FRACTAL Podcast Series - Exploring transdisciplinary approaches to support resilience and adaptation decision making

Submitted by Megan MacGillivray | published 9th Nov 2021 | last updated 8th Jan 2022
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Introduction

The STARTcast is a podcast created by START for early- and mid-career scientists. Season two of the STARTcast is all about the Future Resilience for African Cities and Lands (FRACTAL) project, with particular focus on transdisciplinary approaches FRACTAL used to support resilience and adaptation decision making in nine southern African cities.

FRACTAL has produced a range of other outputs from the project. This article summarises the principles of the FRACTAL project, which include transdisciplinarity, co-production and co-exploration. 

Click here to find out about how Climate Risk Narratives can be used to communicate climate information to stakeholders. These are narrative descriptions of a context under different plausible climate futures. Click here to find out how City Learning Labs can be used to facilitate dialogues between stakeholders for decision-making. Finally, this article explores how the Embedded Researcher approach can be used to integrate climate information into decision-making. 

Episodes

Episode 1: Climate distillation and the narrative approach to climate information

Episode one of the second series of the STARTcast is a discussion between START’s program specialist Dr. Mzime Ndebele-Murisa and three prominent climate scientists from the FRACTAL project: Dr. Chris Jack, Dr. Richard Jones and Dr. Tamara Janes.

The FRACTAL project wanted to ensure climate information was both relevant and usable. Trust and understanding are the basis for uptake of climate information, and Climate Risk Narratives (CRN) proved to be useful for starting conversations on this and around uncertainty in the climate data. It was not always a 'comfortable' space for climate scientists to explore and it resonated differently in different cities - with some positive responses, but also some criticism, particularly for their perceived simplicity. 

Highlights of Episode 1:

  • Distillation is a process of extracting meaning from a particular information source. Trans-disciplinary distillation includes a process of understanding issues by contextualizing relevant information with with stakeholders. 
  • Learning labs fostered an environment for a transdisciplinary approach, where no knowledge form was privileged over others.
  • ‘Single expertise on its own is singly unimportant; it’s only when you integrate it with others that you can make progress in understanding issues and context and finding out what (climate) information is required with the help of others.’
  • 'If you are bringing a series of expertise together in a co-production environment like FRACTAL did, you need all of the expertise to be heard, understood by people from other disciplines.’ In FRACTAL we did not allow climate science to dominate.
  • Climate narratives were a successful knowledge integration process which helped build networks which encompassed knowledge, values and expertise of stakeholders to solve climate information gaps through understanding context, decision-making and plausible futures for the cities. They broke barriers between departments, tensions by fostering dialogue on climate via transdisciplinary co-production and co-exploration.

Listen below or click here to listen to Episode 1: Climate distillation and the narrative approach to climate information.

  • Access the notes from the episode here. 
  • Click here to read an article about how Climate Risk Narratives can be used to communicate climate information to stakeholders.

Episode 2: Context driven learning lab processes

Featuring a discussion between FRACTAL’s program coordinator, Alice McClure, and three FRACTAL researchers: Dr. Anna Taylor, Dr. Sukaina Bharwani, Dr. Gilbert Siame. 

Anna, Sukaina and Gilbert share their wealth of experiences from the learning lab approach and FRACTAL processes. They explain the concept of the labs and how these were engendered as collaborative spaces where stakeholders could come together, identify, define and co-explore burning issues as well as create solutions to the complex issues.

Highlights around learning labs:

  • Convened multiple stakeholders and experiences to increase collaboration and problem solving of complex climate risks in cities. Innovating and making commitments to think about and act towards addressing climate change and building urban resilience.
  • Quality venues and facilitation skills created an inclusive and safe environment to break down power dynamics, the barriers between disciplines and comfort zones, where people could bring themselves and not their professional-selves to the table.
  • Evolved as emergent, iterative, context-driven processes where interesting, innovative and interactive methodological approaches (games, role-plays, social events) supported different outcomes in each city.
  • Were all about unearthing light bulb moments and enabling researchers to practice humble science, ask better questions, and appreciate tacit versus surface knowledge.
  • Helped build capacity by assisting researchers to take deep dives and unpack issues by questioning their own assumptions and actively listening.
  • Produced intangible outputs and outcomes such as building trust, confidence and relationships, breaking institutional and discipline barriers. 

Listen below or click here to listen to Episode 2: Context driven learning lab processes. 

  • Access the notes from the episode here
  • Click here to find out how City Learning Labs can be used to facilitate dialogues between stakeholders for decision-making. 

Episode 3: Networking through embedded researchers

In Episode 3 of the second series of the STARTcast, Mzime Murisa, a Program Specialist at START, discusses the role of embedded researchers in the FRACTAL project with Rudo Mamombe, who was the Embedded Researcher in Harare, Zimbabwe. In her discussion she also includes comments from Dr Anna Taylor, Dr Lulu van Rooyen and Brenda Mwalukanga.

In the FRACTAL Project, Embedded researchers:

  • Acted as champions, bridges and intermediaries between the universities and the municipalities.
  • Had slightly different roles in each city but all enhanced the trans-disciplinary process by identifying collaborative, mutually beneficial research agendas in their dual positions,
  • Brought and learnt people, organizational and communication skills by leaving their (knowledge) comfort zones, practicing a willingness to learn, patience, flexibility, humility, proactiveness, and empathy,
  • Learnt constraints and opportunities by being involved in and understanding both organizations.
  • Were central to bringing researchers and societal stakeholders together to collaboratively co-design solutions to climate risks,
  • Worked to ensure that FRACTAL’s research agenda was shaped by the users of climate information,
  • Helped to build good and lasting working relationships between stakeholders, decision makers and researchers.
  • Added value as knowledge brokers who established, built, facilitated and sustained a variety of co-exploration and co-development platforms.

Listen below or click here to listen to Episode 3: Networking through embedded researchers. 

  • Access the notes from the episode here.
  • This article explores how the Embedded Researcher approach can be used to integrate climate information into decision-making. 

Episode 4: The FRACTAL Principles: What we learned

The FRACTAL Principles are an outcome of FRACTAL’s transdisciplinary processes. As the emergent Principles became clear, they helped to shape and guide engagements in the nine southern African cities where FRACTAL worked. They sum up the way in which FRACTAL approached working in these cities and it is hoped that they can provide a framework for future transdisciplinary projects.

The FRACTAL Principles helped in: 

  • Encouraging and valuing diverse voices, opinions, values, and inputs on climate resilience across the cities from different city stakeholders by creating safe, neutral spaces for dialogue.
  • Slowly getting buy in from stakeholders through deliberate inclusion and engagement.
  • Bringing everyone to the table and allowing the participants to develop their own resilience strategy and priorities.
  • Enhancing the contribution and quality of research.
  • Evaluating strengths and working on solutions together.
  • Understanding the context for policy, decision making and governance for urban resilience in southern African cities.
  • Understanding power dynamics around decision making.
  • Bringing the universities closer to the people through engagement, collaboration and collective efforts.

Highlighted Principles include:

  • Honesty, Learning, Accountability, Engagement, Ethics, Flexibility, Inclusivity and Context-driven processes. 

Listen below or click here to listen to Episode 4: The FRACTAL Principles: What we learned. 

  • Access the notes from the episode here.
  • This article summarises the principles of the FRACTAL project. 

Further resources