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During the FRACTAL project, trans-disciplinary learning processes were implemented that aimed to support climate resilient development in nine southern African cities. These processes resulted in several lessons for research and society, particularly with regard to working towards inclusive, contextual, proactive climate research and action. 

The team brainstormed principles that underpinned climate resilience work in the project. Evidence from the programme was qualitatively analysed using the principles as a framework to uncover the mindsets and practices that supported  ‘the FRACTAL approach’.

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 The FRACTAL project introduced new approaches to understanding issues and solutions in Harare. These approaches strengthened relationships among stakeholders and decision makers, and increased receptivity to issues of climate variability and change, especially how this receptivity might intersect with development. The project partly helped initiate an ongoing conversation around receptivity issues between various city stakeholders and researchers. Prior to FRACTAL, few (if any) city-focused climate knowledge projects had been implemented, implying that this conversation had not yet started. Stakeholders reflected on broader decision-making processes through FRACTAL (e.g. development decisions). They have reported useful conversations between decision makers and academia and are now more willing to work with one another to co-define issues and solutions.

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 In Windhoek, FRACTAL contributed to developing the City of Windhoek’s new climate change strategy: the Integrated Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (ICCSAP). FRACTAL implemented a city learning lab approach in Windhoek to support the development of the ICCSAP. This approach brought a range of stakeholders together, including academics, practitioners, NGOs and other organizations. 

During the labs, stakeholder groups unpacked climate-sensitive city issues and governance arrangements, deliberating the significance and implications of various climate scenarios. Other activities emerging from these labs included city exchange programs and transformational leadership training on climate change for decision-makers. The process enabled a different, inclusive approach to developing strategies, and resulted in real benefits for the city of Windhoek.

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Durban is a self-funded FRACTAL city. As a result, the city could tailor the approach to FRACTAL research according to their specific needs and align it to current activities and approaches. 

The aim for the embedded researcher (ER) was to look at ways to integrate climate information into biodiversity planning. To achieve this the ER worked with stakeholders from eThekwini’s Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department (EPCPD), academics from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, researchers from FRACTAL, and other stakeholders. The ER found it was important to take time to understand the context, cultures and mandates of a group, and be adaptable with initiatives, programmes and approaches so that products could be tailored better and embedded effectively in the group’s processes and activities.

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The development and application of the concept of receptivity among stakeholders offers an alternative framing to that of seeking ‘entry points’ for climate information. Receptivity entails critically reflecting on one’s own knowledge and that offered by others (i.e. recognizing assumptions and framings). By creating an environment that fosters receptivity (e.g. the learning labs), FRACTAL enhanced opportunities to make less partial, narrow judgements and showed how the practices and actions of researchers and decision makers can be based on a broader view of the ‘system’ (e.g. the city-region). 

Receptivity to other frames of reference, knowledge and knowledge-making practices is in no way passive. It is a way of engaging with others that is open, considered and reflexive.

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Addressing the cross-cutting problems associated with climate variability and change in southern African cities requires significant action, investment and collaboration to connect often ‘siloed’ departments and organisations. Building strong relationships and networks of stakeholders within and across cities is essential for a coordinated approach. It inspires and supports stakeholders in the cities. 

Relationships and networks are strengthened by social learning, group reflections, knowledge sharing and co-production. This story highlights the role of social learning activities (e.g. city exchanges, collaborative research) in developing the relationships and networks needed to deal with the impacts of climate change in FRACTAL city-regions.

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FRACTAL sought to deepen the engagement between scientific and city-regional decision makers. The project adopted an embedded researcher (ER) approach. ERs were recruited to liaise between scientists and decision-makers, dividing their time between universities and city government. Before the project, other engagements had tended to have a narrow focus and short-term consulting capacity. 

In order to make climate science relevant and useable an understanding of the application context is required. Conversely, to ensure the robustness of climate information an understanding of climate science is needed. Making these connections is difficult because scientists and decision makers operate in different networks with different priorities, coding schemes and temporalities for their work. ERs were able to span these boundaries, facilitating engagements and helping to generate and translate the evidence needed for real-world decision-making processes.

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FRACTAL has experimented extensively with the use of Climate Risk Narratives (CRNs). These are stories told from the future of a changed climate and associated impacts. The CRNs were initially developed by climate scientists as plausible stories about the future climate of a city based on evidence from regional climate projections and observations. This introduced climate risk information into FRACTAL’s transdisciplinary activities. CRNs then proved useful during the project’s iterative co-production processes as a way to identify climate knowledge that is relevant to a specific city’s climate risks, their potential impacts and suggested societal responses. 

They are instrumental in supporting and generating engagements and research activities, outputs and outcomes. They are useful tools to integrate climate knowledge into resilience decision-making, to promote dialogue and to co-produce knowledge and improve the understanding of relevant city-region climate hazards and impacts.

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The provision of climate information to support climate risk management activities typically focuses on the interface between climate science and decision makers or ‘users’. Meeting user needs requires tailoring available products so they are relevant to the user’s context.Underlying information production assumptions are considered the domain of experts. Yet experts each make choices about appropriate source data, models, methods, assumptions, framing of uncertainty, and interpretations of the evidence. The resultant, numerous climate information sources can sometimes contradict each other. There are concerns about the potential consequences of this characteristic of climate risk management. FRACTAL’s distillation framework is grounded in transdisciplinary engagement, acknowledging the subjective elements of climate information construction by taking a humble science stance, opening assumptions and decisions up for interrogation, including the trade-offs between reducing uncertainty and increasing the risk of error. 

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This story illustrates the importance of transdisciplinary co-exploration. Decision-support methods and participatory exercises can facilitate the co-exploration of ‘burning issues’, decision-making processes and climate information needs. Decision-making can be complex and influenced by a range of stressors, including climate variability and change. Although climate impacts are felt, climate information is not currently incorporated into the decisions and actions of many city planners and policymakers – very few use the appropriate type, scale and format of climate information, and future climate projections are rarely consulted. Hence, scientists and researchers can overestimate planners and policymakers’ grasp of climate science, and underestimate the complexities of city decision-making. Using a range of decision support methods and activities, co-exploration in FRACTAL cities has built shared understanding and trusted relationships, informed city agendas and strengthened confidence and capacities of researchers and decision makers.

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