Dialogue for impact – preparing the ground

In our last blog we shared some of the creative challenges in co-designing CARIAA’s research program annual learning review (ALR), which is taking place in Nepal on 3-6 May. The Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA) aims to build the resilience of poor people to climate change by supporting a network of four consortia to conduct high caliber research and policy engagement in four ‘hotspots’ in Africa and Asia.

Collaboration and conversation

Collaboration and learning together is the life blood of CARIAA and so dialogue and conversation is at the core of this year’s ALR. In this blog we share what we’ve been doing to prepare the ground for the conversations to come, experiences that will enrich our next Oxford FacilitationAnywhere training workshop in June.

‘Conversation’ is right there in the purpose of the ALR, which is about understanding how the research emerging out of CARIAA can bring the SDGs ‘into conversation’ with national planning processes. Hearing some of the research finding so far has been exciting and moving – we have a vivid sense of the huge potential to really impact the lives of the people who are most vulnerable to climate change.

Dialogue is all about tuning into this sense of potential and bringing different perspectives together for what William Isaacs calls a ‘living experience of inquiry within and between people, but without actually knowing what will emerge. In practical terms, what will this look like?  How do we shape up an agenda and create processes to literally ‘bring into conversation’ the needs of researchers, who want to hear more from each other about the science, and the other element of CARIAA’s purpose –  to influence policy.

Shaping the agenda

We’ve been working on two levels. Firstly, the event design or ‘indicative agenda’, which has involved designing sessions that we hope will enable different kinds of conversations.   For instance:

  • A 45-minute Davos-style moderated panel with five contributors to start the event with a high-level perspective on the ‘demand’ for CARIAA findings, and to set the direction of travel for the week
  • Thematic sessions, focused on SDGs, as we described in the last blog, comprising 4-minute introductory speed talks that will be followed by three rounds of knowledge-cafe style discussions around presenter’s posters .  These will provide an opportunity for a deeper dive into the science.  The idea is to then move to conversations at tables to share what’s emerging and to start thinking about policy implications; and finally a short wrap-up with key insights.
  • There’ll be three more sessions to reflect more generally on what people are learning about ‘collaborative synthesis’ – the term used by CARIAA to describe how different researchers within and between consortia learn about and blend their investigations and findings.

We also need to make sure that there’s space for people to make sense of what they’re hearing, and at a meta level to pull together or ‘synthesise’ the emergent insights.   So, there’s also a ‘pause for thought’ session for people to mix and mingle, look at posters, talk (or do nothing!). Field visits in Kathmandu on the third day are also an opportunity to reflect and connect with colleagues.

The other level has been to start the dialogue and engagement ahead of time. We had high hopes for the four online pre-meeting sessions on each of the themes.  We wanted to give researchers and RiU colleagues a chance to start reflecting on the implications of the research for policy. In the event, time constraints meant that the sessions were more modest but no less valuable, offering critical support and feedback to presenters on how best to use their 4 minutes. And of course, having heard all the presentations within the themes, those at the online meetings will inevitably have begun to think more about connections and relationships.

And that’s just what we’ve been involved with! The majority of the approximately 80 participants are also preparing their contributions to all the other activity streams in the ALR, with colleagues in Kathmandu and Ottawa grinding through the detail. We’re looking forward to meeting them all and engaging with their work, which we’ll describe in a later blog.

Letting go

We’ve been planning and designing, listening and shaping an agenda for the conversations. With just over a week to go, we’re now letting go and looking forward to seeing what happens. True dialogue is all about being open to the unexpected, listening in such a way as to hear unanticipated possibilities. Not knowing is part of the excitement.

We’re up a mountain for a few days, back with more soon.

Learning events and the privilege of being facilitators

Designing a Research Program Annual Learning Review

Sometimes we have assignments that involve working with people and being present at events so interesting and impressive that we’d pay to attend as participants!  We’re facilitating the third Annual Learning Review (ALR3) of the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA) program in Nepal this May.

This is the first blog in a series where we will share our experience of co-creating the event design and facilitating the four-day programme, partly as a lead-in to our next FacilitationAnywhere training workshop this June. In this post we briefly describe what makes CARIAA such a remarkable initiative and some of the immediate challenges in putting together an agenda with the potential to enable participants meet its ambitious goals.

