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Reflections from the ESPA 2016 Annual Science Conference

1 Dec 2016 - 12:45

By Alemayehu Zewdie

Alemayehu Zewdie, Oxfam Research-into-Use (RiU) coordinator in East Africa, joined the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) Conference in Nairobi from 17 to 18 November 2016. While there he noticed how both ASSAR and the ESPA emphasise the need to convert research outcomes into clear and accessible information to influence policy development. The ESPA brings together different universities and other research institutions, such as the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

During the first day of the conference most of the presentations dealt with ecosystem services and its impact on poverty alleviation. Similar to the ASSAR project, the ESPA programme highlights the importance of converting research into practice. Throughout the conference, it was highlighted that research in general will improve the lives of poor people in developing countries only when research is put into practice and integrated into policies. Research was perceived to be the core for designing effective developmental policies, strategies and programmes. The main difference between ASSAR and ESPA is that ESPA has its local partners on the ground, implementing the research findings that include whole communities.

What I also found very interesting was that there were five members of the parliament from Uganda who challenged the scientists by asking questions on how to translate these research results into policy. Community representatives and policy makers need to be included throughout the research process to maximise its impact. In addition, at the community level, delegated leaders, clan leaders and village associations can truly spread information that could help climate change projects become accepted and sustainable.

Another lesson that we can learn from the ESPA conference is that researchers should also present their challenges and lessons learned. This allows other researchers to have a chance to learn from one another.

ASSAR contributed to the conference by presenting a poster on how ASSAR’s RiU approach is being considered as the strategy for ASSAR. Many participants were very interested in how ASSAR aims to convert research into more practical communication products. We had interesting discussions on how ASSAR links capacity building, communication, influencing and stakeholder mapping and power analysis together.

The participants were also interested in learning more about Impact Pathways, ASSAR’s plan of action to impact policies, and Participatory Stakeholder Analysis (PSA). The PSA process brings together groups of stakeholders from a range of backgrounds for workshops to develop and discuss possible futures scenarios. These interactions with other participants created opportunities for future collaborations.

ESPA is a global interdisciplinary research programme funded by the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), as part of the UK’s Living with Environmental Change partnership.

The aim of the ESPA programme is to deliver high-quality, cutting-edge research that will improve understanding of the way ecosystems function, the services they provide and their relationship with the political economy and sustainable growth. ESPA research provides the evidence and tools to enable decision-makers to manage ecosystems sustainably and in a way that contributes to poverty alleviation (www.espa.ac.uk).