Power and Popular Politics

In a world that is increasingly affected by a rise in authoritarianism and populist politics, our research supports the actors who are promoting progressive social change, helping them generate the learning, insights and evidence they need for effective action.

We are particularly focused on bottom-up and informal forms of political action that go beyond institutionalised forms of participation, from movements and protest action to the more everyday forms of action that may resist dominance and exclusion.

Our research is helping to shape policy and practice in different ways:

Reclaiming gender justice

With women’s rights under threat in many different countries, the IDS-hosted Countering Backlash programme is helping identify actions needed for women’s rights organisations and gender justice defenders to counter backlash and patriarchy.

Just Transitions

Our research points out how communities act against the detrimental effects of extractive industries, and how their voices need to be heard in debates on clean energy transitions.

Helping humanitarian operations become more accountable to affected populations

The work of our Power and Popular Politics cluster centres on voice and accountability in humanitarian aid. An independent evaluation by IDS and partners on the UN’s humanitarian response in Yemen found that the operation had saved lives, but in many areas aid was of “unacceptably poor quality”.

Sharing insights on action and empowerment in complex settings

Through a  five-year research programme across multiple countries, our research examined how accountability, governance and citizenship play out in fragile and violence-affected settings, producing a powerful final report ‘Against the Odds’.

Youth politics

Our research on youth contributes to understanding youth politics and meaningful youth engagement for peace and security.

Promoting inclusion and equality

Various projects focus on safeguarding the intangible cultural heritage of religious, ethnic and linguistic minorities in the Middle East, such as the Middle East People’s Culture Conservation Collective. Previous research from the Coalition for Religious Equality in Development (CREID) was presented in the UK House of Commons to inform foreign policy.

Using a power lens is distinctive to all of our work. We use qualitative approaches, ethnography and action research that foreground the perspectives and experiences of the actors promoting social change. Civil society organisations are often part of our research consortia.

Key contacts

Marjoke Oosterom

Power and Popular Politics Cluster Lead



Recent work


The Lion, The Leopard, The Hyena and The Fox

This second report from the XCEPT action research project, Promoting Peaceful Pastoralism, outlines what the pastoralist researchers on the Uganda/Kenya border have learned since the first report was published in October 2023. As with the first report, it presents the pastoralist communities’...

2 May 2024



Social Accountability for Place Based Nature Recovery

Social Accountability for Place Based Nature Recovery is a consultancy project for Natural England (NE). The aim is to provide Natural England with new insights into how social accountability approaches can support place-based nature recovery, and how they might be strengthened in order to...


Global Civic Culture Learning project

This is a consultancy project for Citizen University, a non-profit organization in Seattle that uses responsive participatory approaches to build citizenship culture in the US.


Middle East People’s Culture Conservation Collective

Against the backdrop of a mass exodus of religious minorities from the Middle East, there is an urgency to empower the youth from the communities left behind to find opportunities for professional development and income generation through the preservation of their heritage. With the breakdown in...