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Methods for joint learning about climate governance

From 2010 to 2011, SEI and WWF worked together on a research project looking at how governmental and civil society organisations can collaborate and learn collectively to address issues....
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From 2010 to 2011, SEI and WWF worked together on a research project looking at how governmental and civil society organisations, each with their own mandates and priorities, can collaborate and learn collectively to address issues associated with climate change and sustainable development. The study involved working in three climate vulnerable countries in different regions of the world, specifically Nepal, Belize and Tanzania, to identify how separated or integrated their governance systems currently are in terms of the extent to which climate adaptation policies and activities take into account the interconnectedness of climate change with development and environmental sustainability, and what attempts are being made to link between sectors and organisational levels.

Each of the three case studies had a slightly different entry point, largely based on the currently activities and focal areas of the WWF in-country offices. The case study in Belize centred on coastal and marine ecosystems and the institutions that govern them. In Nepal, emphasis was placed on ecosystems and communities in the mountains and Terai-Duar plains, and in Tanzania the focus was on freshwater ecosystems and communities in the Great Ruaha Catchment, a sub-basin of the Rufiji Basin.

A number of methods and tools were used to develop a shared understanding of current climate governance in each of the countries.

Overview of the research process

The research involved 3 distinct phases of activity:

PHASE 1 entailed reviewing available literature on the needs for taking a more integrated approach to deal with climate adaptation, conservation and development. Then specific background information was reviewed for each country pertaining to ecosystems and their importance to human communities, climate impacts on ecosystems and human activities and current climate adaptation initiatives. These background documents were used to frame country-specific questions to pose during the fieldwork, and to guide the identification of relevant stakeholders and key informants.

PHASE 2 was undertaking fieldwork in the 3 countries, ranging from 10 days to 2 weeks in each. This involved a series of semi-structured interviews focusing on the condition and importance of ecosystems, the key drivers of change affecting ecosystem health and social wellbeing, and the institutional structures that govern these processes. The information obtained from these interviews served as input for multi-stakeholder workshops.

During the workshops participants jointly undertook a series of exercises. In the first one, they discussed and prioritized the main drivers of change in the health of ecosystems and human wellbeing and projected the impacts of these drivers twenty to thirty years into the future to develop several qualitative scenarios. Through a back-casting exercise, participants discussed what would need to happen and who would need to change in order to achieve the future states deemed to be more desirable. Participants identified a number of levels of change needed to progress from fragmented and disconnected practices of ecosystem management, climate adaptation and development to well integrated and aligned practices in their countries. The main points were structured and documented as a ‘governance action matrix’ (see template below). Based on this matrix participants characterised the current situation in their country and then discussed what they perceived to be some of the key barriers and opportunities for progressing to better governance, and what role they could play in overcoming these barriers or harnessing existing opportunities.

The workshops were followed by more semi-structured interviews with additional key informants to fill in remaining information gaps and collect further input to complement the workshop findings. The findings from the interviews and workshops were synthesized into 3 country reports, which were shared with the participants to get their feedback, especially on any points of correction or clarification, and to facilitate reflection and encourage collective ownership.

PHASE 3 was comparing the findings from the 3 country studies to reflect on the broader lessons, the benefits and challenges of taking a participatory approach for this kind of scoping study, the multiple ways of building bridges between institutions of different disciplinary tradition, and the challenges that lie ahead for the uptake of more integrated approaches to promote collaboration and support inter-sectoral and cross-scale actions. These broader findings were synthesised in the form of a final ‘think piece’ to share with a broader audience.

Template for Governance Action Matrix

A similar methodology was followed in each of the 3 country cases, except for minor differences and adaptations to deal with practicalities within each context. For example, some methods were modified or condensed slightly to suit the specific group composition, time constraints, cultural norms and the style of the facilitators conducting the process in each country.

Most of the stakeholders who participated in the study operated at the national level. They were mainly government and NGO representatives, as well as some academics, from a range of sectors such as meteorology, coastal management, water management, conservation, and humanitarian aid. There were also some local level representatives involved, like community development officers, particularly in the Tanzanian case. Because of the cross-cutting nature of the project, together with real time and budget constraints associated with a scoping study of this nature, it was not possible to be comprehensive in terms of engaging all relevant stakeholders.

Reflecting on the research process

This project was designed to be exploratory and highly participatory. Alongside reviewing literature and interviewing individuals, we attempted to connect people and work being done in various sectors (social development, disaster risk management, water, nature conservation, forestry, etc.) and at various levels (focussing mainly on the national level but linking with local and regional levels) around a few key questions. Our motivation for doing so was to bring different perspectives to bear on understanding complex problems of development and environment unfolding in the 3 countries and exploring how these can be tackled. The feedback we received from numerous workshop participants was that they were surprised to find that grappling with the complexities of the problems together with others working in quite different fields helped them attain greater clarity, rather than generating additional confusion. Participants found the process of together exploring drivers of change, related impacts and opportunities for innovation empowering because it provided space for people to learn from each other and come to shared realisations, providing an important basis and impetus for fostering new collaborations. These collaborations are seen to be much needed in addressing the complexity of the challenges. Similarly, the close collaboration between SEI researchers and WWF practitioners working on this project enabled deep reflection, iterative feedback and refinement, and created fertile ground for applying the shared learning we gained to our respective practices going forward.

“Getting lots of different people together to explore these complex challenges from a variety of perspectives is time and energy intensive, mind boggling and frustrating at times. But at the same time it is so enriching and goes a long way in building relationships and mutual understandings that are fundamental to taking more concerted and collaborative action that is needed to address the combined challenges of development, climate change and enhancing biodiversity.” (Anna Taylor, SEI researcher)

To learn more about what was done and what was found in each of the three countries refer to the accompanying placemarks in Nepal, Belize and Tanzania.

To get an overview of the conclusions from the study as a whole read this article: Key lessons about strengthening governance to adapt to climate change

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