Dr Sam Lunn-Rockliffe
28 September 2021
On Thursday 16th September the IGP co-organised an interdisciplinary workshop with the British Institute in Eastern Africa, the University of Cambridge and the University of York as a run-up event to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). The workshop discussed the critical role that research must play for building transformational pathways towards resilient, sustainable and prosperous futures in eastern Africa. The imperative for these discussions comes in light of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that paints a worrying account of the precarious relationship between people and planet. Increased climate extremes, biodiversity loss and the erosion of ecosystem services coupled with major population growth and continued patterns of growth-based consumption insinuate an ominous future in the absence of radical transformation.
The need to expand the purviews of research design within this context of this emergency is crucial, not least because transformation strategies needed in eastern Africa are both interconnected and context specific. Currently, imbalances in research and funding structures mean that decision making processes, curation, analysis and dissemination of results are all too often led by host institutes in the global north that remain disconnected from the lived realities of everyday people they are trying to assist. This can lead to a misalignment between externally crafted research activities and inclusively designed solutions for sustainable livelihoods. Alternative frameworks are thus needed that prioritise innovative whole systems thinking and bold research projects that emerge from criteria set by local communities themselves.
An essential pathway to achieving this vision, as advocated by work at the IGP, is a radical form of transdisciplinary research design – the involvement of citizens and communities in research processes in order to foreground local knowledge and voices in the identification and analysis of problems and the designing of solutions. IGP’s PROCOL Kenya initiative has been involved in a number of projects of this kind that aim to foster dynamic collaborations for building social and ecological prosperity across the African continent. In Elgyeo Marakwet and the Mau Forest, for example, PROCOL Kenya has been working with trained teams of citizen scientists to help co-design and identify key research questions and undertake primary data collection with the aim of building agricultural resilience and regenerating ecosystems. This kind of work is critical to understanding, enhancing and supporting local knowledge in the creating of climate adaptation strategies.
Drawing on PROCOL Kenya’s research experiences, there needs to be a greater acknowledgment that in many cases, the essential knowledge, skills and abilities needed to transform the present for the future lie within the communities that researchers often study and seek to assist, and that these communities must be re-centred as the primary agents for change. In light of this, the diverse presentations and in-depth discussions of the COP26 build up workshop led to the strong recognition that genuinely impactful research will only work with participation and co-design of local communities are at the centre of research processes. The solutions needed for adaptation research are place-based, complex and intersecting, and it is only by talking to and working with people that we may be able to identify and address the issues at hand. This will involve researchers rethinking their role not as experts to be parachuted in to extract data, but rather as consolidators, curators, organisers and disseminators of community led knowledge creation.
Results from the workshop will be presented to COP26 rapporteurs as a series of recommendations advocating for new research models and funding structures that allow for innovative and inclusive design of climate adaptation strategies and systems transformation. More broadly, IGP’s involvement in the workshop exists as a part of a wider portfolio of contributions to ongoing COP26 debates, including Professor Henrietta Moore’s critical conversation on the Dasgupta review of the economics of biodiversity, and presentation at the COP26 Universities network Climate Exp0 Conference. This work remains essential for injecting bold visions for future forms of socio-ecological prosperity into COP26 discussions.
Dr Sam Lunn-Rockliffe is a Research Assistant at the IGP and works on the Prosperity Co-Lab Kenya strand of work
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