Clusters of Collaboration

To meet the objectives of FRACTAL, partners have developed “clusters of collaboration” (a.k.a clusters) within which FRACTAL activities are undertaken. To facilitate transdisciplinarity, these clusters are dynamic, with partners from different organisations contributing to research and activities across clusters. These clusters are described below.


The cross-cutting cluster engages with FCFA colleagues, facilitates coordination and transdisciplinary learning across other collaboration clusters, and coordinates capacity building opportunities. This cluster also manages administrative tasks across clusters and coordinates the cross-cutting meetings.

During the first year of FRACTAL, activities in the cross-cutting cluster focused on setting up mechanisms for capacity building, engagement and research. This cluster is now looking forward to strengthen programmatic engagement, communications and uptake for the project. Moreover, this cluster is working with the city learning and nexus clusters to develop a comprehensive Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) framework for the project, which will align with the broader FCFA impact strategy (currently under development). The FRACTAL MEL framework will enable valuable reflection and learning processes at the city, project and broader community-of-FRACTAL level. These processes are necessary in the context of transdisciplinary knowledge co-production and co-exploration. The cross-cutting cluster is also working closely with CCKE (see consortium partner page) to leverage capacity building opportunities within FRACTAL.


The nexus cluster undertakes research that contributes to understanding the urban-regional flows and systems within each city, particularly for critical resources such as for water and energy. This cluster focuses on producing: i) institutional and decision-making maps; ii) water and energy models; and iii) conceptual systems models for each city which capture perceptions and understanding around water (supply, waste, quality, etc.), energy (electricity supply and demand, other energy sources), and tentatively food (major food supply sources and pathways). The work undertaken within the nexus cluster contributes to all work packages, with a strong focus on WPs 2 and 3.

During the first year of FRACTAL, the nexus cluster focussed on developing a conceptual, heuristic model for Lusaka. Similar models will likely be built for Maputo and Windhoek. Further co-development of these models is intended to be a modular, adaptive, qualitative-quantitative process facilitating integration of physical and social aspects of the FRACTAL project, and possibly growing into a main platform for that integration. The prototype for Lusaka was set up using a freeware online tool Insight Builder, and opened to discussion amongst cluster participants (natural and social scientists). The model has been formulated to include three layers: physical system, institutions and policies, aiming to map the connections and linkage between them. In its current state, this model could be considered a baseline for the case study in Zambia.
In the second year, the nexus cluster will focus on the concepts of critical zones (the city-regions in which FRACTAL is working) and decision-scaling. This cluster is also working with cross-cutting cluster to spearhead transdisciplinary learning processes.

Decision making

This cluster undertakes research that contributes to understanding the decision-making and governance processes (current and desired) related to climate change (including the current and historical use of climate information in governance) and the critical resources (namely water and energy) in FRACTAL cities. Various relevant decision-support tools are being tested through research activities within this cluster.
During the first year of FRACTAL, the decision-making cluster worked closely with the nexus cluster to developed the conceptual, heuristic model for Lusaka. The cluster also initiated an analysis of policy, planning and legislation documents for Tier 1 cities. Formal and semi-formal decision methods for each of the Tier 1 cities are also being reviewed. Looking forward into the second year of FRACTAL, the decision making cluster will develop a concept on “what is a resilient city?”. City background reports that were developed in the first year of the project have been ground-truthed within the cluster, and will be finalised with city officials in the coming months. An argumentative discourse analysis is currently underway, along with mapping of key stakeholders within the Tier 1 cities.

City learning

The city learning cluster co-ordinates the work that is happening on the ground in cities, to ensure sound co-ordination and learning with the city partners. These partners include Tier 1 cities (Lusaka, Maputo and Windhoek), Tier 2 Cities (Blantyre, Gaborone and Harare) and self-funded Cities (Durban and Cape Town). In particular, this cluster coordinates activities related to the learning labs, embedded research, and knowledge and learning exchanges.

During the first year of FRACTAL, this cluster focused on building relationships with city partners, and conceptualising ideas related to city learning processes. The city learning cluster also initiated the process of recruiting embedded researchers in Tier 1 cities. This process will continue into the second year of the project. In September 2016, the city learning cluster will drive the first learning lab dialogues in Lusaka.

Climate information

This is the climate information cluster. This cluster is concerned with the distillation and co-production/co-exploration of climate information for decision making. To improve methods for sharing climate information, this cluster will also experiment with innovative visualisation and data exploration methods (informed by user engagement and feedback). The climate information cluster is tasked with exploring effects of baseline attributes and uncertainties, climate process drivers and sources of contradictions and added value.

During the first year of FRACTAL, the climate information cluster developed a framework for “needs-informed research: assessing climate processes”. This cluster also worked with the City of Cape Town to update climate projections for the city, and developed a catalogue of observed data sets of relevance. Importantly, the cluster undertook a lot of planning on a conceptual level, focussed on five main themes: i) what is our current understanding of climate processes in Southern Africa? ii) catalogue of processes; iii) catalogue of data sources; iv) how do we index/measure processes? and v) how do we index/measure process chains?

The climate information cluster is planning to work with the other clusters (city learning, decision making and nexus) to develop narratives for the first learning labs, which will take place in September (in Lusaka) and thereafter.