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Building transformative capacity in southern Africa: Surfacing knowledge and challenging structures through participatory Vulnerability and Risk Assessments

  • African Climate and Development Initiative
  • University if Botsswana


Although participatory approaches are becoming more widespread, to date vulnerability assessments have largely been conducted by technocrats and have paid little attention to underlying causes of vulnerability, such as inequality and biased governance systems. Participatory assessments that recognise the social roots of vulnerability, however, are critical in helping individuals and institutions rethink their understanding of and responses to climate change impacts. This paper interrogates the contribution of Oxfam’s Vulnerability and Risk Assessment methodology to enabling transformation at both personal and institutional levels. Three Vulnerability and Risk Assessment exercises were conducted in Malawi, Botswana and Namibia by one or more of the authors in 2015 and 2016. Reflecting on these workshops, we explore the contribution that a process like the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment may bring to transformation. We conclude that these types of inclusive and representative participatory approaches can shift narratives and power dynamics, allow marginal voices to be heard, build cross–scalar relationships and enable the co-creation of solutions. Such approaches can play a key role in moving towards transformational thinking and action, especially in relation to climate change adaptation.
Building transformative
capacity in southern
Africa: Surfacing
knowledge and
challenging structures
through participatory
Vulnerability and
Risk Assessments
Daniel Morchain
Programme Strategy and Impact Team (PSIT), Oxfam GB,
Oxford, UK
Dian Spear
African Climate & Development Initiative, University Avenue
South, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Gina Ziervogel
Environmental & Geographical Science Building, South Lane,
Upper Campus, University of Cape Town, Cape Town,
South Africa
Hillary Masundire
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Botswana,
Gaborone, Botswana
Margaret N Angula
Department of Geography, History and Environmental
Studies, University of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia
Corresponding author:
Dian Spear, African Climate & Development Initiative, 6th Floor Geological Sciences Building, University
Avenue South, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7700, Cape Town, South Africa.
Action Research
2019, Vol. 17(1) 19–41
!The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1476750319829205
Julia Davies
African Climate & Development Initiative, University Avenue
South, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Chandapiwa Molefe
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Botswana,
Gaborone, Botswana
Salma Hegga
African Climate & Development Initiative, University Avenue
South, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Although participatory approaches are becoming more widespread, to date vulnerabil-
ity assessments have largely been conducted by technocrats and have paid little atten-
tion to underlying causes of vulnerability, such as inequality and biased governance
systems. Participatory assessments that recognise the social roots of vulnerability,
however, are critical in helping individuals and institutions rethink their understanding
of and responses to climate change impacts. This paper interrogates the contribution of
Oxfam’s Vulnerability and Risk Assessment methodology to enabling transformation at
both personal and institutional levels. Three Vulnerability and Risk Assessment exer-
cises were conducted in Malawi, Botswana and Namibia by one or more of the authors
in 2015 and 2016. Reflecting on these workshops, we explore the contribution that
a process like the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment may bring to transformation.
We conclude that these types of inclusive and representative participatory approaches
can shift narratives and power dynamics, allow marginal voices to be heard, build
cross–scalar relationships and enable the co-creation of solutions. Such approaches
can play a key role in moving towards transformational thinking and action, especially
in relation to climate change adaptation.
Vulnerability assessment, adaptation, Southern Africa, participatory process, transfor-
mative capacity, climate change
Action research in the form of truly participatory, representative and inclusive
vulnerability assessments may represent a much-needed shift in risk-reduction
strategies. Indeed, action research involves bringing together a range of
20 Action Research 17(1)
stakeholders to participate in an inclusive process to integrate diverse knowledge
and find solutions to problems that concern them and their communities
(Bradbury, 2015; Brydon-Miller, Greenwood, & Maguire, 2003). This is different
to traditional research projects, which are largely conducted by experts and often
miss the nuances of local context, perspectives and preferences (Brydon-Miller
et al., 2003; Ortiz Arag
on & Glenzer, 2017). They have also tended to focus on
the biophysical impacts of hazards on systems and communities, whilst often over-
looking socio-economic factors like governance and gender inequality (Preston,
Yuen, & Westaway, 2011). Indeed, many vulnerability assessments undertaken in
the context of climate change work have followed this traditional, technocratic
approach. As such, vulnerability assessment approaches have largely lacked crea-
tivity and innovation in their implementation, and likewise have failed to recognise
vulnerability as a social-ecological construct (Tschakert, van Oort, St. Clair, &
LaMadrid, 2013). NGOs and civil society organisations have often filled this gap,
albeit almost exclusively at a local level. Information about these participatory
vulnerability assessments have seldom been published in peer-reviewed journals,
which limits their sectorial impact. However, even participatory vulnerability
assessments have often failed to be sufficiently inclusive of women and marginal-
ised groups, and few have created an environment that enables such groups to
freely take part in the exercise and effectively share their knowledge – leading to
ineffective risk-reduction strategies (Morchain, Prati, Kelsey, & Ravon, 2015).
This lack of focus on social considerations and inequalities in VAs means that
issues of power and local knowledge are ignored (Ravon, 2014).
Action research is essential for dealing with complex problems such as climate
change in a holistic way, as it allows the root causes of marginalisation and vul-
nerability to be explored and questioned (Brydon-Miller et al., 2003; Ortiz Arag
& Glenzer, 2017). This includes questioning the assumptions that drive the current
ways in which we respond to global environmental challenges, and in doing so may
open new paradigms of social change that position people, not technology alone,
at the core of climate change solutions (O’Brien, 2016). In practice, this means
recognising that incremental adaptation efforts are often not enough to overcome
the challenges presented by climate change and other development processes.
Instead, incremental adaptation should operate alongside more strategic
approaches that enhance adaptive and transformative capacity and build resilience
by addressing the systemic causes of vulnerability (Butler et al., 2016; Kates,
Travis, & Wilbanks, 2012; Pelling, O’Brien, & Matyas, 2015; Ziervogel, Cowen,
& Ziniades, 2016). To date, there has been limited work on how vulnerability
assessments might feed into and support a transformative adaptation agenda.
This paper addresses this gap by presenting an approach to vulnerability assess-
ments that goes beyond a biophysical and technical focus to understand relational
and structural vulnerabilities. It aims to reflect on how a cross–scalar vulnerability
assessment process, carried out in Malawi, Botswana and Namibia in 2015 and
2016, might enable transformation that is rooted in social justice and that is
built with the knowledge and experience from a wide range of actors across
Morchain et al. 21
governance scales. As such, acting on climate change related vulnerabilities
becomes an entry point to address multifaceted risks and obstacles to development.
The approach draws on a social learning approach that Chung Tiam Fook (2017)
suggests can help to unearth structural challenges to identify optimal entry points
for transformational adaptation. Such learning is a key component of action
research (Burns, Harvey, & Ortiz Arag
on, 2012).
The action research literature acknowledges that transformation is necessary for
dealing with wicked problems such as climate change and inequality, where
addressing root causes of marginalisation requires engaging with power relations
(Ortiz Arag
on & Glenzer, 2017). What is transformation and how is it enabled?
Here we understand transformation to be a process that, whether implicitly or
explicitly, gradually or suddenly, re-examines the structures that contribute to or
hinder the ability of people to have fair access to opportunities to achieve their
wellbeing. Literature on transformation is deeply embedded in trying to under-
stand structural change and the importance of broader social transformation
(Few, Morchain, Spear, Mensah, & Bendapudi, 2017; Pelling et al., 2015;
Ziervogel et al., 2016). From a justice perspective, transformation requires ques-
tioning who holds power and accountability in society, and how power might be
redistributed to increase representation and inclusivity.
A current example of transformation is the #MeToo movement, which has
challenged historically paternalistic and misogynistic structures (institutions, reg-
ulations, policies and practices e.g. in relation to wage disparities, insufficient rep-
resentation of women in decision making bodies, but also in relation to the
fundamental right to speak up and be heard without fear of reprisal). The move-
ment is redrawing what is considered acceptable and unacceptable in the way men
and institutions act in relation to women. In other words, #MeToo is contributing
to transforming the ways in which power dynamics can – and can no longer –
define gender relations.
Processes like Oxfam’s Vulnerability and Risk Assessment methodology aim to
inspire change that could be considered either transformational (i.e., the transfor-
mation of adaptation practice); or transformative (i.e., the transformation of
broader aspects of development through adaptation activity) (Few et al., 2017).
Such a framing of transformation within vulnerability assessments enables an
exploration of the forces shaping climate governance on a case-by-case basis.
Furthermore, processes like the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment can contest
and eventually contribute to transforming the very ideology of adaptation per
se, which often solely aims to reduce biophysical impacts. Through the lens of
transformation, adaptation responses can be developed in a more inclusive manner
that draws from fringe sources of knowledge (e.g. marginalised groups) and which
frames adaptation in the broader context of development (De Wit, 2018;
Morchain, 2018).
