The Bartlett Development Planning Unit

Dr Andrea Rigon

Dr Andrea Rigon

Associate Professor

Development Planning Unit

Faculty of the Built Environment

Joined UCL
1st Jun 2012

Research summary

My research work focuses on how power relations affect the participation of different people and social groups in decision making processes that have an impact on their lives. My research involves micro-analysis of power relations and diversity issues, including how social identities play out in such decision making processes. My work analyses social and political conflicts and explores tensions between the individual and the collective.

I have been looking at self-organised, spontaneous collective action processes of ‘organic’ participation as well as ‘externally’ designed processes in which participation of certain people is sought and managed by external agents (e.g. NGO, local government, etc.). I am particularly interested in how residents’ participation is managed within urban development projects, particularly in informal settlements, and what are the effects on in/equality and social exclusion. I am also interested in processes of citizen participation at various scales from neighbourhood to global levels. A related theme in my work is the tension between policy and practice, between ideologies of participation, inclusivity, horizontality, etc. and practices that contradict them. I explore these tensions through the ethnographic study of the practices of development organisations and social movements, with a focus on internal power relations and knowledge production.

Ongoing research:
Participation, diversity and conflict in the implementation of slum-upgrading projects: I am particularly interested in the upgrading of informal settlements in the context of pre-existing conflict, particularly around land.

Empowering communities through participatory design of social infrastructures in areas affected by mass displacement. Lebanon.

Selected completed research:
Bringing Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) to Life. Liberia, Zambia, Kenya, Sierra Leone. 

Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre: a £930,000 project to establish an urban research centre in Freetown in partnership with Njala University.

Urban Livelihoods in Freetown's Informal Settlements

Refugee self-reliance and Humanitarian Action in Urban Markets: a research partnership between the DPU and the Humanitarian Advisory Team at Save the Children UK. The partnership focuses on the linkages between urban, humanitarian and forced migration scholarships. See: refugeesinthecity.org

Public services and vulnerability in the Lebanese context of large scale displacement

Well-being and citizenship of urban Nigerians: As part of the wider DFID funded initiative Urbanisation Research Nigeria, I have been the Principal Investigator for the project: Well-being and citizenship of urban Nigerians.

Teaching summary

My teaching builds on my experience and research interests. It also reflects my search for bridges between development organisations, particularly NGOs and academia. I currently teach two postgraduate modules:

Social Diversity, Inequality and Poverty

This module explores the theoretical debates that link diverse social identities and power relations, and the competing models of equity and justice that attempt to reconcile them. It examines the implications of these debates for social development. The module also deals with different understandings, definitions and ways of measuring poverty and inequality and the implications for development policy and practice.

NGOs and Social Transformation

I established this module as a result of multiple engagements with Development NGOs. The module hosts panels of NGO practitioners to discuss contemporary challenges and thus becomes a space of reflection and mutual learning. The module engages with an emerging body of literature in critical development studies and anthropology of development, which reflexively analyses the practices and politics of development organisations and their staff. In doing so, it covers different theoretical approaches to NGOs, and analytical models of social change. Specifically, using NGOs as an entry point, the module explores issues of collective action and social transformation in development, and analyses the role of NGOs within the political economy of civil society actors in the current architecture of development.

Dissertation Fellowships with development organisations

I have also built a number of fellowship opportunities for postgraduate students to write their dissertation on topics that are relevant to development organisations, particularly NGOs. This led to wider involvement of academic staff in the work of NGOs and employment opportunities for former students. I am happy for NGOs and other development organisations to get in touch and propose new areas of collaborations.

I am interested in supervising doctoral students on the following topics:

- slum-upgrading or titling processes in informal settlements

- participation in development interventions and/or urban governance

- ethnography of development/humanitarian organisations

- ethnography of development policy and practice

- alter-globalization movements

While I am open in terms of geographical focus, I am now particularly keen to supervise work on urban Sierra Leone and Kenya. I am also happy to discuss any proposal, should you find my work relevant.


University College London
Other Postgraduate qualification (including professional), ATQ04 - Recognised by the HEA as a Senior Fellow | 2018
Trinity College Dublin
Doctorate, Doctor of Philosophy | 2013
School of Oriental and African Studies
Other higher degree, Master of Science | 2008


I have over 15 years of research, consultancy and project management experience in the international development and urban development sectors working for NGOs, academia, and consulting for the United Nations, international donors and governments.

My international experience includes working in Kenya, Sierra Leone, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Italy, Liberia, Lebanon, Nigeria, Philippines, Republic of Ireland, Uganda, United Kingdom, Zambia, Zimbabwe. I lived in Kenya for nearly four years, working and researching in the informal settlements of Nairobi as a project manager for an NGO, consultant for the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), and as a research associate at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Nairobi.

I have been involved in the process of the World Social Forum and in grassroots campaigns focusing on the social, economic, and environmental rights of people living in informal settlements and civil society initiatives based in the global South around the issue of illegitimate debt.

I was involved in the DFID-funded participatory research initiative Participate: Knowledge from the margins for post-2015to bring the perspectives of those who live in poverty or who are highly marginalised into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). I have also conducted multi-country participatory research for CAFOD and authored the COMPASS 2015report presented during the UN General Assembly in 2013. I have also done some work for CAFOD to systematise lessons learnt from ongoing experiences and processes of involving people living in poverty into policy-making. The report provided suggestions for the implementation of the SDGs agenda. More recently, I facilitated participatory learning processes for the national implementation of the SDG agenda.

I have founded the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centrein the post-Ebola context and I am now part of the management board. I am the Chair of the Board of Catalytic Actionfounded by former DPU students to design and create learning and play spaces for women, men and children affected by conflict or disaster. I have used participatory design of infrastructure to address vulnerabilities in areas affected by mass displacement in Lebanon.I have conducted policy-relevant research in partnership with NGOs, especially with the Humanitarian Affairs Team at Save the Children UK.