DES wins Community Engagement Award

During their research into various aspects of food security, health, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change under multiple stressors, the group facilitated a groundbreaking social learning process in both communities which highlights a best practice model for engaged research that has attracted national and international attention and recognition. The social learning process was developed and implemented through the research project to sure that the communities’ concerns and voices were heard in the research project, and also, importantly, to build capacity to adapt to climate change and other stresses that people face; and to establish platforms for co-learning. The social learning process was therefore not only focused on climate change and adaptation as identified by the researchers, but rather on the contextualised vulnerabilities that people in the communities themselves identified as important. Their aim was not simply to build an understanding of community capacities for adaptation together with community partners, but also to expand on existing practices within communities, while at the same time developing insight into what a social-learning approach means for how participatory processes are designed in the future.

The social learning process was designed as an intensively reflexive one, with community members and facilitators involved in on-going reflection of the process itself. This shared monitoring yielded insights from both the facilitators' and communities' perspectives, and it is on this rich source of insight that a handbook was developed for practitioners. Key outcomes have included several examples of community participants either gaining employment or realising dreams of self-employment, and explaining their success as being directly linked to their involvement in the project. Longer term relationships between NGOs and local community groups identified during the social learning process have been directly facilitated by the project team. But capacity building through this project was not limited to the community level: the handbook was itself workshopped with grassroots NGOs throughout the province to ensure a product that would be useful to them in their work with communities. And, once the handbook had been developed, a short course was offered free of charge to grassroots NGOs and community workers to receive training in a social learning approach to supporting community adaptation to climate change and other stressors.

The communities and facilitators were not the only individuals that benefited from the Jongaphambili Sinethemba social-learning project. Whilst communities may have grown better adapted to climate change during the project, the researchers themselves emerged more adapted to the demands of knowledge production in a society with pressing social, ecological and economic needs. Through their exposed and engaged research, the project team ultimately developed into researchers better equipped to co-produce the kind of knowledge required to build a more resilient South Africa. The Jongaphambili Sinethemba project represents a model for deeply engaged research and a shining example of what this means in practice. This research project yielded a number of benefits. First, the project improves our academic understanding of climate change and adaptation in rural contexts—the project produced a number of tangible academic outputs, including 9 PhD and masters students, 9 Journal articles and book chapters and 53 conference presentations. Second, the project improves adaptation strategies and the social development of the communities of Lessyton and Willowvale, where community facilitators whose social capital was operationalised through the social learning processes have become lasting champions of resilience in the face of vulnerability in their communities. Finally, the project has radically advanced our understanding of the methodologies, implementation and practice of engaged research more generally. 

The Award to The Jongaphambili Sinethemba Project Group (Professor Sheona Shackleton, Dr. Georgina Cundill, Mr. Nick Hamer, Mr. Monde Ntshudu, and Professor Heila Lotz - Sitsika) from the Department of Environmental Science will be made at the 2015 Graduation Ceremony. The team will give a public lecture on their collaborative outreach initiatives to open Community Engagement Week on the 4th of May 2015 as the Key note address of the Community Engaged Learning Symposium at 6.30 pm in Eden Grove Blue, all are welcome and encouraged to attend this event.

Congratulations to the The Jongaphambili Sinethemba Project Group!