Dr Susan Murphy wins highly prestigious ERC Starting Grant award

Posted on: 21 March 2023

The funding of €1.5 million will help Trinity team transform the field of international development governance theory and practice.

Dr Susan Murphy wins highly prestigious ERC Starting Grant award

Dr Susan Murphy, Assistant Professor in Development Practice in Trinity College Dublin’s School of Natural Sciences, has won a highly prestigious European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant award. Dr Murphy will use the funding of €1.5 million to lead a five-year project called GEOFORMATIONS: Geographies of dynamic governance assemblages in development cooperation civil society spaces.

GEOFORMATIONS will develop new conceptual and analytical frameworks to inform in the design and evaluation of just governance models that can be accountable, responsive, legitimate, equitable, and fundamentally transformative for affected populations. There is a pressing need for such frameworks, given that trust and legitimacy in traditional institutions and actors is weak and declining.

The contributions and outputs from Dr Murphy’s research will have a profound effect on governance arrangements at all levels. They will drive a paradigm shift from neo-colonial models of aid and charity, to decolonised, justice-based understandings of international development governance that will have lasting influence not only on policy and practice, but on adjacent fields of international relations/politics; international political theory; organisational structure and behaviours; corporate governance; development studies; and political and legal geography.

Dr Murphy said:

“As an engaged researcher, I have always worked closely with experts in practice and policy to deepen understandings and generate new insights to address real-world, complex problems. This ERC grant provides me with an unprecedented opportunity to radically accelerate inter-disciplinary and transdisciplinary research that aims to transform the field of international development governance theory and practice.

“To date, no research has systematically examined the relational and spatial dynamics of civil society organisations, governance models and practices. Nor have comprehensive evaluation frameworks for such assemblages yet been developed. My project will develop practice and understanding to support deeper engagement with civil society actors for the benefit of all.”

Dr Linda Doyle, Provost of Trinity, welcomed the news. She said:

“I offer my congratulations to Susan on securing funding for this important and timely project, which examines the governance structures of international development and NGOs at a time when trust and the legitimacy of power structures are a concern. 

“The potential of Susan’s project to offer a justice-based model of international development that moves beyond neo-colonial charity and aid-based programmes shows the great potential of fundamental and frontier research to provide solutions to significant global challenges.”

Professor Sinead Ryan, Trinity’s Dean of Research, added:

“One of the goals of Trinity’s Living Research Excellence Strategy is to enable researchers to secure the resources they need to conduct projects that can have significant impact. Susan’s success in securing this award will allow her group the time and focus to address complex research questions. Answering these questions is important not only to Susan's field of governance studies, but also for the NGO and civil society sectors. It is especially exciting to see that this project plans to take a transdisciplinary approach that will include voices from affected populations in issue-framing assemblies to facilitate better priority setting for international development in the future.”

ERC Starting Grant awards support excellent Principal Investigators in starting their own independent research teams or programmes. These grants, which support five-year projects, are among the most sought-after and competitive in the world of research.

Dr Murphy’s award is the sixth such award that has been won by a researcher in the School of Natural Sciences. She joins fellow awardees Marcus Collier, Anna Davies, Jennifer McElwain, Martin Sokol, and Emma Tomlinson.

Since the inception of the ERC programme, over 50 ERC Starting, Consolidator, Advanced and Synergy grants have been won by Trinity researchers across all three Faculties and 18 Schools. The team Dr Murphy will recruit will join over 200 PhD students, postdoctoral fellows, research assistants, lab managers, technicians and other team members to have been funded through ERC projects working at Trinity.

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