22 Action Research 17(1)
We argue that transformation can be enabled by developing an integrated,
holistic understanding of the broader system in which adaptation takes place, as
well as through the building of relationships and the co-development of solutions
(Few et al., 2017; Pelling et al., 2015; Ziervogel et al., 2016). Fundamental to
enabling this is cross–scalar collaboration and participation between the multiple
stakeholders that play a role in shaping current and desired future adaptation
pathways – a feature of the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment. Not only can
such a participatory approach help stakeholders to develop new skills and build
relationships and networks across scales; it can give a voice to otherwise margin-
alised individuals or groups, thereby building trust, empowering communities and
creating opportunities to shift hierarchical structures of power and authority (see
Butler et al., 2016). Through this exercise, stakeholders begin to gain a better
understanding of how perceived risks and hazards might affect people differently.
New voices, and possibly new leaders, emerge. With an integrated understanding
of the problem, stakeholders can work together to find innovative solutions and
develop a landscape-wide vision for alternative development pathways (Morchain
& Kelsey, 2016).
For engagement to lead to transformation, the process needs to be socially
inclusive and relational. It also needs to challenge existing societal norms, values
and beliefs, and compel stakeholders to question predominant knowledge and
governance structures (Jernsand, 2017). These potential outcomes are all indicators
of transformation, as they initiate new ways of both knowing and doing (also see
Pelling et al., 2015 and Butler et al., 2016). However, sustaining this change beyond
the confines of multi-stakeholder engagement processes requires that transforma-
tion is supported by an enabling – in many cases transformed – institutional envi-
ronment. Without this, deep-rooted and long-lasting change is unlikely to occur.
This means that new policies, plans or agreements may need to be forged and that
organisational structures and values may need to be revisited with transformation
in mind. According to Few et al. (2017, p. 4), radically changing this conventional
formulation requires structural reorganisation (‘a major change in the governance
structures that frame adaptation’) and reorientation (‘a reconfiguration of social
values and social relations in adaptation’).
Investment in capacity building is also critical for enabling transformation. This
is a common challenge in the developing country context, where resources are
usually limited. Burch (2010, p. 287) emphasises that ‘addressing a lack of techni-
cal, financial, or human resources is less a matter of creating more capacity than of
facilitating the effective use of existing resources’. Part of increasing effectiveness in
climate adaptation and development efforts depends, precisely, on ensuring
responses are aligned with the needs of people directly affected, as can be identified
through participatory vulnerability assessments. Capacity building should not be
exclusively understood as, or aimed solely at, building technical skills. Indeed,
leadership and process facilitation skills are key elements in capacity building.
Yet facilitation and leadership skills alone are not able to shift structures.
Rather, their objective should be to steer conversations and promote a constructive
Morchain et al. 23
dialogue that challenges existing power dynamics. Having transformation ‘cham-
pions’ emerge from vulnerability assessments is an ideal outcome. Key to these
processes being long lived is community self-organisation, and the capacity and
willingness of communities to initiate, and live with, change (Butler et al., 2016;
Pelling et al., 2015). Facilitation, understood in the broadest sense, thus plays a key
role in shaping pathways to transformation.
Ziervogel et al. (2016) invite the exploration of an alternative paradigm that
focuses on ‘transformative capacities’ as opposed to adaptive capacities. This con-
scious shift demands a reconsideration of where change needs to happen and, as
such, leads us to explore the extent to which socio-economic structures promote or
hinder equity and sustainability – and subsequently challenge the social injustices
existing within the system. For Ziervogel et al. (2016), acquiring and using trans-
formative capacities means that people can have a say in shaping the world that
they wish to inhabit. This can be pursued by promoting empowerment through
participation and co-creation. However, because this is likely to require shifts in
agency and power, its success will partly depend on a wide spectrum of stake-
holders welcoming, accepting, or exploring collaboratively what new paradigms
might entail. The three mutually reinforcing transformative capacities that
Ziervogel et al. (2016) suggest are needed include: individual agency, social cohe-
sion, and the promotion of a renewed spiritual and pragmatic awareness of the
importance and fragility of our relationship with ecosystems. The three
Vulnerability and Risk Assessments that we ran in Southern Africa aimed to
shift the discussion and the framing of adaptation towards building transformative
The Vulnerability and Risk Assessment process
The Vulnerability and Risk Assessment process, developed by Oxfam in 2013, was
initially aimed at pushing staff, partners and community members to think beyond
the frequently-used programmatic responses to challenges such as disaster risk,
climate change impacts and addressing food insecurity, and to explicitly address
structural challenges across levels of governance. This process has since been
increasingly adopted by academia and multilateral organisations looking to devel-
op a holistic understanding of challenges and opportunities from multiple perspec-
tives. As such, the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment methodology and the action
research approach share the common objective of learning and co-development of
knowledge in line with the principles social learning. They both call for a consid-
eration of power dynamics and a greater understanding of context, which can
result from bringing together different stakeholders with diverse knowledge and
allowing these voices to be heard through inclusive and representative participa-
tion. The Vulnerability and Risk Assessment process aims to give stakeholders the
opportunity to experience the benefits (and difficulties) of thinking about adapta-
tion and development in a multi-hazard, multi-stakeholder, exploratory and par-
ticipatory manner. In seeking social progress, then, the process of understanding
24 Action Research 17(1)
and assessing vulnerability becomes as important, if not more, than its very find-
ings (Preston et al., 2011).
The Vulnerability and Risk Assessment is carried out in a two-day workshop
that is facilitated by a combination of NGO/government officials or NGO/
academic partners. It seeks to include representatives from communities, civil
society organisations, NGOs, academia, local and national government and the
private sector (Morchain & Kelsey, 2016). The first step in the four-step process is
the Initial Vulnerability Assessment, in which a list of hazards and issues are
identified and prioritised in relation to the key social groups and livelihood activ-
ities in question. All participants vote in these prioritisations. In the second step,
Impact Chain Exercise, participants map the direct and indirect impacts of these
priority hazards and issues. This step aims to build a better understanding of how
impacts can multiply and accumulate through systems over time and highlights
possible leverage points for action. Step 3, Adaptive Capacity Analysis, fleshes out
participant ideas for addressing challenges or system inequalities identified in step
2. In the final step, Aligning Findings with Opportunities, the ideas developed are
turned into implementable solutions by participants exploring possible funding
opportunities and identifying key stakeholders that need to be engaged. Where
possible, it also links the findings of the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment to
existing plans and processes. This is important for establishing how the responsi-
bilities for action might be shared amongst stakeholders and for reducing any
possible duplication of efforts and/or allotted finances.
The ultimate objective of this type of vulnerability assessment is to make plan-
ning and decision-making processes more equitable and participatory, and to
increase the agency of people experiencing reduced power to influence such pro-
cesses. Indeed, it is recognised that processes that genuinely enables stakeholder
representation and participation can lead to more beneficial social and environ-
mental outcomes (De Vente, Reed, Stringer, Valente, & Newig, 2016). They also
increase the potential for transformation by questioning prevailing values, norms
and governance; developing new ways of working that are based on
collaboratively-derived visions for an alternative development pathway and pro-
viding a platform for the establishment of new partnerships and cooperatives,
including through community self-organisation. The Vulnerability and Risk
Assessment, nevertheless, is merely a two-day exercise with stakeholders, and as
such it only provides a structure under which these dialogues can start. The real
test of the long-term sustainability of these objectives – and indeed of their
expected outcome of promoting or achieving transformation – is in the follow-
up and in subsequent efforts to consolidate relationships between stakeholders.
Linked to the ‘Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions’ research project, the
Universities of Botswana, Cape Town and Namibia worked with Oxfam GB to
promote research uptake. As part of this partnership an Oxfam GB representative
Morchain et al. 25
trained researchers at these universities in how to conduct a Vulnerability and Risk
Assessment process. Workshops were conducted in Botswana (Masundire et al.,
2016), Malawi (Morchain et al., 2016) and Namibia (Hegga et al., 2016) with
different contexts (see Table 1), co-facilitated by the University staff and Oxfam
GB representative (all co-authors on the paper). Ahead of the Vulnerability and
Risk Assessment, stakeholder-mapping exercises were conducted with local stake-
holders, which led to the identification of the so-called Knowledge Group (the key
stakeholders in the landscape in question). This ensured that a large diversity of
views, including those of marginalised and least powerful groups, would be present
in the room. Ahead of the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment workshop, individ-
uals or institutions within the Knowledge Group were also asked to produce their
own version of the lists of key ‘hazards and issues’ and of ‘social groups and
livelihoods’, as a way to ensure that a wide range of perspectives informed the
framing of the exercise. The Vulnerability and Risk Assessment workshops
brought together the Knowledge Group (ca. 20–35 persons) for a two or two
and a half day event, where the four steps of the methodology were undertaken
as a collaborative effort.
