Creative, arts-based, psychosocial approaches within international development contexts

Applications are invited for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award at The Open University, in partnership with Plan International, UK.

This fully-funded studentship is available from October 2024. Further details about the value of an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP award are available on the DTP’s studentships page.

Closing date: 9th January 2024

Project overview

Arts-based and psychosocial methodologies to understand how people make sense of their world are presented as solutions for international development challenges. Advocates claim they are authentic, enjoyable, therapeutic, value diverse ways of knowing, and lift data out of exclusionary (e.g. text-focussed/complicated statistical) spaces to engage wider publics.

However, conceptual, ethical, political, financial and logistical challenges limit their use, value and impact. This PhD is a unique opportunity to critically explore the intersection of psychosocial theory and practice, arts-based approaches, and anti-colonial discourse from within a major development organisation.

Many arts-based approaches draw on techniques popularised by northern researchers. Similarly, researchers and practitioners in high-income contexts have far more opportunities for training in arts-based methods. This creates an uncomfortable reality where not only are the solutions to development challenges seen to lie within powerful, high-income institutions, the capacity for researching them creatively is too. In addition, psychosocial theory, in which arts-based approaches are often embedded, has been criticized as Eurocentric and patriarchal. Its application has been reframed, specifically researching the experiences of girls and women through a feminist lens, but again this has been a Eurocentric feminist application. If theory and approach are imposed in development research, findings risk being viewed within pre-defined epistemologies driven by higher income countries. International development NGOs in particular have been criticised for inappropriate and patronising use of arts-based methods, and for using findings to reproduce existing agendas.

A further challenge is that even when there are arts-research advocates within organisations, funder-driven development prioritises large-scale, standardised, quantitative assessments: often there is simply no money for arts-based approaches. Where it occurs, it is most commonly ‘on’ rather than ‘within’ global NGOs. This PhD studentship offers an opportunity to explore these issues, with the support of academic supervisors specialising in arts-based approaches in education, and an NGO team with a commitment to more creative research and evaluation.

Based within Plan’s psychosocial, social and emotional learning programmes, the successful student will work with staff and local communities to conceptualise, carry out and generate reflective data around an arts-based evaluation with a co-creative research ethos. While evaluation-based research questions will be developed through the co-creative approach, the PhD will also respond to higher-level critical questions around the potential for development organisations to engage with arts-based approaches, and the potential for these approaches to impact on policy and practice within and beyond the organisation.

A core challenge of this study will be engaging with anticolonial discourses while working within neo-colonial knowledge hierarchies in international development. But this is a challenge that NGOs are (or should be) engaging with every day – and the reason this opportunity is unique and important. The PhD will identify moments of resistance and entrenchment within established and persistent development systems, but also opportunities for change linked to epistemologically ethical arts research.


The PhD project will be supervised by Dr Alison Buckler. Alison is a Senior Research Fellow in International Education at The Open University, Deputy Director of the Centre for the Study of Global Development, and co-founder of the Ibali/story Network which supports and connects researchers interested in story-based approaches.

It will be co-supervised by Dr Jennifer Jomafuvwe Agbaire, an education researcher with a decade of experience working and researching with young people using creative, arts-based and co-creative approaches.

The Plan-based supervisor/advisor will be Dr Kelly Worwood, a Technical Advisor at Plan International, but with extensive experience across education, development, psychology and the arts.

How to apply

We invite applications from candidates from all backgrounds and ethnicities. Plan has offices which can support the research in ninety countries. Applicants will ideally have extensive lived experience in one of these countries; preferably the country context in which they would like to base the research. Applicants must be able to demonstrate a commitment to arts-based research approaches, and a co-creative research ethos. Applicants should meet the eligibility criteria for Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC studentships.

For an informal discussion about the opportunity and how you might frame your approach to the CDA project, please contact Dr Alison Buckler  in the first instance.

To apply for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP studentship, please complete OOC DTP Application Form, OU application form and supporting documents listed on the application from, Research proposal and a covering letter indicating your suitability to the project  and  send to by 9th January 2024 (midday, UK time)