Research Focus

Daniel’s highly engaged interdisciplinary research seeks governance and leadership solutions for the big sustainability challenges in the mining of minerals and materials


Professor Daniel Franks is the Program Leader of ‘Development Minerals’ at the Sustainable Minerals Institute, The University of Queensland. He is known internationally for his work on the interconnections between minerals, materials and sustainable development, with a particular focus on the role of minerals in poverty reduction and the social and environmental change associated with mining and energy extraction. 

Daniel’s work spans the governance of artisanal, small-scale and large-scale mining. While metals and gemstones are a feature of his research, he especially focused on industrial minerals, construction materials and other ‘Development Minerals’ that are mined and used for local and domestic development. These later minerals matter in our efforts to achieve the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals, because they are literally the matter that underpins much of global development, whether it be the clay bricks and roof tiles that provide shelter, the mineral fertilisers fundamental for agriculture, the garnet that filters water, or the gravel and stone that builds bridges and paves rural roads.


Originally trained as a geologist, he began his career as a field geoscientist in Brazil and Australia. After retraining in political and social sciences, he worked as a Senior Social Scientist at the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Water. Between 2015 and 2018 he was Chief Technical Advisor at the United Nations Development Programme and Programme Manager of the ACP-EU Development Minerals Programme, where he remains an advisor. In this role he was responsible for the delivery of more than 200 training and capacity building workshops, training over ten thousand people from 41 countries, of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific in the governance of minerals for sustainable development. He authored curricula now taught in more than 30 universities and advised numerous Heads of State, Ministers of Mining and Ambassadors on mineral policy and governance. 

Prior to his work at the United Nations, Professor Franks held research and teaching positions at Griffith University and The University of Queensland, where he was previously the Deputy Director of the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining. He has held visiting appointments with Columbia University, New York (2013-present), the University of Eastern Finland (2014-present), the University of Western Australia (2013-2015), Central European University, Budapest (2016) and Universidad Católica del Norte, Chile (2011-2015). He has been an invited expert peer reviewer for the World Bank (2018), International Resource Panel, UN Environment (2017), the Academy of Finland (2015) and the Commonwealth Secretariat (2012).


Daniel’s work is interdisciplinary and highly engaged. He has field experience at more than 75 mining and energy sites internationally and 37 countries. His research was publicly cited by the Chief Operating Officer of the International Council on Mining and Metals as “academic research that has changed the mineral industry.” He played an important role in The Australian Government’s flagship $31m International Mining for Development Centre hosted by UQ and The University of Western Australia, as well as The Queensland Government’s ‘Sustainable Resource Communities Policy.’ 

Daniel is an instructor of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) ‘Natural Resources for Sustainable Development’, hosted by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, The World Bank and the Natural Resources Governance Institute, where he teaches alongside Professor Jeffrey Sachs and Sir Paul Collier. He is a Docent at the Institute for Natural Resources, Environment & Society, University of Eastern Finland and an Editorial Board Member of the International Journal of Minerals Policy & Economics (Resources Policy) and Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal. He is the immediate past co-Chair of Social Impact Assessment at the International Association of Impact Assessment, a role he held between 2011 and 2017. 

In 2018, Daniel Chaired the International Conference on Artisanal and Small-scale Mining and Quarrying, which was attended by five-hundred and forty-seven (547) delegates from 72 countries and opened by the President of Zambia. As Chair he oversaw the historic Mosi-oa-Tunya Declaration on Artisanal and Small-scale Mining, Quarrying and Development.


Daniel has undertaken applied research and capacity building with a wide range of organisations including governments (e.g. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, European Commission and The Cambodian Ministry of Mines and Energy), international agencies (e.g. The World Bank, African Union, African Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, OECD, International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development and United Nations Development Programme), foundations (e.g. Ford Foundation and Tiffany & Co. Foundation), the private sector (e.g. Xstrata, Anglo American, BHP Billiton, Newmont, CODELCO, Rio Tinto, Teck and Vale) and civil society (e.g. Oxfam, Mineral Policy Institute, and Environmental Defenders Office). 

Key Publications

Professor Franks is the author of more than 100 publications in 8 languages, including the book ‘Mountain Movers: Mining, sustainability and the agents of change’ (Earthscan, 2015) and his highly cited study with Rachel Davis on the costs of company-community conflict in the extractives sector, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and by The Harvard Kennedy School. The forward to the Harvard Kennedy School Report was written by Professor John Ruggie, UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Business and Human Rights.

Daniel’s research has attracted global media attention by more than forty outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Associated Press, Vox Africa and Reuters. He authored a single author chapter within the prestigious Mining Engineering Handbook, a compendium published just once each generation and a chapter with Volker Boege, in High-value natural resources and post-conflict peacebuilding, published by Earthscan. The later volume was led by UN Environment’s Post-Conflict Peacebuilding and Natural Resource Management programme, and the foreword of the book was written by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, then President of Liberia and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. He was the lead editor of a special issue of Resources Policy on ‘Understanding and Managing Cumulative Impacts in Resource Regions,’ which contributed new theory on cumulative impacts in minerals and energy-rich resource regions.

Full publication list is available on espace


Daniel has successfully managed large research and capacity building programs, with over $7.5M in research funding support as a named investigator and over $21M for training/capacity building.