In facilitating the three Vulnerability and Risk Assessments, our intention as
researchers and practitioners was to avoid influencing the process with the agendas
of our project or organisations. This was due to ethical concerns, but also because
a biased process would risk losing legitimacy in the eyes of stakeholders. However,
the fact that we are all knowledgeable about climate change and development
means that we inevitably added substance to the debate through our facilitation.
Reflexivity is important, and we recognise that our affiliations (as academics work-
ing on climate change and an NGO working on poverty reduction) and the nature
of our funding streams (i.e. the ‘Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions’ and the
‘Tea Revitalisation’ projects) themselves strongly framed the discussion. The out-
come would surely have been different if we were health sector professionals, or
even if we worked in the climate field but represented, for example, a multilateral
bank. Therefore, every vulnerability assessment undertaken is itself framed for a
purpose, which affects its outcome. Despite this, we sought to minimise this bias by
framing the problem widely (as one of development and not exclusively of climate
change) and by using our knowledge and experience to gently guide, rather than
regulate, conversations.
Throughout the three workshops, we also consciously tried to promote discus-
sions wherein stakeholders with the least power would have a safe and welcoming
environment to speak, as well as enough time to do so. For example, we avoided
using scientific jargon and encouraged speaking in mother tongue and using ver-
nacular language among stakeholders. Translators were available to assist when
language was an obstacle, and in cases where less powerful groups seemed more
comfortable discussing their ideas in small groups and voicing their consensus
through a neutral translator, rather than a group representative, this was done.
This bottom-up, participatory approach is fundamental to the Vulnerability and
Risk Assessment process. Through ongoing engagement beyond the workshop,
26 Action Research 17(1)
Table 1. Key aspects of Vulnerability and Risk Assessment workshops conducted in Botswana, Malawi and Namibia based on Hegga et al. (2016),
Masundire et al. (2016) and Morchain et al. (2016).
Botswana Malawi Namibia
Climate Semi-arid Tropical Semi-arid
Focus Bobirwa Sub-District
Rural and pseudo-urban
Mulanje and Thyolo Municipalities
Tea industry
Onesi Constituency in the Omusati
Livelihoods Commercial and small-scale/subsis-
tence livestock and crop farming;
Mopane caterpillars; vegetable
trading; handicrafts; social grants
Tea industry: Smallholder
(small scale) tea growing and
commercial (estate) tea growing;
community entrepreneurs; skilled
and unskilled labour
Commercial and small-scale/subsis-
tence livestock and crop farming;
non-timber forest products (e.g.:
mopane caterpillars and marula
fruits); fish harvesting; handicrafts;
social grants
Stakeholders Policy makers; local and district gov-
ernment officials; NGOs; community
leaders; farmers and mopane cater-
pillar harvesters; church group;
community-based organisations;
unemployed youth
Tea estate managers; international
and domestic tea traders and
retailers; national and district
government; local police force;
civil society organisations; union
representatives; community
members; NGOs
Onesi community, the traditional
authority, Red Cross, the SCORE
project, the Onesi Constituency
Development Committee, the Onesi
Constituency Office, Olushandja
Horticulture Association, the
Ministry of Youth, Sports and
Culture, Ministry of Agriculture,
Water and Forestry and Omusati
Regional Council.
and some of
the impact
chain (partial list)
1. Drought !reduction in water, crop
yields, fodder, mopane caterpillars &
wildlife species.
2. Inadequate alternatives to agricul-
ture-based livelihoods !fewer
options for income generation.
1. Climate change !reduced:
quantity and quality of tea pro-
duced, income, food security,
access to water.
2. Low wages, harsh treatment and
sexual harassment of tea
1. Drought !reduced: crop yields,
fodder, water and grass, non-
timber forest products. Increased:
livestock mortality and loss
of wildlife.
Morchain et al. 27
Table 1. Continued
Botswana Malawi Namibia
3. Foot and mouth disease !Extra
time & cost of transportation to
find new markets.
pluckers !poverty, food inse-
curity, victimisation
3. Ageing tea bushes !Low yields,
low quality, reduced employment
& income opportunities.
2. Flood !Increased: damage to infra-
structure, water borne diseases, soil
erosion, loss of life. Decreased:
grazing, crop yields
3. Lack of access to climate informa-
tion !compromised planning
(partial list)
1. Increasing awareness and uptake of
drought management
2. Developing marketing skills
and education
3. Exploring and exploiting opportuni-
ties identified such as the abundance
of groundwater for crop irrigation
and bottling water for human
1. Implementation of national cli-
mate change law and policy;
provision of targeted weather &
climate information
2. Creation of a Working Group to
address sexual harassment;
policy development on reducing
harassment; training of workers
in industrial & labour relations
3. Investment in research and
development in the tea sector
1. Influence uptake of drought manage-
ment strategies and access to
water sources
2. Use of earth dams for flood
3. Strengthening advice and options for
seasonal climate information from
extension officers
28 Action Research 17(1)
this type of approach can help to build trust, enhance the integration of knowledge
and lead to creative and innovative solutions. The Vulnerability and Risk
Assessment process enhances the degree to which stakeholders take ownership
of the problem, because knowledge and trust is built from within the Knowledge
Group itself. This increases commitment to jointly finding and implementing sol-
utions, rather than the identification and implementation of solutions being driven
by external facilitators/researchers.
Identifying and acting on potential contributions
to transformation
The ambition behind conducting the Vulnerability and Risk Assessments in
Botswana, Malawi and Namibia has not just been to understand vulnerability in
a social-ecological landscape that faces both high impacts from climate and envi-
ronmental change and considerable challenges around marginalisation and gover-
nance. These assessments aimed to take an initial step towards collaboratively
identifying transformation pathways in development practices through adaptation
responses. Because of the social learning principles in the design of the
Vulnerability and Risk Assessment process there is a focus on learning from
each other, seeing different perspectives and collectively finding solutions. We
believe the process started to sow the seeds of transformation. Transformations
that aim to shift behaviours, norms and practice need to be embedded and
absorbed within social structures, and as such they exist as continually evolving
processes; not as products. Notwithstanding, there are other transformations that
can result from technological breakthroughs, which can indeed be categorised as
products – e.g. a radically adapted seed. These types of transformations are, nev-
ertheless, less relevant to this discussion. Much of the contribution to transforma-
tion that the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment workshops generated depended
on their appropriate framing. These framings consisted of being deeply cognisant
of power dynamics; seeing current problems in a holistic light; building new rela-
tionships and networks based on trust; and contributing to future change (also see
Butler et al., 2016). Each one of these is described in more detail below.
Participation, power and agency
Participatory processes such as Vulnerability and Risk Assessment can shift dom-
inant power dynamics (see Jernsand, 2017). One place where power imbalances
often reveal themselves is in group settings, where there tend to be unspoken rules
as to who gets to talk and who is listened to. In the Vulnerability and Risk
Assessments, there was mostly a combination of external and internal facilitators,
and each workshop was designed as a structured process that had both plenary and
small group discussions. This meant that all participants were actively encouraged
to participate. The facilitators managed to establish an atmosphere of mutual trust
and respect, which encouraged stakeholders to express their views. This was
Morchain et al. 29
especially important given that the participants were from various backgrounds
and not all were formally educated. One participant in Botswana reflected that ‘this
was an opportunity for different views to come together. Everyone was free to express
themselves on any issue they wanted’. Although some of the participants who were
used to being listened to from their regular position of power tried to ‘push’ their
opinions, others from the local villages, who might not normally say much in a
context where there are government officials, managed to share valuable perspec-
tives and were listened to. One stakeholder reflected that ‘at the beginning of day 1
I didn’t understand why mopane caterpillar harvesters [who are predominantly
female] were sitting around this table. Now it is clear’.
Through the carefully facilitated Vulnerability and Risk Assessment process,
opportunities emerged across all three cases for power differentials to shift in small
ways. This reflects a conscious effort to build agency of the least powerful (one key
transformative capacity) by setting up processes for speaking ‘truth to power’ that
can contribute to narrowing power differentials. In Namibia, an expert from the
agriculture sector acknowledged that he was impressed with the ‘wealth of knowl-
edge and level of understanding of local farmers’. This illustrated the potential to
transform how government officials and experts perceive farmers’ knowledge, and
the possibility to open up new avenues for communication between groups that
might otherwise have limited interaction with one another. Recognition of the
value of local knowledge encourages knowledge co-production, power sharing
and egalitarianism, which is necessary for transforming conventional decision-
making processes.
