STEPS Centre

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The STEPS Centre (Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability) is an interdisciplinary global research and policy engagement hub, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The Centre brings together development studies with science and technology studies and was launched at Portcullis House in London on 25 June 2007 [1]

By acknowledging the interactions between social, technological and environmental factors in diverse local settings the STEPS Centre seeks to help create more sustainable and socially just conditions for poorer people. Based at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex in the UK, the Centre works with partners in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Professor Ian Scoones [2] is the director of the STEPS Centre and Professor Andy Stirling [3] is co-director. Professor Melissa Leach [4][5] stepped down as STEPS Director in 2014 to become Director of the Institute of Development Studies.[6]

Advisory board[edit]

The STEPS Centre Advisory Board is chaired by Mike Hulme (King's College London) with members including Brian Wynne (CESAGEN, University of Lancaster), Carl Folke (Stockholm Resilience Centre), Dipak Gyawali (Nepal Academy of Science and Technology), Fred Pearce (science writer), Sue Hartley (Director, York Environmental Sustainability Institute), Suman Sahai (Convenor, Gene Campaign), and Thomas Lingard (Global External Affairs Director, Unilever).

Areas of work[edit]

The STEPS Centre brings together social scientists and natural scientists to work together to try and achieve a breakthrough in thinking and action for development. The Centre's unique ‘pathways’ approach interweaves social, technological and environmental conditions with dynamic change [7] across three domains - food and agriculture; health and disease; water and sanitation - and three themes - dynamics; governance; designs.

Through linking across domains and themes in its projects, the STEPS Centre connects new theory with practical approaches in a bid to help provide sustainable opportunities for poor and marginalised people.

Pathways approach[edit]

The STEPS Centre's pathways approach aims to understand the complex, non-linear interactions between social, technological and environmental systems. Some pathways may threaten poor peoples’ livelihoods and health while others create opportunities for sustainability.

The Centre aims to link social scientists, natural scientists and users to develop new tools and methods linking theory with practical solutions. It also offers teaching, in conjunction with IDS and SPRU, to help train a new generation of researchers on MA and PhD courses.

A paper published in 2007 entitled Pathways to Sustainability: an Overview of the STEPS Centre Approach [8] outlined the STEPS Centre approach to understanding dynamic systems and their governance. The paper laid out the ingredients of the STEPS Centre's work, including linking diverse social and natural science perspectives, connecting theory, policy and practice and an engaged, interactive approach to communications. Promoting pathways to Sustainability that meet the perspectives and priorities of poor and marginalised groups is at the heart of the pathways approach.


Among the STEPS Centre's projects are:

Innovation, Sustainability, Development: A New Manifesto (40 years on from the Sussex Manifesto)

Crop, disease and innovation in Kenya - Maize and farming system dynamics in areas affected by climate change

Urbanisation in Asia - urbanisation and sustainability on the expanding peri-urban fringe of Delhi, India

Rethinking regulation - assumptions and realities of drug and seed regulation in China and Argentina

Risk, uncertainty and technology - framing and responses to risks and uncertainties in areas of rapid scientific and technological advance

Epidemics, livelihoods and politics - HIV-AIDS, SARS, ‘avian flu, BSE - procedures for addressing epidemics that support rather than compromise poor people

Further reading[edit]

  • Dynamic Sustainabilities: Technology, Environment, Social Justice

By Leach. M, Scoones, I. and Stirling, A. (2010) ISBN 978-1-84971-093-0

  • Pathways to Sustainability: an overview of the STEPS Centre approach

By Leach. M., Scoones, I. and Stirling, A. (2007) ISBN 978-1-85864-656-5

  • Dynamics: Dynamic Systems and the Challenge of Sustainability

By Scoones, I., Leach, M., Smith, A., Stagl, S., Stirling, A. and Thompson, J. (2007) ISBN 978-1-85864-650-3

  • Understanding Governance: pathways to sustainability

By Leach, M., Bloom, G., Ely, A., Nightingale, P., Scoones, I., Shah, E. and Smith, A. (2007) – ISBN 978-1-85864-651-0

  • Empowering Designs: towards more progressive appraisal of sustainability

By Stirling, A., Leach, M., Mehta, L., Scoones, I., Smith, A., Stagl, S. and Thompson, J. (2007) ISBN 978-1-85864-652-7

  • Agri-food System Dynamics: pathways to sustainability in an era of uncertainty

By Thompson, J., Millstone, E., Scoones, I., Ely, A., Marshall, F., Shah, E.and Stagl, S. (2007) ISBN 978-1-85864-653-4

  • Health in a Dynamic World

By Bloom, G., Edström, J., Leach, M., Lucas, H., MacGregor, H., Standing, H. and Waldman, L. (2007) ISBN 978-1-85864-654-1

  • Liquid Dynamics: challenges for sustainability in water and sanitation

By Mehta, L., Marshall, F., Movik, S., Stirling, A., Shah, E., Smith, A. and Thompson, J. (2007) ISBN 978-1-85864-655-8

By Krätli, S. (2008) The ISBN printed in the document (978 1 85864 699 5) is invalid, causing a checksum error.

  • The Slow Race: Making technology work for the poor

By Melissa Leach, Ian Scoones (2006) Demos pamphlet ISBN 1-84180-162-3


  1. ^ STEPS towards better development by Mark Tran, The Guardian
  2. ^ IDS Profile for Ian Scoones
  3. ^ Path-finder by Andrew Lee, The Engineer, 2007
  4. ^ Melissa Leach: Village voice. To know what's happening around the world, you must ask the locals by Jessica Shepherd, The Guardian
  5. ^ Perspectives by Priya Shetty, The Lancet, Jun 2008
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ Building genuine pathways to a more secure future, ESRC Today
  8. ^ Pathways to Sustainability: An overview of the STEPS Centre's Approach

External links[edit]