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How can we effectively build capacity in Malawi to adapt to climate change?




April 11, 2018


Ensuring we have a trained pool of experts in sub-Saharan Africa is an essential tool in managing the negative impacts of climate change in the region. A significant amount of donor resources are utilised in the training and development on these experts. However, there have been few attempts to determine the most effective types, methodologies and designs of training to build that capacity. During my recent Masters research in Malawi, I interviewed 12 members of the National Technical Committee on Climate Change and their supervisors, comprising both government departments and non-governmental organisations. The research highlights three main findings. First, short-term training/workshops and formal education play different roles in building capacity. Second, training methods should be appropriate to local needs.  Third, the institutional environment in which officers operate plays a key role in determining whether or not they are able to translate their learning into action. Short-term training and formal education play different roles in capacity building. Demand-driven, customised training addresses specific needs and is most likely to lead to effective capacity for implementation of adaptation. Training programmes that link directly to institutional objectives of on-going adaptation interventions influence effective adaptation implementation more than generic, pre-existing training which is not planned collaboratively with participants’ organisation. Study participants emphasised that training should be tailored in the context where adaptation is implemented and targeted at the appropriate technical competency of the targeted practitioners. An example of “supply-driven” training is training that organisations or government departments are invited to attend, but are not directly linked to the interventions that the organisation is involved in. “In some of the training we were taught highly technical materials, e.g. [about] serious dykes and embankments, but these elements were not applicable to our context and work. So yes, I appreciated the innovation [and] the technicalities, but it was not applicable to Malawi, a waste of resources.”- Government respondent. Formal education programmes such as Masters courses and pre-existing (supply-driven) training creates theoretical knowledge to design adaptation policies and programmes. Education creates an understanding of generic approaches and knowledge in adaptation for practitioners in the field. Whilst demand-driven, customised training helps practitioners to appreciate recent developments in their field of work, formal education and supply-driven training helps participants understand different theories, terminology and concepts in adaptation and enables the design of interventions. As one NGO participant said, “Short-term courses cover emerging issues whilst long-term training is more theoretical and scientific, in education, you are given too much information which is not always directly relevant because it is general.” – NGO participant. Training methods should be appropriate to local needs Training methods other than workshops are valuable but under-used. Whilst formal education and short-term training workshops are commonly used, other action- oriented training methods are equally effective to build the required capacity for adaptation, but rarely used by practitioners in this region. Mentorship is important as a follow-up after training or during on-the-job training. It can assist trainees to gain practical skills from an experienced practitioner. Similarly, based on the responses from government officers, there are different e-learning and knowledge portals, such as the UN-CC: Learn, that are rarely used because of a lack of awareness or limited access to resources such as the internet. “I hear and I forget, I see and I know, I do and I understand” (Confucius). My research points to a greater need for practical training through contextual application by participants. Approaches could include presentations, discussions, field practice, field visits, and documentaries of best practices and expert talks. “Training sessions should include practical application not just presentations, because when you explain something to someone while they are practising, it sticks to their mind. If you just share presentations, almost 90% of the participants will not go back to read the presentations.” -NGO participant. Training only translates into improved capacity within a supportive institutional environment Trainee practitioners can only put their learning into practice within a supportive enabling environment in both government and NGO sectors. Junior officers are challenged by an absence of an enabling workplace environment that considers innovative ideas in the design of adaptation interventions. Financial constraints also act as a barrier to implementing learning from adaptation training and education. “When participants attend a training, they are fired up with new discoveries, then this enthusiasm dies out because of lack of resources to implement, then the institutions do not see any positive changes.” – Government Supervisor. Based on the findings above, the use of training needs assessment is recommended for tailored and targeted training to produce better learning outcomes in adaptation training. Training design should allocate enough time based on contents of topics and mode of delivery for effective professional development. These findings can be used to improve the design of training so that it effectively builds capacity to adapt to climate change in Malawi, and may be relevant to other sub-Saharan African countries too. Written by Diana Chanika Mataya. Diana is an is an Independent Research Assistant with Kulima Integrated Development Solutions on the ‘’UMFULA’’ project as well as studying for a Master’s in Environment and Development at the University of Leeds. At present, she is working on a research title ‘Understanding the role of training for development and implementation of climate change adaptation programmes and policies in Malawi’. For more information on Diana’s research, please get in touch with her.