Vulnerability and Risk Assessments are certainly not a solution for shifting
power, but rather speak to one of the potential ways in which this might be
achieved. Pushing the boundaries of existing structures of authority can be empow-
ering, as evidenced by an elderly basket weaver who commented that ‘I used to
think my ideas weren’t worthwhile. Now I think I can make changes in my life and
I know it is possible’. Once stakeholders became comfortable working together they
found value in the participatory approach. One participant said: ‘I’ve been thin-
king...the next time we should invite ourselves to each other’s meetings rather than
wait for people to come from far to do it’. Indeed, participatory approaches that are
initiated and facilitated internally are an important indicator of transformation.
Vulnerability and Risk Assessments can also serve to promote the agency of
marginalised groups, as they raise awareness of people’s challenges in a semi-public
space, thereby increasing the understanding – and accountability – of authorities.
This could lead to the rise of so-called ‘champions’ at different levels. One striking
aspect of the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment process in Malawi was the issue of
harsh treatment and sexual harassment of tea pluckers. This was at first rejected as
not being relevant or pertinent enough for discussions related to risk and vulner-
ability – which reveals a narrow understanding of vulnerability – but was eventu-
ally recognised by everyone as a key aspect. This shift was enabled by genuine
representation in the group, and by creating an environment whereby one of the
least powerful groups, the tea pluckers, managed to freely convey the issue of
30 Action Research 17(1)
sexual harassment as fundamental to the industry’s sound operation and sustain-
ability. In doing so, they gained support from the representative of the Ministry of
Labour who, from a position of power, managed to impel tea estate managers to
agree to the formation of a multi-stakeholder working group to look into this issue
in more depth. This outcome shows that the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment
can also be a process whereby alliances are formed to push for a specific agenda to
address vulnerability. It has also been found elsewhere that through collaboration,
participants of such processes can have more power working together than indi-
vidually (Brydon-Miller et al., 2003).
Shift in understanding the problem
Underpinning the conceptual frame of the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment is
the opportunity for participants to develop a richer understanding of the ways in
which current issues and hazards affect different social groups and (eco)systems in
the landscape, and how these interactions may overlap and possibly exacerbate the
impact. This exploration includes an analysis of how impacts might be best
addressed, drawing on knowledge from all stakeholders in the group. It is not
surprising, therefore, that the Vulnerability and Risk Assessments led to a shift
in understanding the nature of the challenge at hand. As one of the participants in
the Namibian Vulnerability and Risk Assessment said
‘Through discussions I realized that it’s the information that is needed. If all the people
were here to hear what we have discussed it would be easier for us to deal with the
changes in climate. I am impressed and surprised by the information [we got] – some of
it I didn’t know about.’
In Namibia, the participants found the Impact Chain Analysis exercise to be
particularly valuable. As explained by a government official from the Omusati
Region, ‘the part where we did the Impact Chain Analysis in groups was useful
and interesting because I came to understand the problems arising from the hazards’.
This speaks to building the transformative capacity of changing how we view our
relation to the natural environment (as described by Ziervogel et al., 2016) as a key
factor that can suffer, but also contribute to supporting people’s efforts to build
their resilience. Because different social groups experience the impacts of hazards
differently, according to their vulnerability, the process allowed stakeholders to
understand the same issues from different perspectives.
In the Malawi case, the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment improved everyone’s
understanding of the impacts faced by the tea industry and how different groups
and sectors are affected. In environments that lack strong foundations of repre-
sentative governance, existing power holders tend to understand the meaning of
sustainability of an industry – tea, in this case – almost exclusively from economic/
financial perspectives, thereby overlooking important social aspects. The
Vulnerability and Risk Assessment in Malawi showed that the industry’s
Morchain et al. 31
sustainability has most often been measured according to domestic and macroeco-
nomic indicators, while social risks have largely been ignored. Discussions around
promoting a living wage for unskilled labourers tended to be dismissed with argu-
ments that suggested the industry’s profitability was more important. In this sense,
the transformative element introduced by the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment
was to find a way to foster a multi-stakeholder dialogue whereby the full spectrum
of hazards and issues could be jointly identified, assessed and prioritised. The fact
that ‘sexual harassment and harsh treatment of unskilled workers’ emerged as one
of the four key hazards represented a breakthrough that pushed social issues up in
the discussion about the tea industry’s sustainability. As Few et al. (2017) indicate,
lasting transformative change requires the reorganisation of governance structures
that promote social justice. As seen in the Malawi case, such reorganisations can
benefit from cross-sector partnerships among civil society, private sector
(tea estates) and government (Ministry of Labour).
Through the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment process in Malawi, stakehold-
ers became more aware of the importance of understanding the ‘big picture’ of the
industry’s sustainability, which they began to realise depends not only on its finan-
cial/economic productivity, but also on the wellbeing of its stakeholders. The
emphasis on understanding the system holistically is definitely one of the important
contributions that the Vulnerability and Risk Assessments made. However,
a Vulnerability and Risk Assessment needs to be followed by a longer-term pro-
cess, otherwise it is likely that participants will return to their former way of
understanding climate impacts and adaptation.
Starting to see alternatives
Throughout the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment process, the Knowledge
Group became increasingly comfortable with one another, with the process and
with each other’s points of view. Through this process, the diversity of Knowledge
Group members’ interests and knowledge led to new ideas on adaptation possibil-
ities. These emerging alternatives to traditional ways of approaching development
challenges is a key contribution of the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment towards
transforming the mindsets of stakeholders through collaborative and cross–scalar
ways of thinking.
In Namibia, the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment process helped the group to
realise that there is a lack of self-organisation at the community level, and they
learnt that being more organised could increase their resilience to drought. One
adaptation idea that emerged in this case was that they could work together to set
up a food bank mechanism at the traditional authority office. Each household
could contribute 20 litres of mahangu (pearl millet) after each harvest, which
would serve as a contingency plan for low rainfall seasons and contribute to com-
munal food security.
In Malawi, the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment was valued because it pro-
moted ways to revise the members’ initial assumptions and to think beyond the
32 Action Research 17(1)
obvious threats and opportunities to the industry; i.e. from understanding progress
based on the industry’s financial competitiveness, to progress resulting from a
combination of financial, social and environmental conditions. The Vulnerability
and Risk Assessment provided the methodological approach to do this, as well as a
solutions-oriented approach that enabled participants to come out of the exercise
not just with newly identified problems and risks, but also with jointly generated
ideas to move forward.
Building social networks across scales
In addition to being fundamental to action, relationship building is one of the most
important outcomes of participatory processes (Ortiz Arag
on & Glenzir, 2017). It
is also essential for building the transformative capacity of social cohesion (see
Ziervogel et al., 2016). In all three of the cases, the Vulnerability and Risk
Assessment helped to forge new relationships between stakeholders, especially
across different levels of governance. In Namibia, a member of the Constituency
Development Committee said, ‘I networked with different stakeholders including
UNAM (the University of Namibia, a tertiary institution) and SCORE
(a United Nations Developed Programme climate resilience project). This speaks
to how the workshop linked people working at the local constituency level to those
working on regional and national programmes and with national universities.
A forestry officer at the Namibia Vulnerability and Risk Assessment specified
how important it was to him to have ‘networking and harmonization of multi-
stakeholders to have one objective of addressing the issue [of climate change]’.
In Botswana, the good results of the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment exercise
in Bobirwa, together with strategic efforts by the University of Botswana, caught
the attention of national level government officials, who proposed running a
national level training in Mahalapye in August 2018 (which included a training
on the methodology for district economic and district development officers from
across the country). This provided a rare opportunity for Ministers and Directors
to engage with planning officers and with marginalised groups to stress the impor-
tance of bottom up development and adaptation planning in a practical way. The
sustained engagement of high level government personnel beyond the Mahalapye
event, and the commitment of the trained district level officials from different parts
of the country to support new Vulnerability and Risk Assessment processes (e.g.
coming to co-facilitate one VRA workshop in Chobe District in January 2019)
suggests an honest, meaningful buy-in by key decision-makers. In addition to
developing new relationships, stakeholders who do not usually speak to one anoth-
er were exposed to each other’s views in a safe and informal space for dialogue.
This helped not only in conveying information from the bottom up, but also from
powerful stakeholders to those with less power. In Malawi, for example, tea pluck-
ers appreciated learning about the bigger picture operation of the tea industry and
all its complexities, which seemed to spark a sense of belonging and unity with the
other people present.
Morchain et al. 33
Beyond the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment workshop
Adaptation responses often focus on discrete events and interventions aimed at
reducing climate change risks, impacts and vulnerability. What is clear is that
processes are just as important, particularly when more transformative changes
are needed. As such, there are many conversations, activities, attitudes and struc-
tural arrangements that can either support or hinder transformation. Given that
the two-day workshops were brief, the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment in itself
did not constitute transformation of the system, although it did start to shift ways
of working. Importantly, the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment process set in
motion novel and alternative conversations and processes that can continue to
build transformative capacities and support transformation goals.
