IDRC awards support future leaders in climate change and water research

May 04, 2015
Bill Morton

An IDRC research awards program is supporting innovative research and building future leadership and knowledge in ICTs, climate change, and water.

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as mobile phones, the Internet, community radio, and participatory video have strong potential to address climate change impacts and help communities adapt to water stress. However, there is limited research in this emerging field, and a lack of evidence to inform policy and practice. The Innovative Application of ICTs in Addressing Water-related Impacts of Climate Change (ICTWCC) awards program, funded by IDRC and coordinated by the University of Nairobi, is addressing these gaps.

Building research capacity

Through their involvement in the ICTWCC program, 31 PhD and master's candidates from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and sub-Saharan Africa were awarded grants to field-test their research and ensure real-world applicability. Grantees received expert mentorship and tailored training to enhance their skills in different research methodologies and in specialized aspects of climate science. Their capacity to  undertake rigorous, high quality research was found to have improved significantly following their participation in the program.

A custom monitoring and evaluation framework designed by the University of Nairobi indicates that approximately 70% of PhD grantees rated their skills in data collection methodologies, tools, and techniques as “high” after two years in the program, compared with only 42% at the beginning. For the same time period, 60% of PhD grantees rated their skills in climate change policy formulation as “high,” compared with only 26% at the program's onset. For both assessment criteria, the proportion of PhD grantees rating their skill-levels as “high” had more than doubled after two years in the ICTWCC program.

Generating and sharing knowledge

Grantees are making a significant contribution to the field. Research undertaken through the program covers a range of relevant topics.

One study, for example, proposes a land management plan to minimize the risks that hurricanes pose to forests in Nicaragua, where a hurricane destroyed 400,000 hectares of forest in 2007. In Kenya, a study found that farmers are already changing practices to adapt to climate change, but that sharing additional climate information through mobile phones and radio, affordably and in local languages, can further improve farmers’ adaptation efforts.

Grantees are also actively sharing their research results with policymakers and other climate science researchers, including at high-profile international events such as the 9th Community-Based Adaptation conference and the XVth World Water Congress. In Guatemala, grantees organized the International Congress on Climate Change and presented their findings to more than 600 stakeholders in the region who are working on climate change adaptation in the water sector.

To date the grantees have produced 64 unique research outputs (including 11 peer-reviewed publications and 2 book chapters).

South-South collaboration

The University of Nairobi is working closely with regional program partners, namely Vietnam's Asian Management and Development Institute and the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza in Costa Rica. The three partners are taking a leadership role in enabling new developments in the field, by fostering network development and South-South collaboration. The program also assisted grantees in establishing their own network for shared learning and peer exchange, which is now being used to identify common applications of ICTs across regions. Program partners also established the South-South Collaboration Learning and Adaptation platform, an interregional network with strong commitments to further build research capacity on water-related impacts of climate change, with a special emphasis on drawing from developing-country knowledge and experience.

Positioning for future leadership

There is increasing demand for expertise in the application of ICTs to address water-related impacts of climate change, including from academic and government institutions, and policymakers who need evidence-based research and expertise to inform decision-making. As a result of the skills gained from participating in the ICTWCC awards program, grantees are now well-positioned to take on leadership roles in this growing field of research.

Bill Morton is an Ottawa-based writer.

Photo (right): ICTWCC
Through mobile phones, farmers can receive climate and market information that helps them to secure livelihoods and food production.

Learn more about the ICTWCC program