Friday, April 20, 2012

Bringing Evidence to the Table: Reflections from the 6th International Conference on Community Based Adaptation, Hanoi, Vietnam

Attending 6th CBA in Hanoi, Vietnam I started realizing that people are getting more comfortable speaking about CBA. They don’t anymore talk about what is CBA and why CBA is needed but rather have moved to a next higher level of discourse i.e. sharing their experiences in a more articulated manner.

On the positive side, considering that this conference is about and for practitioners of CBA and most representation of speakers are from on-going projects,most speakers have spent considerable time explaining about their project and what it aims to achieve. It is evident that more and more projects are putting efforts involving multiple actors into their projects, and surprisingly even government-driven programs talk about involving communities. Most of this change could have come both from self realization that adaptation is all about participation, ownership and empowerment; but partly must also have come from emphasis by NGOs, bi- and multi-lateral agencies such as GEF, World Bank and others.

On the down side [probably a better word would be ‘work in progress’], still very less evidence is being presented on how CBA project have benefited communities and other stakeholders and actually have led to adaptation or climate risk reduction. Probably this could be done by selectively inviting participation from projects that have finished implementation. It is tricky since very less or no resources would be available for project staff to travel and present in conferences after the project is finished.

A plenary from 6th CBA, Hanoi, Vietnam

Presenting empirical evidence would have made lot of difference to the conference gathering and to the CBA in general. Most work presented talks about what communities believe and think and stress on how to involve various stakeholders in CBA in ‘textual’ terms. While these are important operational aspects, we need more refined information being presented in a much more analytic manner. This preference could be just for me, since I recall people saying this is not the venue for presenting analytic work. Nevertheless, analysis results can always be tailor-presented to the audience. One area where CBA literature can improve is presenting reasons and framework/methodology behind identifying practices and policies that projects chose to implement. Why only X and why not Y, how much of the decision to chose X over Y was influenced by community preferences and those of outsiders? There are questions raised about right to adaptation, fairness in decision making, and even more importantly if inequality is being well addressed.

There is still a larger question that lingers in my mind. How much a project planner or even a researcher should weigh in on what communities think and believe [We don’t give second opinion on what a doctor prescribes as a medicine even for cold] and how to cross-check what communities think is good for them is really good for them. Probably this can be done by emphasizing and help converting unfelt needs and wants into felt needs and wants. Probably this is happening on the ground but nothing much has come into presentations and articulations. 

I think CBA has passed the stage of saleability; however this doesnt mean that we stop hiring sales men to sell it [I changed this sentence after hearing the speech of Richard Bossi]. We also need more people who have reached a stage of providing more emphatic, empirical, and analytical evidence (even if it is qualitative), and sharing experiences of CBA working on the ground; clarifying operational overlaps, as against conceptual ones, that exist between development, DRR and CCA; and measured benefits from mainstreaming CCA/CBA/DRR. M&E can help achieve lot of this. It would be interesting to see M&E staff from projects sharing their experiences of M&Eing adaptation and what they expect from M&E researchers or those who tailor M&E tools for adaptation.

More to come...

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