In Botswana, a series of engagements emerged from the Vulnerability and Risk
Assessment. The sub-district’s economic planner attended the initial workshop and
asked the team from the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions project to
consider convening another Vulnerability and Risk Assessment workshop within
the sub-district. He wanted staff to gain competence in running a Vulnerability and
Risk Assessment process so that the sub-district council could use the methodology
for future planning, with the intention of undertaking genuinely bottom-up devel-
opment planning processes. This ‘adoption’ of Vulnerability and Risk Assessment
as a planning tool by the sub-district management can be a significant contribution
towards transformation, which crystallised in a national-level event where econom-
ic and planning officers from all districts of the country were trained on
Vulnerability and Risk Assessment in August 2018 (with co-funding provided by
the Government of Botswana). Subsequently, a national newspaper featured a
speech by the Acting Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public
Administration who endorsed the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment, saying
that it made development planning participatory, representative and inclusive.
This indicates high-level buy-in to the process, which is essential for transforma-
tion. Separately, the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions team was also
invited to contribute to the District Development Plan by adding a chapter on
climate change.
Another significant influence beyond the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment
workshops was how the findings were shared through other platforms and
arenas at both regional and sub-national levels. Coming out of the Namibian
Vulnerability and Risk Assessment, a short video was made on the process. This
was used for teaching in South Africa, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands in
courses on vulnerability assessments and climate change and food security/devel-
opment, more generally. In addition, the video was screened at the international
Adaptation Futures conference in 2016, and a Vulnerability and Risk Assessment
role play session was held to promote discussion on emerging vulnerability assess-
ment approaches.
The findings from the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment workshops in
Namibia and Botswana were also presented at the Africa Drought Conference
34 Action Research 17(1)
held in Windhoek, Namibia in 2016. This prompted further informal engagements
amongst the Omusati Regional Council officials during the conference, co-
organised by researchers from the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions proj-
ect. This vertical interaction across scales is central to transformation, yet is often
missing (Pelling et al., 2015). It also provided an opportunity to share a multi-
faceted understanding of vulnerability that drew on social, environmental and
economic concerns, experienced differently, depending on scale and goals.
In Malawi, a direct impact after the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment work-
shop was the intention expressed by the representative of the Ministry of Labour
to revisit existing statutes that protect unskilled labourers in the tea industry from
sexual harassment and harsh treatment and review their enforcement to date.
Although it is difficult to assess direct causality, the Vulnerability and Risk
Assessment process – understood as an element in the larger context of the
Malawi Tea 2020 programme – is likely to have contributed to the promotion of
gender equality in the tea sector, in the form of subsequent investments and alli-
ances with Oxfam by large producers and retailers in the United Kingdom. On the
other hand, this example also shows that the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment
only initiated a moment of transformation. Dealing with the deeper causes that
have led to these attitudes and abuses would require a continued process aimed
at addressing the underlying factors (such as through discussions facilitated by
the working group intended to be created after the Vulnerability and
Risk Assessment).
Lessons learned and conclusions
The Vulnerability and Risk Assessment approach taken in Namibia, Botswana
and Malawi served to build transformative capacities among stakeholders, includ-
ing the three identified by Ziervogel et al. (2016), i.e. agency, social cohesion, and a
new understanding of the relationship between people with ecosystems. The pro-
cess enabled a crucial ‘inward journey’ at both individual and institutional levels. It
also allowed possible adaptation actions to be identified and began paving the way
for imagining more transformative opportunities that could jointly address both
climate risks and broader developmental concerns.
Through the different workshop processes, new light was shed on how different
hazards and risks play out in the three landscapes studied, how the impacts of these
hazards manifest to affect social groups differently, and some of the underlying
factors making people vulnerable. Because of the nature of the Vulnerability and
Risk Assessment process, adaptation responses were explored in the context of the
larger developmental challenge in the southern Africa region, and from a diverse
range of perspectives. In so doing, the process allowed a shift in understanding
climate change as a biophysical challenge alone, to understanding it as a social
issue, largely determined by existing power and governance arrangements. It also
emphasised the need to include a spectrum of knowledge sources to reach an
optimal understanding of the problems at hand. Crucially, the Vulnerability and
Morchain et al. 35
Risk Assessments described here helped to identify and raise the profile of issues
that had been previously unaddressed or not addressed sufficiently, but that none-
theless contribute to the vulnerability of least powerful groups. For example, the
challenges of mopane caterpillar harvesters in Bobirwa; the sexual harassment and
harsh treatment of unskilled labourers in the tea industry in Thyolo and Mulanje;
and the lack of social and self-organisation preventing collective action at the
community level in the Omusati region of Namibia, were all unearthed through
the process. This indicates an early step toward transformation, in that it repre-
sents the advancement of social justice outcomes that could, in the longer term,
increase the effectiveness of adaptation efforts.
Shifting power dynamics by promoting and creating alliances between relatively
powerless and powerful actors across several levels of governance is a step towards
enabling transformation. Alliances can be built so that issues affecting powerless
groups can be acknowledged and addressed together with individuals and institu-
tions with power, where previously these groups had no influence (e.g. the case of
the Ministry of Labour in Malawi supporting the plight of tea pluckers). The three
cases discussed in this paper also show that facilitating women’s participation and
enabling their voices to be heard by decision makers at higher governance levels is
essential for securing social justice as a central objective of transformation in
adaptation. It follows that connecting the outcomes of processes like the
Vulnerability and Risk Assessment with higher levels of government and other
influential stakeholders, including multilateral organisations, is often vital for the
seeds of transformation to have a chance to germinate.
Although Vulnerability and Risk Assessment workshops can improve under-
standing of the problem, forge relationships between different scales and sectors
and identify possible solutions in themselves, for transformation to be enabled
there needs to be a continued process rather than a one-off workshop. In addition,
such a process should be increasingly driven by stakeholders (e.g. local govern-
ments, civil society organisations), rather than by external organisations. This
requires building the capacity and leadership of internal actors and organisations
to convene, organise and facilitate such a process, which itself requires these actors
to appreciate the value of investing their time in it. Ideally, for actions to be taken
forward, leaders that can create and maintain a constructive atmosphere among
participants, including beyond the workshop process, should be identified. The
national level training of government officials in Botswana in August 2018 is illus-
trative of this: following the training, the trainees applied their new skills by run-
ning a Vulnerability and Risk Assessment in Mahalapye District. However, it
became clear that ongoing support from the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment
promoters (in this case the University of Botswana and Oxfam GB) would still be
needed if the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment processes are to be repeated sub-
nationally. In other words, stakeholders’ reactions to the activity suggested their
mindset had welcomed the principles of Vulnerability and Risk Assessment – and
of transformation. However, even with a political mandate and will, such processes
still need operational support.
36 Action Research 17(1)
The implications of Vulnerability and Risk Assessment-type processes are
important to consider for development and climate researchers and practitioners.
The first big change that is required is the way that people and organisations
contribute to framing adaptation. Rather than esteeming ‘expert’ sources of
knowledge and prioritising the biophysical elements of climate change, a more
holistic and people-centred framing is needed. Second, it is important to recognise
power and governance (including climate financing structures) as important
shapers of both vulnerability and adaptation outcomes – and, subsequently, to
include these as key determinants of climate and development research. Third, by
acknowledging social justice and the principles of inclusivity, and making repre-
sentation and fair participation standard to adaptation practice, researchers and
practitioners could contribute to a genuine shift in what the sector values. In this
way, adaptation efforts would centre on people, not on infrastructure and other
technical fixes.
Truly participatory vulnerability assessments tend to be convened and facilitat-
ed by non-governmental or civil society organisations and are therefore rarely
reported in peer-reviewed journals. Action research offers the opportunity to main-
stream vulnerability assessments in academic circles, with a renewed appreciation
that vulnerability assessments need to address social injustice and the climate
change adaptation problem beyond a technocratic/biophysical narrative. By cre-
ating dialogue spaces, building social capital, confronting embedded practices and
promoting learning, vulnerability assessments can help promote transformations
in the face of complex challenges (Ortiz Arag
on & Glenzer, 2017). Indeed, engag-
ing in participatory processes that can shift narratives and power dynamics; allow
marginal voices to be heard; build cross–scalar relationships; and enable people to
see the need for systemic change and co-created alternative solutions, is an impor-
tant step in better understanding and influencing the context in which such trans-
formations can occur.
