Topic Guides

Our Topic Guides aim to provide a clear, concise and objective report on findings from rigorous research on critical areas of development policy. They highlight the key debates and evidence on the topic of focus, including on approaches and lessons. They are produced in close collaboration with international experts and with practitioners in DFID.

Disability inclusion

Access Bangladesh Foundation supports an association of former beggars turned street vendors

This topic guide summarises some of the most rigorous available evidence on the key debates and challenges of disability inclusion in development and humanitarian response. Disability does not necessary imply limited wellbeing and poverty. Yet there is growing evidence that the estimated one billion people with disabilities face attitudinal, physical and institutional ...» more

Social development and human development

Charlotte Kesl / World Bank (A school in Colombia)

This Topic Guide aims to answer the question ‘What is the interaction between social development issues and human development outcomes?’ An individual’s right to lead a long and healthy life, to be educated and to enjoy a decent standard of living cannot be realised without addressing social development issues. This is because these issues determine individuals’ access to ...» more

State-business relations

Seoul, by Travel Oriented (Flickr)

State-business relations in low income countries are seen as a key determinant of inclusive growth and of structural transformation – shifts in economic structure to more productive activities and sectors. Effective state-business relations can boost economic growth by increasing the rate and the productivity of investment. State-business relations can take the form of ...» more

The social impact of private sector development

Coffee Pickers in Timor-Leste

The private sector can have a transformational impact on peoples’ lives as a creator of jobs and producer of goods and services that poor people use. Donor agencies are paying increasing attention to how private sector development can be leveraged to support poverty reduction and sustainable, equitable and inclusive economic growth. Making use of social development thinking is ...» more

Social exclusion


This publication aims to introduce some of the best literature on the definitions, understandings, causes, and impact of social exclusion, as well as how exclusion can be measured and addressed by governments, civil society actors and international organisations. The guide was written by Seema Khan (GSDRC), in close collaboration with Professor Frances Stewart (Centre for ...» more

The legitimacy of states and armed non-state actors

Somalia (UN Photo/Stuart Price)

Legitimacy is a crucial aspect of all power relations. Without legitimacy, power is exerted through coercion; with legitimacy, power can be exerted through voluntary or quasi-voluntary compliance. Legitimacy lies at the core of state-citizen relationships and thus of the whole state-building agenda. This Topic Guide explores the meaning of legitimacy in relation to state and ...» more

Public sector institutional reform


The public sector is the single most important investment instrument for the state, and improving the way it is managed is critical for development outcomes including service delivery, social protection and private sector regulation. Public sector governance reform involves institutional reform – that is, changing the rules and norms that govern public sector activity. How can ...» more

Gender and conflict


What do we know about the role of gender inequality in producing or exacerbating the structural causes of violence and conflict, and about the multi-layered effects of violence and conflict on gender relations? What do we know about how to support gender equality in fragile and conflict-affected situations (FCAS)? This Topic Guide introduces the research evidence. ...» more

Human rights

UN Human Rights Council, Geneva

This topic guide provides an introduction to the interactions and links between human rights and international development. Human rights are increasingly visible in international development language, policies and programmes. Human rights, and the principles they are based on, are argued to improve the effectiveness of development programmes. But beyond that, a human rights ...» more

Inclusive growth

Woman in small shop Ghana

Absolute poverty has fallen substantially over the last 30 years, with most of this reduction attributable to rapid economic growth in developing countries. Yet growth often does not meet the needs of the poor. Economic growth in the absence of measures to ensure the sustained equitable distribution of its benefits has frequently perpetuated the concentration of wealth in the ...» more

Tax reform


Tax reform can reduce tax evasion and avoidance, and allow for more efficient and fair tax collection that can finance public goods and services. It can make revenue levels more sustainable, and can promote future independence from foreign aid and natural resource revenues. There is increasing recognition of taxation’s role in state-building, in addition to greater ...» more

Political economy analysis

Dhaka steamers (Bangladesh)

Political economy analysis (PEA) aims to situate development interventions within an understanding of the prevailing political and economic processes in society – specifically, the incentives, relationships, and distribution and contestation of power between different groups and individuals. Such an analysis can support more politically feasible and therefore more effective ...» more

Political systems

Timor-Leste Holds Second Round of Presidential Election

Political systems are the formal and informal political processes by which decisions are made concerning the use, production and distribution of resources in any given society. Formal political institutions can determine the process for electing leaders; the roles and responsibilities of the executive and legislature; the organisation of political representation (through ...» more

Decentralisation and local government

Court Point, Sylhet

Estimates suggest that decentralisation is being pursued in over 80% of developing countries worldwide. For many people, local government is the part of government that most directly impacts on their lives, particularly via the provision of services like water, sanitation, and primary education and healthcare. Further resources The following resources were included in GSDRC's ...» more

Service delivery

UNAMID Delivers Water to Darfur Students during Exam Period

Equitable access to essential public services is vital for human development, inclusive growth, and tackling persistent inequality. This topic guide provides an overview of the best available evidence on inclusive service delivery. It includes lessons from cases where aid has been effective at addressing weak front-line incentives, where services have been delivered in very ...» more

Inclusive institutions

Jessica Lea / DFID: Peer educator, Rihanata Ouedraogo, leads a group discussion on FGM/C in Burkina Faso

Institutions are the formal and informal rules and norms that structure citizens’ rights, entitlements, opportunities and voice. How can policymakers and practitioners support inclusive institutions to promote development that ‘leaves no-one behind’? What do we know about what has – or hasn't – worked, and where? This Topic Guide synthesises the evidence, debates and approaches ...» more

Sequencing reforms in fragile states

Afghan Students Back to School

How can governments in fragile and conflict affected states (FCAS) plan and manage reforms when everything is urgent and important, and when capacity and resources are low? How can external actors strategically support the fulfilment of essential and expected state functions? This Topic Guide provides an overview of the evidence that examines the sequencing of statebuilding and ...» more

Voice, empowerment and accountability

Oxfam's water and sanitation committee, Jamam refugee camp

Voice, empowerment and accountability (VEA) interventions aim to support poor and marginalised people to build the resources, assets, and capabilities they need to exercise greater choice and control over their own development, and to hold decision-makers to account. This guide provides an overview of the best available evidence on the impact of VEA interventions. It identifies ...» more