Tying it all together - theory for practice in Ecosystem-based Adaptation


                                                                Photo credit: Ashley Cooper

Knowing a bit more about the theory behind EbA and why it is necessary to go beyond the traditional measures like income diversification, conservation and restoration, the question remains of how to tie theory and practice together. How can theory help to become better in practice? That's what we will have a look at in this blog post.

To be honest: it really is not that easy. There are plenty of challenges and boundaries to the design and implementation of EbA projects to get an adaptation process rolling. Developing social learning mechanisms requires a lot of flexibility and time. Its monitoring and evaluation is challenging. Just think of indicators, targets and timelines. Because it is so difficult to monitor outcomes for non-linear, highly context dependent and long-term changes, it is largely not done (GIZ, Monitoring and evaluation - how to measure successes of Ecosystem-based Adaptation, 2017). Even with the best intentions not to, counting and measuring quantity will almost automatically shift focus in a project. Monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) are, after all, part of the project design and whatever exceeds the MEL plan in time, scale or measuring ability, will likely fall off the table and never be implemented. This is not an individual problem of some projects or organizations. The absence of MEL methodologies that capture outcomes in EbA (or even "just" climate change adaptation) is a huge problem to everyone working in the field. While I cannot offer a solution to this problem right away, I do believe that the development of such outcome-capturing MEL methodologies lies within the theoretical understanding of EbA as introduced in my previous blog post. But fear not, I do have ideas of how theory can help to improve practice.

Where does the money come from?

The financing of EbA projects is rather diverse, meaning that there is not one big pool to easily tap into. While for example the Adaptation Fund and the Green Climate Fund finance large EbA projects, these funds can only be accessed by entities accredited by the fund, a growing, yet, selected circle of mostly national organisations. For other implementers, the forage for funds takes them to public and private, national and international funding streams. Experiences from a number of countries indicate that securing long-term funding as it is needed for EbA is highly country specific, with varying national financing programmes and private sector engagement across the globe (read more in GIZ, Financing Ecosystem-based Adaptation, 2017). As a result, one can expect the requirements to receive funding for a project with an EbA name tag will differ accordingly. These differences could be regionally, where you have a vested interest of one particular (public) funder, or by funder, where multiple funders finance similar projects in one region. If funders have little experience in EbA, I would not be surprised to see such requirements pushing projects into the direction of delivering adaptation outputs that can be quantified (I would be happy to hear your experience!). Hence, current EbA financing does not appear to be favorable for the growth of local adaptation processes and generally not conducive for the development of best practices and innovative approaches. In the end, it is necessary to make a point for EbA towards donors, governments and beneficiaries - not the label, but the content that can live up to the potential. Have a look at the EbA in Mountains Programme (2011-2015) which has also worked on including EbA in public budgets on different governmental levels. Part of their experience was that EbA benefits need to be presented to stakeholders in a way that is adapted to their decision-making. While government officials responded better to cost effectiveness arguments, beneficiaries were easier convinced by improvements to their livelihoods and physical environment. The method of advocating for EbA may vary, however, socio-ecological systems theory and thinking have proven to be a good way to communicate the multiple benefits of EbA (GIZ, Evidence of EbA effectiveness, 2017). Whether in numbers or narratives, it simply does not makes sense to divide mitigation, adaptation and resilience benefits between people and nature. If "system" is too technical for a context, call it relation, dependency or anything else that will display that people and nature are inseparable.

What's your background?

As much as the financing, the background of the implementing organization or even staff can play a role in the focus of the EbA project. A conservation organization is naturally more inclined to focus on ecosystems and the environment, after all, that is their expertise and daily bread. The same applies to an organization working primarily in development, which centres around people and communities. Environmental Impact Assessments, Vulnerability Assessments and similar are now included in most development and conservation projects, and only few still believe that a project can be successful while disregarding either people or nature. However, there are still quite a lot one-sided projects out there. Here, the theory comes back to us, with the socio-ecological systems thinking supporting a more balanced analysis of the dependencies and interactions of humans and nature. And in practice? Well, it really is a no brainer: cooperation! Some work has already been done in assessing the differences, similarities and most importantly, synergies, of Community-based Adaptation (CbA) and Ecosystem-based Adaptation (see for example the Ecosystems & Livelihoods Adaptation Network). Combining expertise based on socio-ecological systems theory ensures that both perspectives are equally valued with the outcome being a better shared understanding and analysis of the context's complexities. It also highlights the need for a full-fledged adaptive capacity development, including leadership and learning abilities.

There really is a lot that practitioners can do with theory. It can be helpful when arguing for and displaying the potential of EbA. For the cooperation between conservation and development, socio-ecological systems theory can be a key to shared understanding and equitable contribution.

Next in this blog series, I will look at some tools that are available for the design and implementation of EbA projects. Are they useful for outcome-oriented EbA? What are their advantages and disadvantages? How can we make them work for us? Follow this blog series and get in touch - what are your experiences and ideas?

Looking for inspiration? Have a look at Living Lands in South Africa - facilitating social learning for landscape rehabilitation and innovation. Wondering where all those Learning Briefs come from? They are from the GIZ Mainstreaming ecosystem-based adaptation project

Love the cover photos from this series? Visit http://globalwarmingimages.net/ for Ashley Cooper's powerful set of photos from around the world on climate change inspires action.

Further reading:

Ensor, J., & Harvey, B. (2015). Social learning and climate change adaptation: evidence for international development practice. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 6(5), 509-522.

Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, Financing Ecosystem-based Adaptation, Learning Brief, Dezember 2017

Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, Monitoring and evaluation - how to measure successes of Ecosystem-based Adaptation, Learning Brief, December 2017

Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, Evidence for EbA effectiveness, Learning Brief, December 2017

United Nations Development Programme, Making the case for policy change and financing for Ecosystem-based Adaptation, Global Ecosystem-based Adaptation in Mountains Programme, Learning Brief 4, 2015

Mesh Climate Networking
Dusting off Ecosystem-based Adaptation theory