The workshop programme promised a varied and interactive schedule, welcome in breaking up the monotony of 'the we talk you listen' format favoured by so many academic events. Wasting no time in getting us out of our seats, the organisers began with an ice-breaker exercise that got everyone discussing their research interests with each other, followed by the collective setting of aims and objectives for the week ahead.
|Researcher connections between attendees, the result of the|
opening ice-breaker exercise.
I awoke on day two full of anticipation for a day of multi-disciplinary problem solving, not of hypothetical case-studies as so often is the case, but for actual live industry problems. We were split into small groups with related research themes and each given a brief from an end-user of climate services. Ours was the City of Cape Town, who were looking to improve the application of climate information they currently receive; we had the morning to brainstorm, discuss and develop ideas, before meeting with officials from the municipality in the afternoon. Although no immediate research projects or new applied services came out of the meeting, the whole activity was hugely insightful. It gave us a great understanding of the restrictions civil agencies face in developing services that use climatic data to its maximum, and also really highlighted how humanities scholars can bridge a gap between pure scientific research and practitioners and end-users.
After the meetings we heard keynote presentations from Dr Linda Makuleni CEO of the South African Weather Service and Dr Chris Hewitt Head of Climate Services at the UK Met Office. Most pleasing to me, given my recent work on the Snow Scenes project, was Linda's assertion that there is:That evening, whilst I was still pondering thoughts about whether memories of old farmers in Cumbria can be considered analogous to indigenous tribal knowledge in southern Africa, all participants presented posters on their work to invited representatives from local government and industry.
"A lack of or insufficient efforts to integrate contemporary scientific knowledge with local indigenous/accumulated knowledge in communities."
Day three began with a field trip to North Link College, a multi-site technical college in Cape Town. The visit was an interesting insight into higher education in the area, and a welcome opportunity to get out of the conference centre and see some more of the beautiful, vibrant city of Cape Town! After lunch we played a game; a very interesting and important game. Developed by a group at the University of Cape Town, in partnership with the Red Cross, the activity pitted scientists against local decision makers. Those playing the role of scientists had to provide climatic predictions on the incidence of flooding and drought over the coming decade, whilst the decision makers had to decide how to use this, often conflicting advice, to influence their adaptation investments. The actual climate for each of the ten years was then played out, via the dropping of a cone of paper, each position it landed in representing different climatic outputs. The game clearly highlighted the disjuncture so often found between how climatologists develop climate services and how decision makers understand and apply them.
The final day focussed on personal career development and fostering research collaborations beyond the workshop. After a morning reflecting on individual progression and learning about the diverse funding opportunities in both South Africa and the UK, the group undertook an exercise to help develop emerging research ideas. In inter-disciplinary groups, teams were given ten minutes to come up with a research proposal that best utilised all of their individual skill-sets. Teams then had one minute to pitch their proposal to a research panel made up of the workshop mentors. The panel then selected two small grant and one large grant winners from each round of proposals. Whilst at the time I bemoaned the pressure of trying to come up with a well rounded research proposal in just ten minutes, on reflection I realise just how important this time element was in forcing the teams to think across their disciplinary boundaries quickly and with clarity. Out of the roughly 30-40 ideas put forward as part of the exercise, I can honestly say that perhaps only two or three, with further development would not have been feasible research proposals. The range and breadth of genuinely great ideas was astounding and I hope to see some of them come to fruition in the future!
|The workshop was part of the |
British Council's Researcher
I’d just like to finish with a huge thank-you to all the organisers, in particular Jane Strachan at the Met Office, and Ayanda and Bennie at the British Council in South Africa.