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Challenges and successes – reflecting on a year of FRACTAL




October 1, 2016


FRACTAL (Future Resilience for African CiTies And Lands) held its annual meeting at the secluded Monkey Valley Resort in Cape Town, South Africa, from 2-3 November 2016. The event presented an opportunity for the team members to reflect on the first year; the progress made, the challenges, the failures and successes. The 55 participants included climate scientists from local and international universities and research institutes, social scientists, local government officials and civil society. Kristen Kennedy reflects.  FRACTAL, a Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) funded consortium, is focused on advancing scientific knowledge about Southern Africa climate responses to human activities. FRACTAL partners work with decision makers to integrate this scientific knowledge into climate-sensitive decisions at a city-region scale. FRACTAL is working with eight cities: Lusaka in Zambia, Windhoek in Namibia, Maputo in Mozambique, Blantyre in Malawi, Harare in Zimbabwe and Gaborone in Botswana, eThekwini, Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa. The consortium is designed to work across disciplines within the scientific community and foster strong collaboration between researchers, city government officials and other key decision makers in the focal city regions. Critical discussion focused on three foundational concepts of FRACTAL’s work: transdisciplinarity, knowledge co-production and co-exploration. Co-exploration (Steynor et al. 2016) is an approach developed by the FRACTAL team at UCT’s Climate Systems Analysis Group (CSAG). The approach brings together scientists, policy-makers and practitioners to collectively develop an understanding of how climate stressors interact with development stressors in a place-specific context. Transdisciplinarity goes beyond multidisciplinarity as it recognises many ways of knowing in such a way that scientific modes of thought are neither privileged nor dominant, and participatory, democratic and inclusive processes that engage the public are necessary to better understand the complex relations between social and natural systems and address problems of sustainability (Wickson et al. 2006). These concepts defined the attitude of the consortium and the meeting’s focus on crosscutting themes and approaches to the research and work of the project.   The FRACTAL project began in June 2015 with full kick off in August 2015 and runs until 2019. A wall of ‘flowers’ showcased unique thoughts on the first full year in this complex and ambitious project. The participants concurred that the project is at the “tail end of the lift-off phase” and, having articulated foundational concepts underlining the research, the upcoming years will grow from strong groundings allowing for impactful, relevant and co-produced outputs. The first day was dedicated to these reflections. as well as detailed discussions on the consortium’s approach to learning, on the knowledge products to date and how stand-alone knowledge that has been produced contributes to the broader FRACTAL and FCFA research questions. Further discussions included pathway to impact (see the FRACTAL theory of change below), planning for the next stages of knowledge production required to meet the ultimate goals, and feedback from city partners on the FRACTAL-related activities that have occurred in each of the cities. The second day of the event began with reflections and synthesis including a participatory game lead by Bettina Koelle of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre. The same game was played at the inception meeting a year ago, and updated based on experience from the last year. The day continued with group work on the approaches and operations within FRACTAL that facilitate knowledge production, detailing work in the FRACTAL workplans, and a joint session with the FCFA’s Coordination Unit and consortium, which hosted their annual event in Cape Town at the same time. The cross-consortia learning session offered an opportunity to explore “burning issues” raised during both events. Discussion groups explored potential for joint activities on climate science, in-country work, coordinated knowledge products, methodologies of co-production and the legacy of the FCFA programme. Although the consortia are operating in different environments and through diverse methodologies, their ultimate goals (providing user-informed climate information to support decision-making) are shared and the multi-consortia nature of FCFA provides the opportunity to learn across these diverse contexts and to find synergies and comparisons to inform current and future work. The secluded nature of Monkey Valley, as well as the strong emphasis on transdisciplinarity in FRACTAL, fostered a rich interaction between the 55 participants of this event. Linkages were strengthened between team members working on separate aspects of the project across the globe and honest and open discussion fed into a full workplan for FRACTAL over the coming year.