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Does it have to be so difficult?

Colleen Magner
September, 2017


In February, I wrote about our work in the Omasati Region of Northern Namibia on the ASSAR (Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions) project. My observations back then were about the onerous nature of planning for possible futures together. At that workshop, scenario team members had constructed four stories about what might happen in the region given the increasingly volatile nature of water availability. Since the most recent workshop in July, my questions have boiled down to this: does it need to take this long, be this hard and cost this much, to get to this point?

Since February the project has continued, with a smaller group from the scenario team refining the stories and getting them ready for presentation back to the larger scenario team. You can view the scenarios on Namibia’s climate related- future here.

The original group of about 30 scenario team members met again in July to consider possible strategies and initiatives to adapt and transform their situation in the longer term – one of the key outcomes of a transformative scenarios process. The few days together were again intense as the group spent long hours contemplating how to respond to these scenarios. And yet, as with the February workshop, everyone remained in the conversation.  Despite disagreements, they were committed to prioritising activities they could work on together in response to these likely futures.  They have planned follow-up time together to continue working on these initiatives.

My colleagues (both within ASSAR and Reos) and I have been pondering whether the effort and cost of working on constructing and refining the scenarios within stressful coordination constraints was necessary in order to get to the level of collaboration we experienced in Namibia. As we flew back to South Africa, we challenged each other: ‘Could we not have run a simpler process to help us look into long-term futures?’. This question is particularly relevant to the ASSAR project, as the project teams are trying to build local and resilliant adaptation capacities, beyond the Transformative Scenario Processes that we have offered, in these semi-arid regions around the world.

Teresa Perez, a researcher from ASSAR, asked similar questions in her recent blog post. The initial finding of her research showed that participants particularly appreciate the way in which the scenario construction process builds a new capacity amongst participants to imagine possible futures. They value how it better allows them to weave together a number of messy and complex variables than conventional strategy-methods allow for. Soundarya Iyer, a researcher from the Indian Institute of Human Settlements, conveyed a similar sentiment from the scenario-construction process in Bangalore, highlighting the significant benefit of story-telling when learning how to think about the future.

The preliminary feedback on this project is revealing useful information about the capacities that are critical when collaborating across organisations to address shared problems.  From this feedback, everyone involved has indicated that there are no short-cuts. If we want and need to strengthen collaboration, build long-term planning skills and more effectively adapt to climate change in local ways, the process takes time and effort.

I’m learning a lot from our colleagues in ASSAR about the process and impact of scenario processes, and I’m grateful for the honest reflections we’ve had about whether these methods are in fact useful in more localised contexts.

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