are now better able to harness the potential in their universities to contribute to economic growth," says Professor Goddard.

"Using the concepts and frameworks developed at CURDS, we have assisted the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to devise a methodology for its reviews of higher education in city and regional development.

"Participating in these reviews has led to specific impacts for the regions, who in many cases enthusiastically implemented recommendations aimed at improving interactions between universities and their local socio-economic environs."

Read the full case study - Connecting Universities to Regional Growth (PDF: 189KB)

Water Resources

The EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) created new challenges for regulators around Europe. It uses ecological criteria to ensure the long-term sustainability of Europe’s water resources.

It is guided by the core principle that all water bodies should be managed to achieve good ecological status, defined as a state only slightly different to that of the water body in its pristine or un-impacted state.

Senior Geography Lecturer Dr Steve Juggins and Martyn Kelly, Director of Bowburn Consultancy and Guest Lecturer in the School, have pioneered the use of diatoms (microscopic algae) to address this challenge in a project funded by the Environment Agency (EA) and Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

The work has developed a conceptual model of lakes and rivers in their un-impacted state along with principles for how ‘slight differences’ from this state should be interpreted.

It then encapsulated these concepts within a numerical model and computer software. The cornerstone of the work was the quantitative definition of an un-impacted water body, which was used to screen a series of EA and SEPA environmental databases to establish the biological properties of un-impacted lakes and rivers.

The concept was then validated using historical specimens obtained from museum herbaria.

A numerical model, based on the species of diatoms present in each water body, was developed to assess ecological status by quantifying the difference between the contemporary diatom flora and that encountered for the same site in its un-impacted state.

Read the full case study - Ensuring the future of Europe's water resources through diatom assessment of river and lake ecological quality (DARLEQ) (PDF: 212KB)

Post Trafficking

Nepal is one of the leading sources of sexually trafficked women in South Asia, with estimates of 12,000 to 100,000 women moved annually. There are many organisations working to help and repatriate these women.

However, repatriation is only half the story. For many, it can be just as traumatic as their trafficked experience, which is why:

led an interdisciplinary research team to study their experience.

The project is the first to consider the post-trafficking experiences and the challenges faced by returnee women. It highlights how the complex social, political and economic exclusions they encounter make creating a new life and livelihood extremely difficult.

Most are rejected by their families, their communities and the state.

"People have looked into trafficking and its causes but no one has researched what happens to these women after they return to Nepal," says Professor Laurie.

Read the full case study - Changing perceptions and policy for Nepalese women in post trafficking situations (PDF: 210KB)