Why we must bridge action & research for adaptation
Research is central to effective adaptation to the emerging impacts of climate change. How we undertake that research determines how relevant and timely new evidence is and – ultimately – how effective our adaptation responses will be.
“We know that climate change is here already, and the impacts are being felt across the planet – today,” says Jesse DeMaria-Kinney, Head of Secretariat for the Adaptation Research Alliance (ARA).
“While we need a better understanding of how to best adapt to these changes, we don’t have the time to get that knowledge through conventional research.”
Instead, the ARA proposes a shift from the often disconnected academic research processes to ones that are carried out in collaboration with stakeholders on the ground, including policymakers and communities.
“The ARA advocates for a paradigm shift in adaptation research, where processes are iterative and interactive, and where the voices of end users are appreciated and core to exploring issues and responses,” he says.
Guiding that shift are the Adaptation Research for Impact Principles, a set of guidelines for how action research can be delivered. The Principles provide a foundation for research to be undertaken in a way that addresses who is most vulnerable to the risks of a changing climate while ensuring the process enhances equity and social justice.
The approach put forward in the Adaptation Research for Impact Principles is endorsed by all ARA members, which represent over 150 global researchers, funders, policymakers, development bodies and community-based organisations.
Indeed, action-oriented research for adaptation “starts with understanding the communities’ needs, spending time doing baseline research”, says Sunayana Sen, from ARA member Resurgence, who is Programme Manager for the action research DARAJA project in Kenya and Dar es Salaam.
“The purpose of this research is to design user-centric services based on identified needs.”
In addition to being driven by user needs and equitable in practice, adaptation research for impact should be co-produced with all types of knowledge holders, while evolving to ensure sustainability over time.
“What I really find exciting is that the Alliance has the opportunity to combine all our efforts and collaborate at scale,” says Bruce Currie-Alder, Program Leader, Climate Adaptation and Resilience at ARA, member the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).
“And we’re not just looking at responding once to the climate that’s about to come into existence within the next few years, but the world of 2040, 2050 will again be different than what we’ll experience by 2030.”
Acknowledging that there are still uncertainties around specific climate impacts and the best or the most effective adaptation responses, there is a growing movement within the adaptation research community to do things differently. One signal of that is the remarkable trajectory of growth seen in the ARA membership since its launch in 2021.
“One of the reasons for our growth is the Alliance can actually link up these diverse organisations from the global to local levels,” DeMaria-Kinney says.
“We reach across the spectrum from research to planning and implementation on the ground to facilitate collaboration and to co-produce new knowledge that generates tangible responses for adaptation.”
The Adaptation Research Alliance (ARA) calls for a shift to Adaptation Research for Impact as part of a paradigm shift in adaptation to climate change.