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Learning Labs: creating collaborative ways to address climate change in African cities

Learning Labs bring diverse stakeholders together to spur new thinking about how to tackle the climate change adaptation issues emerging in urban Africa.


Karen Brandon / Published on 14 January 2020

Learning Labs feature games designed to spur thinking about various points of view about decisions related to urban climate change adaptation. Photo: Bettina Koelle, Red Cross Climate Centre.

More than half of the population on the African continent will live in cities by 2030, forecasts show. Rapid, unplanned urban growth is likely to exacerbate existing socioeconomic issues plaguing these urban centres.

At the same time, climate change imposes new challenges upon the continent’s urban development. Both the frequency and intensity of floods and droughts are growing. Disasters from extreme weather threaten basic services, human health and safety, and the economic wherewithal of cities and the people who live in them.

SEI plays a leading role in a global effort to address issues emerging at the intersection of these two trends: urbanization and climate change. “Learning Labs”, showcased in this video, are an innovation to foster a transdisciplinary, collaborative approach in the effort to underpin policies addressing adaptation needs with climate science. The approach emphasizes cooperative problem solving to help achieve a key Sustainable Development Goal of making cities “inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.

Diverse stakeholders, decision-makers, and producers of climate information participate in Learning Labs, which consist of exercises and games designed to co-explore relevant issues, and to co-produce potential solutions. The labs embrace the complexity of issues facing cities and city dwellers. The experiences require stakeholders to frame problems and devise potential solutions from various angles and perspectives. The aim is to build capacities and relationships, and to foster learning – with users of climate information gaining more understanding about climate science, and generators of climate information gaining greater understanding about the context-specific needs of potential users.

SEI, project partners and city stakeholders designed the Learning Labs during a four-year project, Future Resilience for African CiTies and Lands (FRACTAL), which was part of a multi-consortia Future Climate for Africa programme, jointly funded by the UK Department for International Development and the Natural Environment Research Council. The labs took place in three cities: Windhoek, Namibia; Lusaka, Zambia; and Maputo, Mozambique; and learning will be shared by city stakeholders from these cities with stakeholders in other cities –  Blantyre, Malawi; Harare, Zimbabwe; and Gaborone, Botswana – in a new phase of work in 2020. Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, South Africa also participated in FRACTAL.

This video outlines the Learning Labs approach as used in Windhoek.

Design and development by Soapbox.