It is time for leading institutions in the climate change sector to recognise that
achieving more socially just outcomes from adaptation efforts requires transform-
ing the approaches they have so far pursued, even though this may risk their
current influential positions. Indeed, it would be disingenuous to call for transfor-
mation in the sector, while expecting at the same time to preserve intact the roles
and privileged positions of power of researchers, practitioners, and members of
multilateral and donor institutions. Transformation, after all, also requires looking
inwards and being willing to dissent and disrupt an existing order that largely
disregards justice in climate change adaptation.
We are grateful to all the stakeholders for their active participation in the Vulnerability and
Risk Assessment workshops. Irene Kunamwene, Kulthoum Omari Motsumi, Nelly
Raditloaneng and Elizabeth Ndeunyema are thanked for assisting with facilitating small
group discussions, and Itireleng Masilo and Letsweletse Mponang are thanked for
Morchain et al. 37
translating. We welcome and invite your comments and reactions at our action research
community’s interactive ARJ blog housed at ARþ
Declaration of conflicting interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, author-
ship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, author-
ship, and/or publication of this article: Some of this work was carried out under the
Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions project (ASSAR). ASSAR is one of four research
programmes funded under the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and
Asia (CARIAA), with financial support from the UK Government’s Department for
International Development (DfID) and the International Development Research Centre
(IDRC), Canada. The views expressed in this work are those of the creators and do not
necessarily represent those of DfID and IDRC or its Board of Governors. The South
African Department of Science and Technology is also acknowledged for funding some
of this research.
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Author biographies
Daniel Morchain is senior adviser of Resilience & Climate Change Adaptation at
Oxfam GB, based in Oxford, UK. Daniel was a co-principal investigator of the
Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR) project (2014-2018).
Dian Spear was the Southern Africa lead of the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid
Regions (ASSAR) project (2014-2018) based at the University of Cape Town.
Gina Ziervogel is an associate professor in the Department of Environmental and
Geographical Science, and a Research Chair at the African Climate and
Development Initiative at the University of Cape Town. Her research focuses on
climate adaptation and development at both the household and municipal level,
with a focus on applied and interdisciplinary projects.
Hillary Masundire is a professor of Ecology in the Department of Biological
Sciences at the University of Botswana. He was the Botswana lead of the
ASSAR project.
Margaret N Angula is a senior lecturer in the Department of Geography, History
and Environmental Studies at the University of Namibia. Her current research
focuses on gender and vulnerability assessments as well as climate change adap-
tation. She was a researcher on the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions
(ASSAR) project.
Julia Davies was a senior research assistant on the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-
Arid Regions (ASSAR) project at the University of Cape Town, where she con-
tributed to research on climate change adaptation and development challenges in
Namibia and Botswana. She is now a PhD student in the School of Geography and
40 Action Research 17(1)
Development at the University of Arizona and is working on urban food security
and climate change issues in sub-Saharan Africa.
Chandapiwa Molefe was research assistant on the ASSAR project, she coordinated
and facilitated research themes in Botswana, as well as contributing to research on
Climate change governance, Social differentiation and Dynamics of
Ecosystem services.
Salma Hegga is an independent consultant and interdisciplinary researcher of
environmental changes and disaster resilience. She was a post-doctoral research
fellow on the ASSAR project the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions
(ASSAR) project.
Morchain et al. 41
... participants with firsthand adaptation experience to speak up, then the outcomes of the workshop, such as a theory of change or indicator framework, will not reflect a complete understanding of challenges and possible solutions. Structural inequalities may be present between local actors and external actors (such as donors and MEL practitioners), among actors at the local level, between local government and civil society, or between women and men (Morchain et al. 2019). As such, it is important for LLA interventions to deliberately encourage equity. ...
... Steps can be taken throughout the MEL cycle to mitigate the effect of structural inequalities on MEL, including conducting gender and social equity assessments, ensuring balanced and representative decision-making structures, and including indicators to understand the equity of decision-making processes. In applying Oxfam's Vulnerability and Risk Assessment methodology in Malawi, Botswana, and Namibia, Morchain et al. (2019) acknowledged how their position as academics would bias the outcomes of the assessment. They broadened the framing of the assessment to include development priorities, in addition to climate priorities, and used translators and breakout groups to mitigate the effect of preexisting cultural norms and power dynamics in group discussions (Morchain et al. 2019). ...
... In applying Oxfam's Vulnerability and Risk Assessment methodology in Malawi, Botswana, and Namibia, Morchain et al. (2019) acknowledged how their position as academics would bias the outcomes of the assessment. They broadened the framing of the assessment to include development priorities, in addition to climate priorities, and used translators and breakout groups to mitigate the effect of preexisting cultural norms and power dynamics in group discussions (Morchain et al. 2019). ...
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Locally led adaptation recognizes that people closest to the effects of climate change, especially those facing structural marginalization, require the financing and decision-making power to ensure that adaptation investments reflect their priorities. Supporters of locally led adaptation can leverage monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) processes to balance power, promote mutual accountability, elevate local knowledge and priorities, and create value for local actors. This paper recommends a systemic shift toward MEL that is locally led, context-aware, and itself adaptive. It provides steps throughout the MEL cycle and specific approaches, methods and tools that promote local agency in the interest of more effective and equitable locally led adaptation interventions. It builds on the recommendations of the Global Commission on Adaptation to increase decentralization of adaptation finance to the local level, and aims to support implementation of the eight Principles for Locally Led Adaptation that were developed for the Commission.
... Despite the differences in the framings of the three groups, "training" and "education" were both the top priority solutions for all three groups. Capacity building, such as in training and education, is crucial to enable transformational action [52] to the extent that the term "transformative capacity"-the capacity of individuals and organisations to imagine, enact and sustain a transformed society in a deliberate way [53]. Transformation, through the building of relationships and the co-development of solutions, is necessary if wicked problems are to be tackled [52]. ...
... Capacity building, such as in training and education, is crucial to enable transformational action [52] to the extent that the term "transformative capacity"-the capacity of individuals and organisations to imagine, enact and sustain a transformed society in a deliberate way [53]. Transformation, through the building of relationships and the co-development of solutions, is necessary if wicked problems are to be tackled [52]. The majority of the solutions discussed by the groups were not only transformational but also social, requiring collaboration, linking to one of Ziervogel et al.'s [44] three central aspects of transformational capacity, namely social cohesion. ...
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Companion animal management in Australian remote Aboriginal communities (rAcs) is a complex problem with multiple stakeholders involved, with differing needs, knowledge, power and resources. The Comm4Unity (Cycle of Multiple Methods for Unity—For Community) approach was designed to address such problems. This study represents the second step of the Comm4Unity framework, where a causal loop analysis (CLA) was adapted and tested as a tool to address the issue of dog overpopulation in Wurrumiyanga, and in particular the systemic causes of the problem and necessary transformational management solutions. Ten focus group discussions (FGDs) were held amongst three of the four stakeholder groups identified during the first step in the analysis. The CLA identified 13 positive feedback loops, which drive vicious cycles and perpetuate the dog overpopulation issue. All three groups agreed and developed 22 solutions to address the causes of dog overpopulation. Despite the differences in the framings of the three groups, “training” and “education” were both the top priority solutions for all three groups. The majority of the solutions discussed by the groups were not only transformational but also social, requiring collaboration. This study was successful in so far as transformational actions were co-developed by all FGDs, which may have also built capacity and agency amongst the local community to implement them as a cohesive group.
... Many studies suggested that the better way is to bring together stakeholders and participate in an inclusive process to integrate knowledge and find solutions to problems related to them and their communities [20,21]. These scholars believe that this is different from traditional research projects, mainly carried out by experts who often miss the nuances of local background, views, and preferences [21][22][23]. Experts have traditionally focused on the biophysical effects of "hazards" on systems and communities while often ignoring socioeconomic factors such as governance and gender inequality [22,24]. ...
... These scholars believe that this is different from traditional research projects, mainly carried out by experts who often miss the nuances of local background, views, and preferences [21][22][23]. Experts have traditionally focused on the biophysical effects of "hazards" on systems and communities while often ignoring socioeconomic factors such as governance and gender inequality [22,24]. ...
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Climate change is apparent, and the impacts are becoming increasingly fierce. The community’s adaptation is more important than before. Community-based adaptation (CBA) is now gaining worldwide attention. Taiwan has promoted disaster prevention communities (DPC) for many years. Although the communities’ promotion can increase their capacity to promote efficiency, the top-down job designation may not adequately meet the community’s needs. This research aims to establish a community adaptation model and focus on building community adaptation capabilities from the bottom-up due to climate change. We design a community adaptation model that integrated climate change adaptation (CCA) and disaster risk reduction (DRR). A disaster reduction and climate adaptation (DRCA) risk template was illustrated and adopted in the study. The 2D flooding model using future rainfall simulates the flooding depth for the hazard for it. This information is offered for discussing possible countermeasures with residents during the participatory risk analysis process. An urban laboratory concept is also adopted in this study. The Zutian community, Tucheng District, New Taipei City, Taiwan, a flood-prone community, served as a case study area to illustrate those concepts and tools. The proposed adaptation model could then strengthen the community’s resilience to cope with future impacts due to climate change.
