Lily Greig – email@example.com
The Walker Academy, the capacity strengthening arm of the Walker Institute, based at the University of Reading, holds a brilliant week-long training course every year named (Climate Resilience Evidence Synthesis Training (CREST). The course helps PhD students from all disciplines to understand the role of academic research within wider society. I’m a third year PhD student studying ocean and sea ice interaction, and I wanted to do the course because I’m interested in understanding how to better communicate scientific research, and the process of how research is used to inform policy. The other students who participated were mainly from SCENARIO or MPECDT, studying a broad range of subjects from Agriculture to Mathematics.
The Walker Institute
The Walker Institute is an interdisciplinary research institute supporting the development of climate resilient societies. Their research relates to the impacts of climate variability, which includes social inequality, conflict, migration and loss of biodiversity. The projects at Walker involve partnership with communities in low-income countries to increase climate resilience on the ground.
The institute follows a system-based approach, in which project stakeholders (e.g., scientists, village duty bearers, governments and NGOs) collaborate and communicate continuously, with the aim of making the best decisions for all. Such an approach allows, for example, communities on the ground (such as a village in North East Ghana affected by flooding) to vocalise their needs or future visions, meaning scientific research performed by local or national Meteorological agencies can be targeted and communicated according to those specific needs. Equally, with such a communication network, governments are able to understand how best to continually enforce those connections between scientists and farmers, and to make the best use of available resources or budgets. This way, the key stakeholders form part of an interacting, constantly evolving complex system.
Format and Activities
The course started off with introductory talks to the Walker’s work, with guest speakers from Malawi (Social Economic Research and Interventions Development) and Vietnam (Himalayan University Consortium). On the second day, we explored the topic of communication in depth, which included an interactive play, based on a negotiation of a social policy plan in Senegal. The play involved stepping on stage and improvising lines ourselves when we spotted a problem in negotiations. An example of this was a disagreement between two climate scientists and the social policy advisor to the President- the scientists knew that rainfall would get worse in the capital, but the social scientist understood that people’s livelihoods were actually more vulnerable elsewhere. Somebody stepped in and helped both characters understand that the need for climate resilience was more widespread than each individual character had originally thought.
The rest of the week consisted of speedy group work on our case study of increasing climate resilience to annual flood disasters in North East Ghana, putting together a policy brief and presentation. We were each assigned a stakeholder position, from which we were to propose future plans. Our group was assigned the Ghanaian government. We collected evidence to support our proposed actions (for example, training Government staff on flood action well in advance of a flood event, as not as an emergency response) and built a case for why those actions would improve people’s livelihoods.
Alongside this group work, we had many more valuable guest speakers. See the full list of guest speakers below. Each guest gave their own unique viewpoint of working towards climate resilience.
List of guest speakers
Day 1: Chi Huyen Truong: Programme Coordinator Himalayan University Consortium, Mountain Knowledge and Action Networks
Day 1: Stella Ngoleka: Country Director at Social Economic Research and Interventions Development – SERID and HEA Practitioner
Day 2: Hannah Clark: Open Source Farmer Radio Development Manager, Lorna Young Foundation
Day 2: Miriam Talwisa: National Coordinator at Climate Action Network-Uganda
Day 3: panel speakers:
Irene Amuron: Program Manager, Anticipatory Action at Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre
Gavin Iley: International Expert, Crisis Management & DRR at World Meteorological Organization
James Acidri: Former member of the Ugandan Parliament, Senio associate Evidence for Development
Day 4: Tesse de Boer: Technical advisor in Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre
Day 5: Peter Gibbs: Freelance Meteorologist & Broadcaster
Everyone agreed that the interactive play was a highly engaging & unusual format, and one not yet encountered in my PhD journey! It allowed some of us to step right into the shoes of someone whose point of view you had potentially never stopped to consider before, like a government official or a media reporter…
Something else that really stayed with me was a talk given by the National Coordinator at Climate Action Network Uganda, Miriam Talwisa. She shared loads of creative ideas about how to empower climate action in small or low-income communities. These included the concept of community champions, media cafes, community dialogues, and alternative policy documentation such as citizens manifestos or visual documentaries. This helped me to think about my own local community and how such tools could be implemented to enforce climate action at the grassroots level.
An amazing workshop with a lovely and supportive team running it who built a real atmosphere. I took away a lot from the experience and I think the other students did too. It really helped us to think about our own research and our key stakeholders, and how reaching out to them is really important.