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Ken de Souza


Interviewer: Today, in our new instalment of Climate Change talks, we have the opportunity to discuss with Ken de Souza, from the UK Department for International Development (also known as DFID) and who is responsible for the DfID/IDRC’s partnership to build partnership in Africa and Asia. The program is called CARIAA. If you like what you hear and want to find more about CARIAA, you can find the link in the description box.

Interviewer: So, hi, Ken.

Ken: Hello.

Interviewer: Thank you for, for talking with us today.

Ken: My pleasure.

Interviewer: We are really glad you are here.  One thing we wanted to, we wanted to ask you is that what do you do and, and how could you describe your role in climate change and development (inaudible).

Ken: So, I’m a research manager.  That’s my title.  In the department for International Development in the United Kingdom.  So, UKAID basically.  And, I sit in a team that deals with research, and research and evidence division as my title suggests.  And, we fund research focused on achieving development outcomes.  And, the areas of research that my team focuses on is climate change and climate change impacts, energy, access to energy, water, water and sanitation, water resource management and environment.  So, we’re known as a climate, energy and water team for short.  And within that team I help commission research that is focused on the, that range of clim…, broad range of topics.  And, and, the research is primarily aimed at two things really.  It is generally providing global public goods to help support improved knowledge and evidence globally on essentially what works and what doesn’t work in development practice.  But in particular, we’re focused on reasonably short term in the scheme of research, and research is normally very long term.  We’re focused on research that will deliver impact basically for poor people helping the cause of development globally.  We largely focus on Africa, but, but we also focus on South Asia and, and other areas as it is in some cases as important as a kind of to compare and contrast things and provide a kind of global public good.  So, that’s kind of broadly what I do.  We commission research with partners, both directly ourselves and with partners.  We partner with IDRC for example in the, the CARIAA project.  We partner with the Dutch in other projects.  We partner with the UK research councils.  So, we partner with a range of institutions to deliver high quality impactful research, and then part of my job is to help design those programs, to deliver them, to monitor and evaluate them, and, and, you know, go through the whole kind of cycle so that, that’s in a nutshell what I do.

Interviewer: Okay.  That, that’s quite complex (laughter).  Not really, but.  I’m, I’m just going to kind of buildup on, on what you say regarding your partnerships.  So, just to give a bit of background, do you work on CARIAA which have been going on since 2012, and going to an, and, next year.  And, one of the highlight of CARIAA and since early on is the hot pot approach.

Ken: Right, right.

Interviewer: And basically, I just want to know, how does this hotspot approach emerge, and, and where did it come from?

Ken: Okay.  So, hotspots are not a new concept for a start.  You know, it, I think originally comes from biodiversity, the biodiversity field, and we to, to look at why we develop CARIAA from a kind of hotspot perspective.  I guess you’ve gotta go back to the predecessor program to CARIAA, our relationship with IDRC has been long running, and we used to have a joint program called Climate Change Adaptation in Africa, CCAA.  And that was really focused on, as the name implies, Africa, and I think, if I’m, if memory serves me, it was about 40 or 42 separate individual research projects.  It was largely focused on community based research and action research in, in its kind of, its approach.  When that project finished, which was very successful, and, and, and, and, we were very pleased with its, with its outcomes.  However, we decided that we wanted to, to move it to the next level, and, and actually have a kind of global research program.  However, agreeing on one single global research program was kind of enormously, you know, such a huge scope.  It’s not really feasible for, to, to operationalize sometime like that.  So, we looked for different ways that we could do a global research program, but, but actually in, in kind of reasonably meaningful and, and practical kind of chunks.  We did a bit of scoping work jointly with IDRC, and some of the early scoping or some of that scoping work came up with this idea that there was some hotspots, areas of particular vulnerability to predicted climate change.  And, and so it was really from that, from that scoping work that was done that this idea of looking at areas of the world where what was, what is still termed the climate signal, ie the, the strength of likely change is going to be highest, and overlay that (inaudible) that map, if you like, with a map of where the most vulnerable, and the largest number of poor, vulnerable people are.  And when you do that, you get these, what we’ve called hotspots.  We obviously had quite a large range of choice, so, so we had to narrow it down a little bit.  So, we selected the three that we have now.  A little bit based on a combination of vote at that process, plus areas of the world that we were DIFID in particular was specifically interested in.  So, Africa and South Asia.

Interviewer: Okay.

Ken: So, that’s how we arrived at that hotspot.  So, it was, it wasn’t just like, it was an accumulation, culmination rather of a series of thinking that brought us to that.

