City processes in FRACTAL and an indication of what we have learned thus far


Blog by: Jess Kavonic (ICLEI) (output from the FRACTAL annual meeting in November 2016)

A key focus of the Future Resilience for African Cities and Lands (FRACTAL) project is linking city environments and climate scientists. As such, continual engagement with cities is absolutely crucial for the success of the project. To date, a learning lab has been held in Lusaka (Zambia) with two more currently being prepared for Maputo (Mozambique) and Windhoek (Namibia). Face-to-face meetings have occurred in Lusaka, Maputo, Windhoek, Harare (Zimbabwe), Gaborone (Botswana) and Blantyre (Malawi). Within the framework of FRACTAL, updated climate projections were compiled for the City of Cape Town and presented to key decision makers within the city council. Durban is also currently setting up interactions to better understand urban biodiversity and its relation with future regional climate change projections within the project framework.

Through these various engagements, a greater understanding of each city context has been achieved and critical areas of research have been identified. Interestingly, challenges across cities seem very similar, including inter alia: i) limited water supply to the city; ii) limited energy in informal settlements; iii) over-exploitation of urban natural assets; iv) stormwater and sanitation issues; v) flooding and vi) food security. In Lusaka, the only city to currently have had a learning lab, the burning issues were narrowed down with the primary focus for future engagement relating to water challenges in peri-urban areas.

One of the main lessons learned thus far in the FRACTAL project has been the value of face-to-face meetings, which have been essential for creating partnerships and momentum in the cities. through these interactions, key stakeholders and individuals for the co-production process have been identified, along with the different programmes and projects currently occurring in each city. These individuals and projects provide points for future collaboration and present important opportunities for synergies with FRACTAL. The first learning lab process also provided an opportunity for building important relationships and learning lessons about the particular social learning process that FRACTAL is implementing. Collaborating with established organisations and projects (such as the Lusaka Water Security Initiative) proved beneficial during the first learning lab. The FRACTAL project should build on such existing relations, programmes and synergies, filling in key capacity gaps. As the project progresses, further points of collaboration will be identified in each city.

An important part of the FRACTAL process is understanding the decision-making context in each city, to which these initial interactions have contributed. This context is generally quite complex in each city, with ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ decision-making structures and particular individuals fulfilling the role of ‘gate keepers’ or ‘knowledge brokers’. Understanding these complexities often highlights significant points of entry for processes that might lead to better-informed decision making. The institutional arrangements in African cities are particularly dynamic and should consequently be assessed throughout FRACTAL to inform the co-production of climate knowledge. Importantly, complexities and shifts in the decision making space often present a variety of opportunities.

It has been noted that topics related to the challenges posed by the climate are of interest to decision makers within each city, and are therefore useful initial points of engagement. Climate scientists working within FRACTAL have made a point of cautioning decision makers to note that not all current conditions are linked to climate change; in fact, many extreme events could be attributed to climate variability. Existing international platforms are also valuable points for initial engagement, and have the potential to facilitate beneficial synergies (i.e. Compact of Mayors, 100 Resilient Cities programme).

Important lessons were learned through the exercise of providing updated climate projections for the City of Cape Town and running sessions with the key decision makers to better understand these projections. These lessons will be integrated into the planning for similar exercises (narrative production) in other FRACTAL cities. In general, the narrative exercise proved effective in communicating the potential impact of climate change to these stakeholders. In the City of Cape Town, this has resulted in increased levels of engagement between decision makers. However, barriers related to messaging and the way information is communicated have been identified for mainstreaming climate information into city decision-making processes. To this end, further research and engagement should occur to better understand the reluctance  of decision makers to use the available climate information, and how this can be overcome. There is also a real need to better understand what causes mental shifts in the willingness of some decision makers to engage with and use climate information.

A visionary exercise was also undertaken during the Lusaka learning lab, which proved beneficial. Chris Jack of CSAG presented newspaper headlines that people in Lusaka are likely to see in 40 years time (related to El Nino conditions and/or flooding) to spark thinking about how things could change in the future as a result of climate change. It seems that exercises that force decision makers to start thinking and interacting with the future are effective in facilitating interested engagement with climate information.

The FRACTAL project has a very strong focus on transdisciplinary co-production of climate knowledge. In line with this approach, stakeholders in cities play an equally important role as climate scientists (if not more so) in defining their particular city needs. Based on initial engagements, it is apparent that this is not the norm and such a practice is still met with some resistance. It is however recognised that new science and methods are needed. In this context, stakeholders involved in the knowledge co-production process (scientists and city stakeholders alike) might need support to adopt the new approaches that are not driven by long, detailed plans and don’t promise particular deliverables at the get go. This process involves stepping outside the “normal” ways of doing things and allowing some time to adjust.  Transdisciplinary knowledge co-production necessitates particularly strong relationships, which require more time to build.

This progress update and overview of some key learnings was compiled from similar themes that were emergent when all the FRACTAL project cities presented feedback at the 2016 annual FRACTAL event.


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