Harnessing Action Research Priorities for Climate Adaptation

For the Northern hemisphere, this summer has been one of extremes with record-breaking heatwaves and droughts in Western Europe, the United States and China, as well as flooding in Japan, South Korea and Pakistan. Looking at the latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, extreme weather events should further worsen in the coming years and decades, making the need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions all the more urgent. Yet, while we must not stop our attempts to mitigate climate change, it’s clear that societies also need to adapt to a changing climate, which includes finding ways to cope with more and more intense droughts and floods.

Adaptation science: not a shelf

Launched in late 2021 at the COP26, the Adaptation Research Alliance (ARA) is an international coalition of over 150 member organizations across 40 countries. It aims to bring together funders, researchers and practitioners – that is, people who are taking action on the ground, like farmers or engineers – to make sure that the research produced to support adaptation doesn’t sit on a shelf but is ready to be used.

Kristin Corbett, a Senior Strategic Knowledge Translation Officer at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) described one of the key missions of the alliance as working to avoid silos between research and practice. She hopes that the alliance will help researchers and practitioners more easily work together to produce useful scientific outcomes. 

Designing a virtual and meaningful consultation process

Before the launch of the ARA, Inclusive Innovation worked with IDRC, a member of the alliance, on a consultation process to support its work moving forward. The aim was to surface research priorities on two themes: food systems and gender equality and social inclusion. “The goal was to identify some action research priorities in these areas, hearing from a range of different perspectives, to then share back with the alliance as options for future collaboration among its members,” says Kristin. 

The challenge was to design a process that could work virtually while being open to different networks and allowing for meaningful conversations. “We were struggling with how to come up with a process that wouldn’t just be a directionless roundtable of asking people questions.”

Inclusive Innovation, with its expertise in creating engaging virtual events, co-created a unique process with the IDRC team that unfolded in three key steps:

1) Pre-workshop surveys to identify research priorities around these two themes, and from the perspectives of the invited participants (all experts in their fields, and representing a range of disciplines, sectors and geographies).

2) Virtual workshops to discuss and validate the survey results.

3) Synthesis and presentation of the ideas to the alliance through two reports.

Research priorities for climate adaptation

The two consultation workshops were the process centerpiece, in which key stakeholders were brought together to discuss, deepen and validate the research priorities that surfaced from the surveys. The priorities range from questions like “how can we support healthy and sustainable diets?” to “how to support the development of research methods that make under-represented voices visible?” Each priority was discussed in smaller groups, made of both researchers and practitioners.

One of the priorities that emerged from the workshop focussed on gender equality and social inclusion was centered around how to enhance the agency – the capacity to act – of marginalized groups in the context of climate change. This includes the fact that certain research efforts don’t always reach affected communities – sometimes the ones that need them the most – and a lack of data on how climate impacts different groups of people differently. 

Amina Maharjan, a Senior Specialist on Livelihoods & Migration at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Nepal was part of the group who discussed the above priority during the workshop. Referencing her work, Amina explains that in South Asian countries, migration is a way for people to adapt to climate change. “However, not everybody is able or willing to move and it’s often women and children who are left behind.” These social dynamics are not always well understood, and further knowledge is needed on who is excluded and why. To produce more meaningful research, Amina and her group put forward the need to combine an “eagle view” (through, for instance, satellite data, global discourses) with a “toad’s eye,” a view from the ground where the most vulnerable groups, like women, are truly heard, particularly while planning adaptation interventions.

Beyond the workshops, a future-looking alliance

Erika Malich, a Program Management Officer with the Climate Adaptation and Resilience initiative at IDRC explains that on top of highlighting key opportunities for collaboration within the alliance, the workshops also served as an initial step in engaging the broader adaptation research community. In other words, the workshops created new links between various networks and individuals, forging a new space for future research co-creation. 

“This was one of the most efficient virtual meetings I have experienced,” says Amina from ICIMOD.  “I did not just listen and instead, felt like I was engaged throughout the process, from the preparatory work to the final report.” In the end, she hopes that the alliance will grow as a space where members can learn from each other, collect and grow future seeds of transformation. 

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