Dr Sarah Ward

Lecturer in Learning in Communities


Sarah is a qualified Community Development practitioner with over twenty years' experience in youth and community work practice in the field.  Her PhD study evaluated a multi-site Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) programme, using theory-based evaluation to understand the contextual factors that limited the success of ABCD, and the Capabilities Approach to extend its social justice potential. She previously held a research post at Childern's Neighbourhoods Scotland, a Scottish Government-funded programme at University of Glasgow, where she developed a capabilities research model with children and young people, to promote youth voice in policy and programme decision-making. She is a committee member of CLD Standards Council.


Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (University of Edinburgh, 2024)

Associate Fellow in Academic Practice (University of Glasgow, 2021)

PhD, Urban Studies, University of Glasgow, (2018) Thesis title: 'How can Asset Based Community Development support community wellbeing?'

MLitt Creative Writing, University of Glasgow (2010)

MSc Adult Education and Community Development, University of Glasgow (1998)

Postgraduate certificate in Adult Education, University of Strathclyde (1997)

Responsibilities & affiliations

Edinburgh Futures Institute Research Affiliate

Human Development & Capabilities Association, Education Thematic Group Coordinator (since 2020)

CLD Standards Council Committee member (since 2020)

Awards: Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize 2017, University of Cambridge

Undergraduate teaching

MA Learning in Communities Programme:

Community Learning 1: Building Professional Identity (EDUA07004)

Community Learning 2: Working with Groups with groups (EDUA08122) (Course Organiser)

Postgraduate teaching

MSc Social Justice and Community Action programme:

Activist Social Research (REDU11074) (Course Organiser)

Community Engagement (EDUA11358) (Course Organiser)

MSc Dissertation Supervision

MSc Education Dissertation Supervision

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?


Areas of interest for supervision

I am interested in supervising doctoral students in the areas outlined under the research tab.


Current PhD students supervised

Anne O'Donnell

Topic: Informal education in the mental health survivor/service user movement in Scotland https://www.ed.ac.uk/profile/anne-o-donnell-student

Fiona Lindsay

Topic: To build and research a curriculum to provide safe and effective physiotherapy CBR skills.

(Assistant supervisor with Dr Liz Grant and Dr Aisha Holloway  https://www.ed.ac.uk/profile/fiona-lindsay

Research summary

Community Development:

Using dialogue in groups

Building collective agency

Evaluating the resources to support grassroots participation

Youth work:

Participatory research with young people

Using the creative arts to support youth participation

Using the Capabilities Approach to understand youth priorities for change in high poverty neighbourhoods in Scotland

Research activities

View activity on Research Explorer

Current project grants

British Academy Early Career Network Seed Grant 2023
'The barriers and enablers to youth activism in Scotland: a pilot study'
A collaboration with Dr. Maureen McBride at The University of Glasgow.
Following recent health, socio-economic and climate crises, youth activism has become critical in generating social change. However, activists from disadvantaged backgrounds experience multiple barriers to participation. This pilot project explored the barriers/enablers that support disadvantaged youth activists’ involvement in social movements for change. By exploring lived experience, we aimed to build towards a larger grant application by a) shaping a collaborative research design, and b) building collaborative relationships with youth activists.

The project built an interdisciplinary/inter-institutional research collaboration between youth researchers at Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh;
build a collaborative network with partners beyond academia with expertise in youth work/activism (from Youthlink and youth organisations in Glasgow and Dumfries) and University of Strathclyde to share and discuss themes from the pilot study; and aimed to build an ongoing research collaboration with youth activists to enable lived experience to take primary role in shaping all aspects of the research ( we worked in collaboration with two youth activists to share findings and discuss a follow-up collaborative grant application.

Papers delivered

Child and Youth Research Hub, University of Edinburgh, Oct 2022, Presented on using the Capabilities Approach to support child and youth activism in schools

HDCA, Sept 2022, 'Capabilities and Transformative Institutions',Presented paper on the institutional resources required to support community participation

HDCA, Sept 2022, Global Dialogue Day, Co-presented paper on what the Capabilities Approach offers as a framework for emancipatory change

HDCA, Sept 2021: Panel on ‘Children´s Participation in the 21st Century in Different Regions and in Times of Pandemic’, Human Development & Capabilities Association. Presented paper on ‘Using dialogue as a tool for critical thinking: developing  a capabilities framework with children and young people in high poverty neighbourhoods in Scotland’ 

ICSEI 2021, April 2021: Presented paper on using the capabilities approach to articulate the priorities of children and young people in high poverty areas in Scotland 

British Sociological Association, April 2021, Remaking the future: Co-presented paper on review of Youth Participatory Action Research 

Action Research, Policy and Politics, International Journal of Action Research (IJAR) symposium, October 2020: Collaboration on presentation exploring use of action research 

International Association for Social Work with Groups (IASWG) Symposium, June 2020 'The Climate is Ripe for Groupwork: Creating Connections and Restoring Hope in a Fragmented World', (Catherine T. Papell Invitational, Mutual Aid Track): Presented 90-min online workshop (Paper presentation and interactive learning activity) on ‘Building a Capabilities Framework through Collective Groupwork with Children and Young People’(recording). Co-hosted by Dr. Victoria Bianchi. 

Connecting Capabilities, HDCA Conference 2019, London, September 2019: Presented paper, ‘Building collective capabilities with children and young people: a place-based approach to child poverty in Scotland’ as part of panel led by Dr. Solava Ibrahim on ‘Linking Capabilities and Power: The Dynamics and Complexities of emPOWERment.’ 

British Sociological Association Conference, Glasgow, April 2019: Presented paper: ‘How can a Capabilities Approach enable children and young people's voices to be heard?’ 

Place Leadership Conference, Corra Foundation Conference, November 2018: Co-led ‘in conversation’ session on the initial findings of a Children’s Neighbourhood in Scotland with Professor Carol Tannahill, GCPH. 

Human Development and Capability Association Conference 2018, Cape Town, September 2017, ' Challenging Inequalities: Human Development & Social Change': Presented paper on ‘How can the Capabilities Approach help to reframe social policy interventions from a social justice perspective?’