The impact of UK research for development

Working to raise awareness of the value and impact of UK research, we collected our top 20 favourite impact stories that show how UK research is improving the lives of people around the world.

These stories were selected from almost 7,000 impact case studies submitted by researchers to the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in 2014.

An expert panel reviewed this extensive database and selected the top 20 most impactful examples of UK research contributing to global development. A team of writers worked with the relevant researchers and universities to re-write the case studies into engaging stories.


Case Studies

These stories demonstrate just how important research is to inclusive and sustainable global development. Among the 20 impact stories are research projects on using bees to keep crop-raiding elephants out of farmers’ fields, halting bird flu, painful tropical diseases and peace-building in Nepal.

Case study

Climate change adaptation

This case study looks at how the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR) project uses interdisciplinary research and academic/non-academic partnerships to support climate change adaptation.

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Alternative energy systems

Alternative sources of energy are gaining considerable global attention. They have the potential to provide a sustainable source of energy to the billions of people who...

Case study

Battling sleeping sickness

Sleeping sickness, a debilitating parasitic disease affecting the nervous system, has long been prevalent throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. Uganda suffers from a particularly...

Case study

Communities against disasters

Disaster resilience is a critical part of sustainable development, helping communities to recover from disasters and maintain their livelihoods. Researchers from...

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Household air pollution

Household air pollution is a major health risk for people living in the world’s poorest communities, resulting in an estimated 4 million premature deaths every year....

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Essential coastal ecosystems

Mangrove trees are responsible for providing a number of vital ecosystem services. Yet they are being destroyed at an alarming rate: threatening the livelihoods of some of...

Case study

Innovation in Africa

Innovation and private sector growth are vital to fostering wider economic development, yet are often overlooked in the industrial policy of many developing countries. In...

Case study

A safe and secure West Africa

Having witnessed a great deal of conflict and civil unrest over the last few decades, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is now intent on realising a...

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Building better road networks

Road investment appraisal models are used to evaluate and optimise road networks. These models have been particularly important to developing countries – providing formal...

Case study

Education-enhancing technologies

Universal primary education has been a UN global target for the past fifteen years. Research projects from The Open University have played a significant role in working...

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Elephants and local farms

In many parts of Africa, elephant numbers are on the rise. While a success for conservation, elephants often wander out of national parks and into nearby farmlands where...

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Low mobility in rural Africa

Transport and mobility are often considered essential ingredients for development, but limited means of transport disproportionally affecting certain groups in rural areas...

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Conserving marine environments

Coral reef ecosystems are core to the livelihoods of countless coastal communities. The destruction of these ecosystems by both climate change and human activity are having...

Case study

Tackling climate change

Time is fast running out to effectively address the global challenge of climate change and reduce its impacts on the world. Research led by the University of...

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The peace-building process

Once a conflict has ended, peace-building is a critical phase in moving towards re-establishing political and social stability in a region. However, such negotiations can...

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Uncovering poverty’s complexities

Measuring and understanding the realities of poverty is crucial to deciding how to fight against it. Researchers from the University of Oxford have designed a novel...

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Rewarding social development

Rewarding poor households directly with financial support for performing certain actions is a popular social welfare programme in Latin America. Through detailed impact...

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Guarding against Podoconiosis

Podoconiosis is a tropical disease common in the highland areas of Africa, India, and Central America. It causes painful swelling in the feet and lower legs following...

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Disease-resistant crops

Pearl millet is a staple crop for populations throughout Africa and South Asia. Every year it suffers extensive crop losses due to the disease downy mildew. This leads to...

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Clean water and healthcare

Clean water is a vital to a healthy community, but diarrhoeal disease is a serious threat to public health in developing countries (Image: USAID) Diarrhoeal disease is a...

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The fight against bird flu

Avian influenza, also known as bird flu, has proven itself to be a serious global threat. While outbreaks devastate the poultry industry, 60% mortality rates in human cases...

Science and Innovation for Development

Read more about the global impact of science, research and innovation for development in our 2010 publication ‘Science and Innovation for Development’, written by Professor Gordon Conway and Professor Jeff Waage.


With clear, practical and inspirational examples to illustrate the importance of research in global development, it serves as an essential resource for anyone looking to understand how science can contribute to international development, whether new to the field or coming with decades of experience.