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Trust, collaboration and flexibility are key elements in climate research programmes




March 30, 2021


Between November 2020 and March 2021, Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) hosted a series of events to reflect on key learnings from the FCFA, the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA), and the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) programmes. The series was loosely structured around findings from a recent FCFA learning report entitled “A critical reflection on learning from the FCFA programme” and provided a space to reflect on the past success and challenges from the three programmes while opening a dialogue with the broader community. This helped identify common strengths and key approaches to inform future climate research programmes.

The series consisted of three sessions entitled:

(1) Reflecting on effective approaches to research uptake and action,

(2) Promoting leadership opportunities for southern climate researchers, and

(3) Maximising impact of multi-partner climate research programs.

Each session included key reflections from the three programmes followed by open discussions allowing a wide range of participants to share their experiences.

The first session, “Reflecting on effective approaches to research uptake and action” in the learning series. 

Build trusting and collaborative relationships 

A key reflection that emerged from the series was the importance of transdisciplinary collaboration and co-production between researchers, decision-makers, stakeholders and communities. Opportunities for collaboration and peer learning played a large role in ensuring climate research was useful and usable for the relevant target audiences. In addition to producing relevant research, collaboration was particularly important in building trust between researchers and stakeholders. Programmes should ensure engagements with stakeholders start early and are sustained through the programme activities in order to build solid relationships based on mutual trust and cooperation.

Within climate programmes, building trust and forming strong relationships can benefit not only collaboration, but can support knowledge brokering and peer learning. Programmes should pay particular attention to providing opportunities for researchers, knowledge brokers and stakeholders to collaborate to build confidence between these groups. This on-going collaboration builds the capacity for all those involved, leading to tailored research and the improved ability to communicate and act on research to produce an impact.

Allowing southern leadership to emerge over time

The importance of enabling southern researchers to assume leadership positions within programmes was another key reflection from the learning series. Partnerships between southern and northern institutions present capacity development opportunities for southern researchers. It’s important for programmes to create opportunities for mentorship and skills and knowledge transfers between South-North partnerships. This allows southern researchers to benefit from their involvement in the large networks within programmes. In addition to South-North partnerships, South-South collaborations were highlighted for their importance in shared learning and in forming a voice for the Global South. Programmes should be fostering the emergence and strengthening of South-South partnerships to promote collective action among local actors.

As the capacity of southern partners and researchers are developed over time, it is important to allow their roles within the programme to evolve. One opportunity that was identified as being particularly effective in fostering southern leadership was building off the capacity and knowledge which had been developed by previous programmes and projects. Future programmes should attempt to leverage capacities created by past programmes, to ensure southern researchers have the opportunities to take on leadership positions. This can be done by including these researchers in the design of programmes or by allowing flexible design which would support emergent leadership.


Learning shared at the FRACTAL annual meeting in 2019.

Building flexibility into the design of programmes

The flexible design of programmes was highlighted as particularly important for collaborative programmes. During the course of programmes, the research needs may shift and capacities of researchers and stakeholders evolve. Building flexibility into programme design can benefit the outcomes, by allowing the programme to pursue emerging opportunities and support innovation. Flexibility can also ensure that outputs emerge through the process of engagement, ensuring that research is tailored to the needs of decision makers and more able to influence policy, planning and investments. Future programmes should be designed to support emergent opportunities and evolving roles within programmes. One example of this is creating ring-fenced funds to fill research gaps and allow southern researchers to take leadership roles in emergent opportunities.

Flexibility in roles and responsibilities was also highlighted as being important for knowledge brokers. Effective knowledge management was highlighted as extremely useful in generating long-term impacts from a programme. However, the roles of knowledge brokers should evolve as the programme progresses. As the outputs from programmes emerge, programmes should be increasing the knowledge brokering capacity and ensure this role is fulfilled beyond core research activities. Flexible funding and roles can also ensure that southern partners can take on increasing roles as knowledge brokers as their facilitation and communication capabilities are strengthened.

Implementing Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) strategies

In addition to effective knowledge management, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) was highlighted as a means to achieving sustained impacts beyond programmes lifespans. Allowing sufficient time to reflect on progress and documenting evidence of change in a qualitative manner is vital for understanding the impacts of programmes. MEL strategies should be embedded throughout the lifespan of the programme, and should include different feedback loops to inform the progress and allow for adjustments in activities based on emerging lessons.

Programmes should also be ensuring that MEL strategies have buy-in from all involved, with a clear understanding of different actors’ roles. While researchers may be well-positioned to carry out MEL work at the output level, it is also important that strategies reflect on the outcome level. In this sense, MEL strategies should be tied to wider trends and goals. This can allow programmes to understand how their activities and processes are leading towards overarching goals.

Reflection from the learning session provided key insights into what has been working well and the kinds of challenges experienced by programmes. This is extremely useful in informing the design of future climate programmes. FCFA would like to extend their gratitude to all speakers and participants for sharing their experiences in this regard.

This article was written by Roy Bouwer.