... Given the trade-offs involved in transformational change in the context of climate risk management and adaptation, societal readiness to initiate and accept change is often listed as an important success factor for transformational change processes along with the presence of incentives (see e.g. IPCC 2012; Morchain et al. 2019;Mummery and Mummery 2019;O'Brien 2012;Pelling, O'Brien, and Matyas 2015). Other factors referred to across the literature include "applying practices that unleash human potential" (Fazey, Carmen, et al. 2018, 37) and creativity, learning capacities, regular monitoring and evaluation of progress towards change, but also strategic approaches that include short-term goals and low-regret anticipatory interventions and assess trade-offs and thresholds, visionary leadership and individual change champions, broad stakeholder engagement and collaboration in change coalitions, as well as sufficient access to resources and effective communication (see e.g. ...
... IPCC 2014; Kates, Travis, and Wilbanks 2012;Thomalla et al. 2018;World Bank 2019a). Some papers also refer to specific processes, such as Oxfam's Vulnerability and Risk Assessment methodology (Morchain et al. 2019) or the mainstreaming of climate risk management and adaptation (Wamsler 2017), as examples of transformative approaches, connoting its potential to foster more inclusive, development-centered approaches to climate risk management and adaptation. Others suggest that transformational approaches entail "a complete change in direction … [as for example] drought-resilient crops may be of no use if the site is not fit for" (World Bank 2019a, 18), changes in livelihood strategies following continued crop loss due to changing rain patterns or a shift to addressing the underlying drivers of risk, which in the case of flood risk could entail a shift from sea walls to a change in city planning and flood water management (IPCC 2018b). ...
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In the context of strong evidence on mounting climate-related risks and impacts across the globe, the need for ‘transformational change’ in climate risk management and adaptation responses has been brought forward as an important element to achieve the Paris ambitions. In the past decade, the concept has experienced increasing popularity in policy debates and academic discussions but has seen heterogeneous applications and little practical insight. The paper aims to identify relevant perspectives on transformative approaches and transformational change in the context of climate risk management and adaptation to propose an actionable definition for practical application. Using a systematic search and review approach, we review different perspectives across policy and scientific publications, focusing on work published in the past decade and identify common features of what transformational change in the context of climate risk management and adaptation may involve. We show that different perspectives on transformational change in the context of climate risk management and adaptation persist, but certain areas of convergence are discernible. This includes understanding transformational change as part of a spectrum that begins with incremental change; involves climate risk management and adaptation measures focusing on deep-rooted, system-level change and tends to aim at enabling more just and sustainable futures; often oriented towards the long-term, in anticipation of future climate-related developments. In addition, we identify an ‘operationalisation gap’ in terms of translating transformational change ambitions into concrete transformative measures that can be replicated in practice.
... Several authors, however, provide more hopeful expositions of how researchers and consultants can center local knowledge in resilience research and interventions. Morchain et al. (2019), for example, illustrate how Oxfam's approach to assessing vulnerability and risk to climate impacts in the Global South provides a voice to otherwise marginalized groups and individuals through cross-scalar and cross-cultural collaboration. Other studies highlight the role of researchers in paving new ways to include local perspectives in resilience knowledge building, in particular through participation and co-development (Bremer et al., 2017;Grabowskia et al., 2019;Kmoch et al., 2018). ...
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Resilience thinking has undergone profound theoretical developments in recent decades, moving to characterize resilience as a socio‐natural process that requires constant negotiation between a range of actors and institutions. Fundamental to this understanding has been a growing acknowledgment of the role of power in shaping resilience capacities and politics across cultural and geographic contexts. This review article draws on a critical content analysis, applied to a systematic review of recent resilience literature to examine how scholarship has embraced nuanced conceptualizations of how power operates in resilience efforts, to move away from framings that risk reinforcing patterns of marginalization. Advancing a framework inspired by feminist theory and feminist political ecology, we analyze how recent work has presented, documented, and conceptualized how resilience intersects with patterns of inequity. In doing so, we illuminate the importance of knowledge, scale, and subject‐making in understanding the complex ways in which power and resilience become interlinked. We illustrate how overlooking such complexity may have serious consequences for how socio‐natural challenges and solutions are framed in resilience scholarship and, in turn, how resilience is planned and enacted in practice. Finally, we highlight how recent scholarship is advancing the understandings necessary to make sense of the shifting, contested, and power‐laden nature of resilience. Paying attention to, and building on, such complexity will allow scholarly work to illuminate the ways in which resilience is negotiated within inequitable processes and to address the marginalization of those continuing to bear the brunt of the climate crisis. This article is categorized under: Climate and Development > Social Justice and the Politics of Development
... Yet these same actors may be keenly interested to learn from research that provide insights from relevant local-level experience. For example, work in Botswana and Namibia drew upon practical actions at the district level to connect with the national policy processes on drought and vulnerability (Morchain et al. 2019). Local-level experience can also feed into global-level debates. ...
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Climate action ahead of 2030 requires ambitious research that is fit for purpose: working across scale, creating synergy among cohorts of projects, and enabling capacity to pursue research uptake. Research needs to bridge local and national levels and provide evidence that informs decisions with decadal implications. To become more than the sum of its constituent activities, research programmes and consortia require learning frameworks and equitable partnership among participating organisations. Beyond scholarships and fellowships for training and independent study, exchanges and embedding in real-world settings practical experiences allow people to gain experience beyond academia in diverse host institutions. Greater emphasis needs to be given to the spectrum extending from research to its application, including co-production and knowledge brokering with local people and decision-makers.
... For example, Oxfam and UB team members developed new collaborative capacities (Freeth and Caniglia, 2019) to engage with local stakeholders and government leadership and have maintained an ongoing partnership even after the end of the CARIAA program, representing both cognitive and A key area of emphasis in ASSAR was the uptake of research evidence into government planning and decision making. One way this uptake was encouraged was through a series of capacity building exercises, such as training in a participatory model of Vulnerability and Risk Assessment (VRA) designed to focus climate adaptation policies on the most vulnerable (Morchain et al., 2019). In Botswana, ASSAR's VRA approach was particularly appreciated and was later adopted by the government for planning at district and national scales. ...
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Facilitated learning approaches are increasingly being used as a means to enhance climate and sustainability collaborations working across disciplines, regions, and scales. With investments into promoting and supporting inter-and transdisciplinary learning in major programs on complex global challenges like climate change on the rise, scholars and practitioners are calling for a more grounded and empirical understanding of learning processes and their outcomes. Yet, methodologies for studying the interplay between learning and change in these initiatives remain scarce, owing to both the "hard to measure" nature of learning and the complexity of large-scale program implementation and evaluation. This paper proposes a new method for studying social learning in the context of large research programs. It aims to analyze the social learning of researchers and practitioners engaged in these programs and assess the contributions of this learning to the resilience of the natural and social systems that these programs seek to influence. We detail the theoretical basis for this new approach and set out six steps for developing multi-layered contribution pathways and contribution stories with stakeholders to document both the process and outcomes of social learning. The proposed method, we argue, can strengthen our analytical capacity to uncover the structural drivers and barriers to social learning that are often masked by the complexity of large-scale programs. An illustrative example, drawn from a large-scale climate adaptation research program, provides evidence on how this method might advance our methodological strategies for studying learning in these programs. We conclude by highlighting two key methodological contributions brought about through this approach, and by reflecting on opportunities for further methodological development. Enriching our understanding of learning and change processes, we argue, is an important avenue for understanding how we can pursue transformations for sustainability.
