Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability (STEPS) Centre

The ESRC STEPS (Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability) Centre carries out interdisciplinary global research that unites development studies with science and technology studies.

Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability Centre logo

The Centre’s mission is to highlight, reveal and contribute to just and democratic pathways to sustainability that include the needs, knowledge and perspectives of poor and marginalised people. The STEPS Pathways Approach links theory, research methods and practice to highlight and open up the politics of sustainability.

The STEPS Centre’s work highlights different responses to complex challenges like climate change, food systems, urbanisation and technology in which society and ecologies are entangled. STEPS research explores how poor and marginalised people can be involved in identifying and diagnosing problems, as well as deciding what to do. This often involves challenging power and assumptions, and exploring many different values, perspectives and possible futures through diverse methodologies.

The STEPS Centre is hosted in the UK by the Institute of Development Studies and the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex. Its main funding is from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

STEPS works as part of a Global Consortium with hubs in Africa, China, Europe, Latin America, North America and South Asia. Our research projects, in many countries, engage with local problems and link them to wider concerns.

The STEPS Centre’s Co-Directors are Prof Ian Scoones (IDS) and Prof Andy Stirling (SPRU). It is a partner in the Green Economy Coalition and Future Earth.

Current focus

From 2018-2021 the STEPS Centre and Global Consortium are focusing on four annual themes.

2018: Transformations

Faced with a series of social and environmental stresses and shocks, there are urgent calls for radical, systemic change. But, as past and present experience show, this can take many forms. What does it take to make sustainability transformations emancipatory (caring), rather than repressive (controlling)?

2019: Uncertainty

Uncertainties can make it hard to plan ahead. But recognising them can help to reveal new questions and choices. What kinds of uncertainty are there, why do they matter for sustainability, and what ideas, approaches and methods can help us to respond to them?

2020: Natures

2021: Methods

Find out more

Media enquiries

Nathan Oxley, Communications & Impact Manager, STEPS Centre E: [email protected] T: +44 (0)1273 915826 M: +44 (0)7702 884039


Image of Amber Huff
Amber Huff

Research Fellow

Image of Dominic Glover
Dominic Glover

Research Fellow

Image of Hayley MacGregor
Hayley MacGregor

Research Fellow

Image of Ian Scoones
Ian Scoones

Professorial Fellow

Image of Jeremy Allouche
Jeremy Allouche

Professorial Fellow

Image of John Thompson
John Thompson

Research Fellow

Image of Lyla Mehta
Lyla Mehta

Professorial Fellow

Andrew Stirling
Adrian Ely
Rose Cairns



System Change Hive

The System Change HIVE will explore and communicate visions of better lives to inform public thinking and work towards fairer systems that safeguard life-support systems and prioritise well-being and justice.


Market-Based Mangrove Afforestation and Reforestation in Kenya and India

This study aims to understand and compare processes and relationships associated with the ‘marketization of nature’ – how nature-based commodities and markets for trading them are brought into being – in the context of mangrove afforestation, reforestation and restoration projects in...


Transitions to Agroecological Food Systems

This project will examine potential pathways for transitioning to more sustainable food systems in order to contribute to improved ecological, economic, social and nutritional outcomes.

Recent work


Embracing pathways to sustainability

How should people address complex problems like climate change, environmental destruction, poverty and injustice? Solutions that at first might seem ‘simple’ and immediate can quickly unravel and, in the longer term, may even do more harm than good. With there always many different...

12 March 2021


Sustainability is a complex challenge: how can research make a difference?

A new series of events and resources from the ESRC STEPS Centre explores the front line of sustainability research: methods and methodologies. Amid pandemics, climate change and other crises, calls to ‘listen to the scientists’ on sustainability issues are louder than ever. These problems...

8 February 2021

Impact Story

Research on pastoralism highlights new directions for development

Insights from more than fifty years of IDS research on climate, environment and pastoralism have challenged conventional thinking about environmental change and led to wide-reaching impacts in practice and policy. The world is an uncertain, challenging environment for many people. This is true...

21 January 2021


Pathways to Sustainability: 15 years of research

The ESRC STEPS Centre, a research centre on sustainability co-hosted by IDS and the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex, will close at the end of 2021 after 15 years. From its origins at Sussex, the STEPS Centre has developed a global consortium of partners, engaged...

14 January 2021

Journal Article

Small Towns and Land Reform in Zimbabwe

The European Journal of Development Research;

Zimbabwe’s land reform from 2000 radically transformed the agrarian structure, and with this small towns in rural areas. This article explores three such towns—Mvurwi, Chatsworth and Maphisa—examining changes in population, housing, transport and business activity between 2000 and 2020....

Felix Murimbarimba

7 December 2020