From individual to institutional to public – ASSAR’s capacity strengthening in India
11 Apr 2019 - 21:45
By Lucia Scodanibbio, ASSAR Project Coordinator
“I also have a story to tell: ASSAR’s strongest impact has been the capacity it has built,” says Amir Bazaz from the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), as I update him on the topic of our latest Spotlight, and he inevitably draws me into another irresistible interview rabbit hole.
“To start with, ASSAR has built social and human capital in IIHS and across the India team.”
At the beginning of the project, only a couple of members had disciplinary training to lead independent research on climate issues, with the rest hailing from subjects as disparate as economics, hydrology, land use, urbanism or science and technology.
The research work and interactions with the rest of the team built and strengthened knowledge on climate adaptation and provided opportunities to learn. But in addition, the fusion of these diverse disciplines and the co-learning between the different collaborators led to the emergence of new ideas and insights.
“The way people have been pushed to think beyond disciplinary boundaries (and their comfort zone) means that the way we approach a problem, opportunities and solutions has completely changed.” The proof of the individual capacities that have been built is the number of ASSAR early career researchers that are now fully-funded PhD students at prestigious universities in Europe and the US; post-docs that are now churning out publications elsewhere; or job holders that outcompeted even thousands of other applicants to get to their current positions.
But institutional capacity has also been strengthened.
“Before ASSAR, IIHS’s work on climate issues mainly revolved around the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] and a few ad hoc projects. We are now seen as the go-to partner in India, on par with TERI [The Energy and Resources Institute], for climate research linked with policy and implementation; and requests for our expertise keep coming in. ASSAR has strengthened the capacity of a cohort of researchers, and now IIHS has the credibility to convene and ask difficult questions,” says Aromar Revi, as I manage to steal an hour of his precious time.
“ASSAR’s major contribution to science and policy has been through the way it shaped the IPCC special report on 1.5 degrees. Chandni¹ and Amir kept challenging the writing team, such as by questioning whether rural vulnerabilities had been duly accounted for, or whether particular responses would have worked in Ethiopia or Mali. The common assessment framework for adaptation and mitigation that we are proposing would have not emerged if we were not used to doing complex interdisciplinary work, on multiple issues at once. ASSAR also provided us with the opportunity to learn from different geographical and developmental contexts in the global South, and with regions – such as West Africa – we had not interacted with before,” Aromar explains.
The main thing to note, is how all the additional knowledge and skills keep flowing. “How do we make people like engineers, who take decisions on the ground, aware of climate change?”
IIHS’s multi-level trainings make heavy use of the learning that has emerged from ASSAR.
“I deliver 20 three-day courses per year for frontline public officers from up to 15 different Indian states,” says Amir. “We look at government’s national programmes and tailor the relevant ASSAR content accordingly, to make it as applicable and understandable as possible, using their language. We are a mediator between these different knowledge systems. In the process, the IIHS staff who normally deliver these courses also learn about our research.”
Preparing new generations is as much a priority and through the Urban Fellows Programme, the link between development and climate dynamics along the rural-urban continuum is explored.
“Colleagues from ATREE [Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment] and WOTR [Watershed Organisation Trust] have also taught in this programme. We are providing critical knowledge that is missing and which will have lasting influence, as we are leading to mindset and attitudinal change among future leaders.
“The main thing to note is that these changes are sustainable,” ends Amir. The people that are being trained – whether ASSAR colleagues, IIHS staff, public officers or young future leaders – will bring this interdisciplinary, grounded knowledge in any activity or job to follow. The hope is that all of this will lead to better decisions being taken and more adaptive responses on the ground!
¹ Chandni Singh and Amir Bazaz are contributing authors, with Chandni also a chapter scientist for chapter 4 of the report.