The Adaptation Research Alliance (ARA) hosted a high-level plenary session at the Adaptation Futures conference on 8 October 2021 to make its case for action research that addresses the needs of the most vulnerable to climate change.
The plenary session, which engaged a diverse audience representing several international organisations and leaders, was an opportunity for the ARA to make a case for its paradigm-shifting Results-Orientated Action Research (ROAR) approach.
ARA co-chairs, Anand Patwardhan and Dr Rosalind West, also introduced the ARA’s aims, including an overview of its workstreams and activities.
“As the pre-eminent gathering of the global adaptation community, drawing from science, practice and policy, we felt Adaptation Futures 2020 provided precisely the platform we needed to co-develop the concept of results-oriented action research and to get valuable feedback on the ARA’s efforts for accelerating and scaling it,” says Patwardhan.
The case for ROAR
Dr Emma Porio, from the Ateneo de Manila University, highlighted the gaps and challenges in academia. Porio emphasised that, in academia, there is a pressure of “publish or perish”. Researchers in the Global South thus face a major challenge where they are overloaded with teaching and yet they still have to publish research papers.
The discussion moved to unpacking how researchers and organisations can position action research given the hierarchy of knowledge production. It was noted that there is a dominance of the physical sciences in risk assessments, whereas adaptation, in terms of risk management, involves the social sciences more strongly. There is a need for vertical and horizontal integration, it was agreed.
Dr Rajesh Tandon, from the Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), pointed out that the body of knowledge from policy and agricultural developers did not recognise the body of knowledge from farmers. According to him, there is a need to focus on research that builds on local experience and knowledge.
The role of the ARA
Professor Chris Gordon, from the Institute for Environment and Sanitation Studies (IESS) at the University of Ghana, indicated that the ARA should act as a platform where all of its partners are empowered to contribute and are treated equally. He said that some existing alliances are skewed towards certain regions where others do not have the voice or the agency to engage. There is a need for equity and a safe space for people to engage in the ARA experiment, he said.
It was further highlighted that the ARA should promote mutual learning. Researchers and organisations which are part of the ARA should be rooted locally. It should also encourage the co-production of knowledge with communities to support actions that can evolve alongside the dynamic climate change impacts on the vulnerable.
Dr Judy Omumbo, from the Science for Africa Foundation (SFA), suggested that knowledge production should be decolonised. She emphasised the need to bring forth opportunities for opening up collaboration. According to her, the ARA should build platforms where researchers from developing countries can have access to information about what is going on worldwide.
Adopting action research practices
The plenary provided a few examples as to how the ARA can ensure the adoption of action research projects. Gordon provided two noteworthy examples:
Firstly, he referenced the Global Mangrove Database and Information System (GLOMIS) with people, programmes, publications and institutions involved in mangrove management. The project effectively helped to avoid the duplication of work and activities. It also provides access to information that can improve sustainable mangrove management and information system updates, which are available for use by experts in forestry and fisheries, lawmakers, administrators, decision-makers and users at large.
Gordon also referred to the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Areas (ASSAR) project in Ghana, where research questions were built in consultation with those in the field. The project ensured that research questions aligned with existing projects, which could also be used by Master’s and PhD students for their theses. Overall, the ASSAR responded to a combination of people’s needs on the ground and in doing the research.
Learnings to shape the future
The plenary discussion concluded by highlighting the most important learnings from the implementation of action research projects. Among those were:
- We need to build trust and respect for all stakeholders; everyone needs to be treated as equals. Stakeholders may have traditional knowledge and we must appreciate locals as experts. Action research needs to be done with people at the core.
- Research questions should be defined by locals.
- We need to look at and invest in the long-term view – it should be relevant at the start.
- We need to engage at the beginning of the research rather than going into communities and disseminating the results at the final stages.
- We should not take stakeholders for granted. Stakeholders’ value and power should not be underestimated.
Ending with these dos and don’ts, the session concluded with a positive and enthusiastic outlook for the future of action research and the ARA’s future role, including its Adaptation Research for Impact Principles.
“With the ARA’s principles, we have co-designed a framework that reflects the characteristics and features of effective action research, and which capture many of the lessons and insights brought out in the session,” says Patwardhan.
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