Hot-spots and collaboration

The combination or scale and depth is one of the things I find so impressive about CARIAA. The program, “aims to build the resilience of poor people to climate change by supporting a network of four consortia to conduct high-calibre research and policy engagement” in what it calls hot spots, in Africa and Asia. The program focuses on three type of hot spots in Africa and South Asia: semi-arid regions; deltas; and glacier and snow-pack dependent river basins in South Asia. Each of these hot spots combine vulnerability to the extreme effects of climate change as well as a large concentration of poor populations. Hot spots are seen as a lens for research on common challenges across different contexts.

glacier source of indus
The West-Vigne glacier is a headwater of the Indus © Ahmad Abdul Karim

Pause for a moment and unpack, ‘snow-pack dependent river basins in South Asia’. “The Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region, the source of ten large river systems of Asia, provides water and other ecosystem services to more than 210 million people living in the mountains and over 1.3 billion living in the plains” The HI-AWARE consortium, who are hosting ALR3, is therefore working across Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh, undertaking original research and seeking to find common threads and original solutions across that enormous region. The other three consortium are similarly engaged in attempting to both synthesise research findings across their own huge focus areas, and with HI-AWARE also to find common threads that can be shared globally.  There are other similar programs, including larger ones like BRACED, but it’s this determination to do more than simply share results and hold joint events that makes CARIAA different: it’s such an ambitious undertaking, and in a seven-year program.

Research on climate change adaptation demands collaboration. So the different consortia bring together researchers and practitioners, from the North and the South, with different backgrounds and expertise, to create and share knowledge.  This consortium-based model is itself innovative and not yet seen as mainstream in research for development. It emphasises collaborating and learning within both within and between the consortia involved in the Program, as well as with other initiatives. So another striking feature of the Program is the embedded mechanisms in place for knowledge exchange across the four consortia, aiming for syntheses of emerging research findings, and a structured learning process over time.

2017 – a pivotal moment for climate change adaptation

CARIAA runs until 2019 and is jointly funded by IDRC and DFID.  Nobody predicted the radically altered landscape of climate change debate and investment in which the program now operates, with foundational concepts and programs under threat. We were part of the facilitation team for last year’s 2nd CARIAA Annual Learning Review  which brought together over 80 participants from 15 countries for three days in Wageningen, the Netherlands. in 2016 there was still potentially time for consortia to alter direction in the program, perhaps undertake additional work in an area of research, for example. So the focus in the 2016 ALR was to try and identify new and emerging themes for common research across CARIAA as well as to  improve the systems and processes that enable collaboration and synthesis to take place. The event concluded with a number of concrete proposals for cross-consortia collaboration.

This third Annual Review (ALR3) comes at a key moment. Research findings are beginning to emerge, while there are 18 months remaining to exploit CARIAA’s potential contribution to climate change adaptation policy and practice, in the hotspot regions where it is most needed, but also globally.  So ALR3 aims to stimulate conversations between researchers and Research-into-Use specialists from across CARIAA to identify what CARIAA will be able to contribute that can have impact in this new context.

‘Dialogues for impact’

ALR3 is organised around, “understanding how the research emerging out of CARIAA can help bring the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into conversation with National Adaptation Planning processes”. Abstracts received in response to a call for contributions from consortia have been grouped into four themes, each corresponding to one of the SDGs: Mobility (as a subset of SDG 10: Reduced inequality), Water Security (SDG 6); Gender Equality (SDG 5), and Urgent Action to Combat Climate Change (SDG 13).

 Who said it was going to be easy?

There will be 70 – 80 participants.  Understanding and integrating the range of needs and interests is a crucial first step.  In CARIAA this has meant several groups of people have already engaged in thinking about the event, including:

  • Project officers from the two donors, playing a central role in organisation
  • Principal Investigators, prominent figures in their fields, who lead the four consortia
  • Consortia members working on an increasingly important Research into Use thread, including many communication specialists
  • Researchers who will be presenting their work, as well as other people who will be contributing during the event

And of course each of those people are very busy, in contexts that are constantly changing. As facilitators we come in from the outside, and need to find connections and approaches so that we can construct working drafts for the agenda and session designs. At this stage our role is to listen, shape an emergent agenda and help move the conversations forward, while not being in the centre of things.

We’ve been working on ALR3 for six weeks and a ‘Beta’ version of the event programme is coming together a full month before the event, earlier than in many similar situations. In the next blog we’ll be sharing some of the success factors that have enabled our progress.

And we haven’t time to get back up into these mountains, “the water-towers of Asia”, but we’ll at least see some!

FA image raw