Insights from our first Monsoon Academy - August 2019

Four days of immersive learning around Climate Resilience

We kicked-off our first Monsoon Academy on Planning for Climate Resilience in Urban Areas with a highly engaged group of participants from different organizations in India and Bangladesh who brought a rich diversity of academic and professional experiences to the group.

The learning framework of the course was built around five areas that shape resilience: Policy – which provides an enabling environment to build resilience; Science – evidence and uncertainty of climate change and related extreme weather events; Systems – infrastructural set-up, ecosystems, interventions and urban planning for resilience; Governance – implementation and management of resilience through networks comprising of actors and institutions; and Context –people, culture, economy, local knowledge and social vulnerabilities particular to distinct areas..

The first day opened with a priming session on climate risk and uncertainty, which allowed the participants to review science and scenarios of climate change. Experiencing uncertainty through a dice game, participants allocated funds to flood and/or drought protection versus development, highlighting the importance of planning for climate risk in mainstream development. The group then reviewed their own use of resilience terminology and the challenges practitioners face when communicating with colleagues and communities, since our understanding is often based on professional experiences and local contexts.

Participants shared their professional insights as well as the tools and methods they have used to build resilience. This was a good opportunity for early-career practitioners to learn from their senior counterparts. Tools and methods from diverse contexts and issues were mentioned, and existing gaps that need strong focus were discussed. While a lot of sectoral resilience work is being done, the need for an integrated and "big picture" perspective was pointed out. For example, participants agreed that planning for urban resilience should not strictly stop at the city limits, but needs to include peri-urban areas that have strong links with cities

As a practical example of change in the coastal ecosystem, the group went on a guided walk along the Betalbatim beach.They explored the influence of policy as well as shifts in local knowledge and practices on the coast's natural landscape,vegetation and livelihoods. High sand dunes that used to stretch along the coast, protecting the area from flooding and saltwater intrusion have completely disappeared in the past decades due to increased development.

Day two of the Academy focused on the complexity of vulnerability and resilience. A session on urban resilience frameworks discussed the drivers of resilience and social vulnerability. The group explored different perspectives of vulnerability, as well as unconventional measures of resilience – how changes in water and air quality can be perceived through our senses. In coastal communities struggling with saltwater intrusion, resilience may, for example, taste like freshwater. A hands-on exercise on resilience design and planning took participants to a hypothetical coastal area facing water scarcity and increasing salinity of groundwater resources. The exercise showed the strong influence of problem-framing in resilience planning and interventions.

An introduction to speculative futures and design thinking opened up a new avenue for project work and proposals. Based on previous exercises, the group developed user narratives which support the analysis of resilience action impacts on different social groups. The participants had early on voiced their keen interest in learning about the governance of resilience. Who decides on resilience and how? This question was examined in detail through actor-stakeholder mapping of real cases from India, noting influence, knowledge exchange, direction and funding streams between actors andinstitutions. The mapping exercise highlighted the complexities and forms of networks which govern resilience in different cases.

The last day of the Academy started early for field visits to two contrasting locations – Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary; and the Smart City office in Panaji. The Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary located on Chorão Island is a protected biodiversity-rich mangrove forest close to the city of Panaji. Being paddy fields only some 50 years ago, Chorão Island is an excellent example of a community-centred conservation project. Local communities practice traditional passive fishing techniques and shellfish harvesting in the mangrove forests, thus benefiting directly from a healthy ecosystem. The many species of mangroves and small wildlife in the protected area illustrate the possibilities of close cooperation between government departments (here, forest and fisheries) and communities. The group learned about the mangrove ecosystem in terms of resilience building in peri-urban areas, its governance, the politics of local knowledge needs in the context of global adaptation solutions.

The participants then visited the Imagine Panaji Smart City Development office, located in the historic Adil Shah Palace in Panaji. The vision of Smart Panaji, a city that is more liveable and resilient for its citizen, is built upon extensive data collection, community involvement and forward-oriented planning – a good example of what a resilient Smart City can look like, as well as the institutional and regulatory frameworks for its implementation.

Before closing the 2019 Monson Academy with a banquet dinner, a synthesis session stringed together the learnings of the three days. Using the adaptation continuum, the faculty shared their experiences of different steps in the adaptation process and answered participants' questions. The participants also had an opportunity to have one-on-one mentoring sessions with the faculty to discuss their work, and overcome gaps and barriers in their learning.

Our first Monsoon Academy with the Global Climate Adaptation Partnership (GCAP) in Goa, a setting that is an example of both resilience challenges and solutions, was a great experience indeed. We are happy to reflect on feedback from our participants and grateful for suggestions to deliver an even better programme in the future.


Future Cities


Zaheb Ahmad

Zaheb is a Research Fellow at Tandem Research. His work explores institutions and governance arrangements in India, anchoring people-centred approaches to the environment and data. Zaheb is currently working on setting up an 'urban living lab' in Panaji - an experimental governance approach, established at the boundaries between research, innovation and policy, for urban sustainability transitions in India. Zaheb holds an LL.M with specialisation in Environmental Law from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, and B.L.S, LL.B from Government Law College, University of Mumbai. His Master’s research deconstructs the functioning of the Environmental Impact Assessment mechanism in India and explores environmental justice implications for impacted communities.