Understanding the priority lifelong educational needs of the International Development Sector: a dynamic inquiry research project

The aim of this project is to understand the challenges faced globally by the various stakeholders in the development space. More specifically to understand what educational and learning solutions could be provided to assist in addressing these challenges?

 GDI is well-positioned to customise and design curriculum drawing on the knowledge gained from the research-intensive environment. Expertise within GDI exists in many of the developmental problem areas, as well as digital and ethical leadership skills.

Our ethos and global perspective mean that we want to work in partnership with our previous alumni, and organisations within the global development sector. This research could identify needs and potential partnerships so that educational Continuous Professional Development (CPD) offerings are market driven and responsive to needs.

The project is being led by Dr Natalie Cunningham.

Project Aims

The project aims to identify the short term educational needs of leaders and organisations in the international development sector. The purpose is to provide an in-depth understanding of development sector education needs:

  • What are these needs and how do they relate to development delivery and impact?
  • Are these needs currently been met or not? If so how, and adequately, sustainably?
  • How would development leaders and organisations ideally like them to be met? In what format?
  • In meeting needs, would partnerships, networks be advisable?


Leaders working across the development sector, around the world, will be interviewed for this GDI research, using an appreciative inquiry research method, Dynamic Inquiry. 

Dynamic Inquiry uses a qualitative interview methodology that taps into leaders’ experiences. It invites and enables a conversation about system dynamics, e.g. behaviours, relationships, learning, communication, culture, leadership and resulting performance or outcomes. The process is open and relational. For the interviewee, the coaching-type conversation is engaging and rewarding in itself, with insights often bringing immediate benefit to themselves and their teams/organisations.

Dynamic Inquiry is intended to coach interviewees into a deeper awareness of their situations, strengths and challenges. It facilitates insight into systems dynamics by investigating underlying factors limiting desired impacts. This results in immediate possibilities for action emerging for interviewees.  

Benefits of the Research

The Global Development Institute, School, Faculty and University will have access to a coherently organised data set reflecting the experiences of leaders in the development sector – including leaders of non-government organisations, development agencies, public sector/government institutions, development finance institutions, and corporate sector social responsibility and sustainability departments. The data is thematically analysed to reflect support and development needs, with regard to development impact and delivery.

As a result, short course offerings can be designed which are not only cognisant of global markets, but which can have impact on the key, global socio-economic development challenges, as articulated in the United Nations sustainable development goals.

Future courses will be accurately responsive to the needs of leaders and organisations as a result of the research approach which investigates beyond expressed/articulated needs, working with the deeper underlying issues and limitations.

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

The development sector leaders interviewed for the project would benefit via relational, supportive and intensive coaching-style interviews, supporting them to heighten their awareness of leadership strengths, limitations and challenges, and potential and agency. This will immediately impact their leadership decisions, stance, presence and impact. 

Furthermore, a workshop will be held where the data will be shared and discussed. Attendance at the workshop will help to verify and discuss interview themes, create a sense of community and support around their experiences, and to better understand the successes and challenges of the development sector.  This is a highly positive intervention in the context of COVID-lockdown as there is evidence that leaders are experiencing disconnection affecting their self-assurance and resilience.

The data collected from this project will results in a research publication and the community of interviewees could serve as an ongoing reference group for further monitoring and evaluation. 

A research paper will be a further output.

Organisations involved

  • Action Aid
  • African Cities Research Consortium
  • Amandla.mobi
  • Ashinaga
  • Bread for the World
  • Caregiver Saathi India
  • CARICOM, Caribbean Community
  • Cities Alliance
  • Coalition for Humanity
  • Consortium Civil Peace Service
  • National Governments
  • Fight Inequality Alliance
  • Fund for Global Human Rights
  • German Development Co-operation, GIZ
  • Ghana Centre for Democratic Development
  • Humboldt University, Institute for International Agricultural Development
  • Nelson Mandela Foundation - UNDP
  • OECD
  • OutRight International
  • Red Cross
  • Save the Children
  • Social Justice Coalition
  • South African Local Government Association
  • Spark Microgrants
  • The Thought Collective, Singapore
  • UN Forestry and Environment
  • UNDP
  • University of Trondheim, Department of Sociology and Development, Sweden
  • World Bank

Countries involved

  • Belgium
  • Burkina Faso
  • Canada
  • Caribbean
  • Germany
  • Ghana
  • Greece
  • India
  • Malaysia
  • Netherlands
  • Oman
  • Singapore
  • Sweden
  • South Africa
  • South Sudan
  • Turkey
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • Zambia

Further Info & Key Contacts

If you work in a leadership role within development, or know someone who is, and are interested to learn more about this project, please contact Natalie Cunningham for more information or to get involved.