As the Principal Investigator for the ASSAR project in Botswana it was my responsibility to see that all aspects of the work proceeded as planned and preceded well. As an ecologist, my interest in ASSAR was to look at ecosystems and ecosystem services and how these changed over time in response to climate change and other drivers such as human activities. This was to be carried out within a key focus area of ASSAR: barriers and enablers of adaptation at various scales in the semi-arid areas of Botswana. This could be done as a purely biophysical analysis but we chose to do this with a “human face” by considering ecosystem services and human livelihoods.
In July 2015, I met with Daniel Morchain of Oxfam GB in Windhoek, Namibia when he was running a workshop on stakeholder mapping as part of Research-into-Use. This was my first encounter with the RiU concept. Initially it didn’t make much impact on me as I believed that my ecosystem work was already people-focused. I then worked closely with Daniel as we prepared for our first Vulnerability & Risk Assessment workshop in Botswana which we held in Bobonong – our ASSAR project area in October, 2015.
That VRA was the defining moment for me in regard to RiU. It exposed me to working directly with people who depend on ecosystem services to varying degrees: some very directly; others less so. It also proved to be an opportunity for me to learn from the people whose interests and aspirations I purported to serve, as well as to review the relevance of my research to the end-users.
"Through the VRA approach, participants will jointly design strategies and measures to reduce or avoid risk, while enhancing wellbeing and promoting resilience in the community. It also offers an opportunity for the vulnerable and weaker members of the society to contribute to solutions aimed at solving their own problems as well as appreciating challenges faced by other members of their community."
– Mr Machana Shamukuni, Botswana's Acting Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration
(Quote from Botswana Daily News: “Inclusive planning ideal”, 15 August 2018)
From then on, I became more conscious of the importance and benefit of engaging with stakeholders in my research, if I wish to increase the chances of uptake of my research results.
In August 2018, working with Daniel of Oxfam GB, the University of Botswana (UB) ASSAR team successfully ran a four-day national VRA training for all district planners in Botswana as well as the directorate of National Disaster Management. All in all, 41 government officers took part in the training.
Part of the training was running a VRA for one of the sub-districts. The ‘trainees’ literally ran the VRA with about 40 stakeholders from the sub-district of Mahalapye. These guys were definitely adequately capacitated!
The national training workshop was a transfer of skills from the ASSAR team to government planners who also promised to use the VRA approach in the planning, execution and review of developments within their respective districts. The Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Botswana and two Assistant Ministers: from Presidential Affairs and from Local Government and Rural Development officiated during the national VRA training workshops. The VRA will continue to be used well beyond the life of ASSAR.
I can confidently confirm that I have been transformed from a sceptic of the RiU concept to an ardent advocate. I do not see any other lens through which I will carry out my future research aside from the RiU approach. I am currently running an Environmental Flows (E-Flows) Project on rivers flowing from Zimbabwe, through Mozambique, to the Indian Ocean. I am now doing this with a conscious and deliberate incorporation of RiU.
Thanks to my colleagues: Daniel Morchain, Oxfam GB; Chandapiwa Molefe, Ephias Mugari, Bothepha Mosetlha and Mmakwena Moesi (University of Botswana); Kulthoum Motsomi (University of Cape Town) and Bhavana Rao (Watershed Organisation Trust, India).