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Durham University

Department of Sociology

Completed Projects

Internationalising Institutional and Professional Practices: Community Partnership Models of Change in Post-Tsunami Sri Lanka

A research project of the Department of Sociology.


ESRC Sri Lanka website

Disasters like the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami called forth international goodwill and willingness to fund the redevelopment of affected communities. Many projects helped people cope with the disaster's immediate aftermath and gave little thought to long-term rebuilding of lives and livelihoods and development of sustainable communities. Some interventions were criticised for not involving local people in decisions about how aid was used in their communities. However, two initiatives that got involved with longer-term development goals embedded in both their planning and interventions were: the Durham University-based Project Sri Lanka Institutional Model (Durham Model); and the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) Rebuilding Peoples' Lives After Disasters Network associated with social work's community-based empowerment model (IASSW Model).

These two models brought together major players from within Sri Lanka with those from other countries. They provided ground-breaking work in the processes of internationalisation, especially as these are affected by the processes of globalisation and the humanitarian impulse to help those in disasters from a social justice value base. Each model focused on different players, the Durham Model on institutions of higher education and the IASSW Model used a civil society organisation (CSO) to link other players including social work educators in universities in Canada, Slovenia and the UK, students, practitioners, policymakers, business entrepreneurs with knowledge and skills needed in the processes of reconstruction. These models have similarities and differences in approach that facilitate comparisons around transferable skills, knowledge, processes and practices.

Both models encountered challenges in fulfilling their mandates and became engaged in innovations rooted in the localities where they were working. These raised new questions for the processes of internationalising institutions and discipline-oriented interventions like social work, if their humanitarian aims of being involved in ways that empowered local communities were not to be thwarted. The IASSW Model also exposed the need to develop capacity in community intervention processes at the local level in Sri Lanka as an integral part of the processes of internationalisation that crossed country and community boundaries.

So far, there has been no evaluation of the results of these interventions from outside the Sri Lankan community, yet working in partnership with it. This knowledge gap needs to be addressed. By rigorous assessment of what works and why, the transferable elements inherent in this work will be identified. A rigorous analysis and evaluation of the strengths, weaknesses and transferable outcomes of these two models will help inform future policy and practice in other geographical settings and institutions. Each model will be examined independently and then comparatively to provide significant evidence to inform the essential processes of making community development models empowering and sustainable in the long-term and transferable. The findings will also enable us to contribute to innovations in theory development in disaster interventions, the internationalisation of universities and CSOs and paradigm shifts for empowering professional practice.

This research is based on an interpretive ethnographic approach that uses a range of quantitative and qualitative methods including a mapping of disaster interventions, participant observations and narrative interviews and associated forms of analysis. The findings will attract considerable interest, not least because the Durham Model has a proven track record of success as evidenced by HEFCE and British Council recognition, and because the UN and IASSW are interested in the anticipated transferable skills, paradigm shifts in professional practice and curriculum development that are expected to arise from the findings.


The project is funded by the following grant.

  • Internationalising Institutional And Professional (£476650.37 from ESRC)


From the Department of Sociology

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