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Después de 30 años de escepticismo acerca de la naturaleza del cambio climático, hoy en día, existe un reconocimiento de que el cambio climático es el producto de la acción antropógena bajo una visión y gestión fallida sobre el uso de los recursos que el planeta nos brinda para nuestra subsistencia. Para salvaguardar el desarrollo en áreas afectadas por la variabilidad y el cambio climático es necesario gestionar los riesgos asociados a las amenazas climáticas. La identificación y reducción de estos riesgos puede ayudar a proteger a las personas, sus medios de vida y sus bienes. La gestión del riesgo climático se debe centrar en el desarrollo de sectores que, como la agricultura, los recursos hídricos, la seguridad alimentaria, la salud, el medio ambiente y los medios de subsistencia, son muy sensibles al cambio y a la variabilidad del clima. Así la gestión y la prevención de los riesgos climáticos implica no sólo el replanteamiento de los modelos de desarrollo, las políticas y los marcos institucionales tradicionales, sino también el fortalecimiento de las capacidades locales, nacionales y regionales para diseñar e implementar medidas de gestión de riesgos, mediante la coordinación de una amplia gama de actores, entre los que se encuentran gobierno, sector económico, organizaciones no gubernamentales, organizaciones de la sociedad civil y miembros de la comunidad científica. El desarrollo de capacidades se manifiesta a través de instrumentos de política, instituciones, sociedad participativa y conocimiento local. La utilidad de cada proyecto de adaptación depende de que haya un usuario o beneficiario, es decir quien experimenta las consecuencias positivas o negativas del clima y de la medida. En todo proceso de adaptación, la participación activa y continua de los actores clave es fundamental. Además de evaluar los impactos presentes y futuros del clima, es importante realizar un análisis consensuado con los actores locales, quienes deberán sancionar y estar de acuerdo, o bien ajustar el diagnóstico de la vulnerabilidad de los municipios o de localidades en donde se aplica el proyecto de adaptación. De esta manera se podrá evaluar conjuntamente con la sociedad si la medida propuesta es la más adecuada a las necesidades de cada sitio y resulta viable su aplicación, además de prever arreglos o acuerdos para su implementación. Con ésta publicación se fomentan conocimientos para explorar la problemática ambiental y social ante los impactos climáticos, y cobrarán un significado en la medida que los estudiantes y académicos, la utilicen para continuar con el diagnóstico climático en función de la vulnerabilidad de los jaliscienses.
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Mainstreaming climate change and future uncertainty into rural development planning in developing countries is a pressing challenge. By taking a complex systems approach to decision-making, the adaptation pathways construct provides useful principles. However, there are no examples of how to operationalise adaptation pathways in developing countries, or how to evaluate the process. This paper describes a 4 year governance experiment in Nusa Tenggara Barat Province, Indonesia, which applied adaptive co-management (ACM) as a governance approach to 'prime' a transformation to adaptation pathways-based development planning. The project's Theory of Change (ToC) consisted of three causally-linked phases which mirrored the evolutionary stages of ACM: priming stakeholders, enabling policies and programs, and implementing adaptation. The first phase established a trans-disciplinary research team to act as facilitators and brokers, a multi-stakeholder planning process demonstrating adaptation pathways practice, and tri-alling of 'no regrets' adaptation strategies in case study sub-districts. A participatory evaluation method was designed to test the ToC's assumptions and measure ACM outcomes. Stakeholder interviews at the project's closure indicated that through ACM, stakeholders had been successfully primed: leaders emerged, trust, cross-scale social networks and knowledge integration grew, communities were empowered, and innovative adaptation strategies were developed and tested. However, there was limited evidence of institutional change to existing planning processes. This was attributed to the absence of policy windows due to ineffective and insufficient time for political engagement, and the fluid institutional environment caused by a national decentralisation policy. To enhance the priming of adaptation pathways into development planning under these conditions, three recommendations are made: (1) provide long term support for emergent leaders and brokers to become 'policy entrepreneurs' who can capitalise on policy windows when they appear, (2) establish and support local livelihood innovation niches as 'bridgeheads' for ACM, and (3) maintain participatory evaluation amongst primary stakeholders to rekindle ACM.
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In recent years there has been a growing number of academic reviews discussing the theme of transformation and its association with adaptation to climate change. On the one hand this has stimulated exchange of ideas and perspectives on the parameters of transformation, but it has also given rise to confusion in terms of identifying what constitutes a non-incremental form of adaptation on the ground. What this article aims to do instead is help researchers and practitioners relate different interpretations of transformation to practice by proposing a typological framework for categorising forms of change that focuses on mechanisms and objectives. It then discusses how these categorisations link to the broader conceptions and critiques noted above, with the idea that this will enable those who seek to analyse or plan adaptation to better analyse what types of action are potentially constitutive of transformation. In doing so, it should equally assist in the identification and specification of critical questions that need to be asked of such activity in relation to issues of sustainability and equity.
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Planned international development—Official Development Assistance—pretends to address complex, intergenerational problems. The pretense is endemic to, and necessary for, the continuation of the development enterprise, frequently leading to docile projects. Official Development Assistance’s methodologies and methods are ill-matched for confronting such problems, while those of action research are well-suited to the task. Yet Official Development Assistance and action research are only infrequent and ephemeral bedmates. Research from five sites on three continents reveals five lessons for untaming aid through action research: (1) plan and develop programming iteratively and over long time frames to offer meaningful support to people’s lives, (2) develop new connective tissue and relational capital, (3) commit to inquiry and learning in specific contexts, (4) incrementally confront culturally embedded practice in a safe and feasible manner, and (5) use methodology to develop safe and participatory spaces that engage tacit and explicit perspectives and ways of knowing. This article, the introductory essay to the Action Research Journal’s special issue, “Development, Aid, and Social Transformation,” argues that adoption of these five practices could help untame Official Development Assistance and make it more powerful, ethical, and transformative.
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The commitment to understanding the implications of a 1.5°C global temperature warming limit has contributed to a growing realisation that transformative adaptation is necessary to avoid catastrophic environmental and social consequences. This is particularly the case in urban settlements where disconnection from the systems that support life is pervasive and injustice and inequality play out daily. This paper argues that in order to transform towards thriving social-ecological systems, transformative capacity needs to be strengthened. The paper builds on the rich literature of adaptive capacity, alongside concepts of transformation that are drawn from resilience theory, organisational change, and developmental psychology. Reconnection to life-support systems, agency, and social cohesion are put forward as three foundational aspects of transformative capacity. A transdisciplinary case study of the FLOW programme in the Bergrivier Municipality, South Africa, is used to explore how transformative capacity has been built in practice. The case study explores an innovative programme that works with unemployed urban youth, alongside the exploration and introduction of a community currency in the informal business sector, and strengthening cross-scalar interaction between the local municipality and youth. The paper suggests that working across sectors and scales in a transdisciplinary manner is a challenging endeavour but necessary for building inclusive, thriving, and regenerative urban settlements.
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Although the design of participatory processes to manage social-ecological systems needs to be adapted to local contexts, it is unclear which elements of process design might be universal. We use empirical evidence to analyze the extent to which context and process design can enable or impede stakeholder participation and facilitate beneficial environmental and social outcomes. To explore the role of design and minor variations in local context on the outcomes of participatory processes, we interviewed participants and facilitators from 11 case studies in which different process designs were used to select sustainable land management options in Spain and Portugal. We analyzed interview data using quantitative and qualitative approaches. Results showed that although some aspects of local context affected process outcomes, factors associated with process design were more significant. Processes leading to more beneficial environmental and social outcomes included the following: the legitimate representation of stakeholders; professional facilitation including structured methods for aggregating information and balancing power dynamics among participants; and provision of information and decision-making power to all participants. Although processes initiated or facilitated by government bodies led to significantly less trust, information gain, and learning, decisions in these processes were more likely to be accepted and implemented. To further test the role of context in determining the outcomes of participation, we interviewed facilitators from a process that was replicated across 13 dryland study sites around the world, reflecting much greater national variations in context. The similarity of outcomes across these sites suggested that the socio-cultural context in which the process was replicated had little impact on its outcomes, as long as certain design principles were fulfilled. Overall, our findings provide a solid empirical basis for good practice in the design of participatory processes in the management of social-ecological systems.
Participatory tourism development projects are considered effective and democratic since they engage people in interactive learning processes that change individuals and societies. In order to be transformative, a relational and social process must be acheived, which challenges prior knowledge and beliefs. The purpose of this article is to explore engagement as a transformative feature of research and development practice. Three aspects of engagement are proposed through which higher learning loops and transformation can be enhanced: embodied and situated learning, relationship-building, and acknowledging and sharing power. These three aspects of engagement are explored through the case of developing an ecotourism site by Lake Victoria in Kenya.
Climate change is recognized as an urgent societal problem with widespread implications for both natural and human systems, and transforming society at the rate and scale that is mandated by the 2015 Paris Agreement remains a major challenge. Do we need to be open to new paradigms for social change? In this opinion piece, I draw attention to the emerging field of quantum social theory and consider its implications for climate change responses. Quantum social theory considers how concepts, methods and understandings from quantum physics relate to societal issues, and it provides a physically based, holistic perspective on conscious and intentional transformations to sustainability. It is distinct from other social theories in that it raises deep metaphysical and ontological questions about what is really real. I explore the methodological, metaphorical and meaningful significance of quantum social theory for understandings of social change. Quantum concepts such as entanglement, complementarity, uncertainty, and superposition provide a strong basis for recognizing and promoting people as the solution to climate change. WIREs Clim Change 2016, 7:618–626. doi: 10.1002/wcc.413 This article is categorized under: Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change > Values‐Based Approach to Vulnerability and Adaptation Trans‐Disciplinary Perspectives > Humanities and the Creative Arts