The ASSAR team makes progress as decisions taken during its annual meeting begin to take shape
Each year, members of the international and interdisciplinary ASSAR project team meet to review the progress made and strategise the way ahead. Throughout the year the ASSAR team works in diverse locations across Africa and Asia, so these annual meetings provide rare but important opportunities for face to face interactions that facilitate productive discussions and debates, nurture working relationships, and develop and instil a common project purpose and unified project strategy. This year’s meeting, hosted by the Indian Institute for Human Settlements in Bangalore, India, brought together approximately 50 of the ASSAR team members from 16 different research institutions and practitioner organisations.
During a jam-packed five days, the team discussed the project’s progress and challenges, and debated, work-shopped and brainstormed its content and actions. The four regional project groups (Southern Africa, West Africa, East Africa and India) worked together to refine the project's research questions, and to discuss the potential strategies and sites to use for their region-specific research. The team also discussed how to weave ASSAR’s cross-regional themes - which include topics like gender, well-being, climate science and research-into-use - into the project’s research programmes. Importantly, the team committed to ensuring that ASSAR produces meaningful, high quality work that achieves extensive and valuable development impacts at multiple scales - from individuals to businesses to governments.
But it wasn’t all boardrooms and briefcases. During the meeting the ASSAR team also had the opportunity to see the amazing work of the Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR) - a key ASSAR partner. Heading into the rural areas of Maharashtra, the team witnessed first-hand how 20 years of innovative management of watershed systems has transformed this dry and barren area into a landscape that supports people, biodiversity, crops and livestock.
As a community-focused organisation, WOTR’s watershed management activities are centred on social upliftment, and it was incredible to hear from the people in these areas how they believe they have been educated and empowered to manage not only their land, water and biodiversity, but also their health, livelihoods and well-being.
As this annual meeting drew to a close it was clear that a great deal had been achieved. The ASSAR team left with a more holistic and unified understanding of the project purpose, with a more defined research plan, and with the ability to better understand and visualise the kind of impacts that ASSAR can have across the semi-arid areas of Africa and Asia.
In the weeks since the meeting the ASSAR team has been working at full steam. The four regional groups have begun writing the first drafts of their regional diagnostic studies - reports that provide a high-level snapshot of the climate adaptation environments in each of the ASSAR regions. The regional groups are also planning their first field visits to their study sites, during which they’ll be engaging with local and national stakeholders. These engagements will not only ensure that ASSAR’s work meets local and national needs, but will also help the regional groups to identify the most appropriate ways to develop tailored adaptation knowledge and to build adaptive capacities in their regions.
The ASSAR cross-cutting working groups, which are not region-specific but rather made up of members from each regional team, have also been making great progress. Some of these groups have begun to develop training courses for the ASSAR team members to improve their capacity to conduct specialised research. For example, in a course in mid-2015 the gender working group will teach the ASSAR team members how to conduct gender-sensitive research and how to mainstream gender issues into all of ASSAR’s activities. Other cross-cutting working groups are developing frameworks for research topics like well-being, governance, vulnerability and biophysical impacts to ensure that the work done within each region is directly comparable with the work done in other regions.
With the ASSAR momentum now in full flow, the coming months should be very busy and productive. This will set the scene for more fascinating discussions and promote further project development at the next annual meeting, which will be held in May 2015 in Botswana.