Interviewer: And do you think that this process helped achieve, like, have helped bring some of the achievement from CARIAA that you wouldn’t have had if you had used another process?

Ken: It’s difficult to say really.  I mean, I, I think time will tell whether this, this was actually a, a, useful construct or not.  We think so at the moment.  It provides a different way of looking at things.  Part of the idea was that we wanted to be able to compare and contrast strategies that were adopted in, in different context but with some similarities.  So, if you think about the semi-arid regions that are quite broad, large number of different context, and if you were able to compare and contrast how, you know, some problem is being approached in, you know, maybe southern Africa compared to some part of the __Sahara__(8:23), compared to some part of Central Asia, you might be able to compare and contrast things, where some aspects are similar, and some aspects are different, so it helps you draw out, you know, it’s easier to draw out and compare findings and, and identify particular things that may help deliver something that works versus something that doesn’t.  So, that was part of the reasoning, that actually this was, it just is an experimental design, which just allowed you to compare and contrast things a bit in a different way than is traditionally done. Whether that’s actually been successful, I think, you know, I’ll leave others to judge.  But, but it, it has brought a different way of looking at things, and it has brought that, a possibility of looking at this thing about how do you scale successful initiatives that, you know, we’ve, we’ve, we’ve done lots and lots of research projects and pilots or whatever you want to call them where we’ve gone to a single community somewhere.  It’s proved very successful but we then really then struggle to sort of move whatever has been done at that community level to, to scale.  And so, this was a way of trying to say, well maybe if you look at it in a different light, through a different sort of construct, that might help us identify those things.

Interviewer: And do, is there, do you think there’s any lessons learned from this climate hotspot approach that can be applied, let’s say, to the sustainable development goals for example?

Ken: Well, I think there are some that, I mean it’s, it’s just about scaling I think really that, that we really want to sort of try and identify things that, that work in more in, in, in a kind of generalizable way.  I know that’s a kind of, you know, people always talk about wanting generalizable findings, and that, that, that often they don’t, it’s very difficult to do , cause context is everything, as also people say.  But I think we do want to, to, to sort of move our research, you know, up into the scaling, in, into this area of trying to say, well, how do we scale up things that work well, and, and not.  And, unless we can do that, we’re really stuck in the kind of islands of excellence kind of area that we were before.  So, so, I think the CARIAA Project has been looking at, you know, what lessons can be drawn from the kind of assessments and work and hotspots to, to the SDGs.  But again, I think it kind of, you know, these things take time, and it’s difficult to know whether it’s successful or not at this stage.

Interviewer: Okay.  I want to go on, when you were talking about the scaling of some of the initiative that have been started with CARIAA and going to the research in to use, which is a big part of CARIAA.  And, do you think that we, along with the hotspot approach, this research into use way of, of doing research really, have contributed in terms of the outcome of, of the program itself?

Ken: Well, I’d like to think so.  I mean, again, we’re still at a stage where, you know, where the program is still on, ongoing, and, and there’s maybe just a bit under a year to go.  Like most research, you know, things tend to sort of like start slowly and, and, and then accelerate towards the end.  I think we designed or, or we operationalized, designed and operationalized CARIAA with impact in mind.  So, the research is not curiosity driven, you know, the kind of classic basic research, it is research for a purpose.  And the purpose is to, you know, to tackle poverty, and, and, and, and accelerate development.  And so, I think putting that at the beginning of the program as a whole, and, and, and making, having an emphasis on that dimension right at the outset to, to concentrate lines of the researchers, that, that this isn’t about following their curiosity and, you know, producing papers in high-impact journal stuff.  It is for a purpose.  It is development assistance funding.  It’s not standard research council funding, and, therefore, the research needs to be focused on impact.  I think that’s, that has been, I wouldn’t say it’s unique, cause there are other programs that do the same as well, but, but actually that approach I think has delivered benefits as we go along.  I think the research has also, the research design has also included transdisciplinary approaches and multiple institutional partners in a, in a single consortia, so a consortia are formed of high-quality researchers in the kind of best academics.  Some of the best academics in the world, but they are partnered with international development NGOs, national NGOs, quasi-government partners, people who are focused on implementation.  So, that combination of, of research partners and, and, and just, you know, the interactions between them is tended also to help shift things from just being research focused for researchers sake, to actually trying to deliver results.  And I think that has worked.  I think we could do more of that to be honest.  I think we’ve learned a lot about how to incentivize the kind of research into use aspects, and, and, and a lot of learning has, has come out in that area from the CARIAA Program. But I think, I think it has, has been reasonably successful in at least keeping our kind of, what would you say, feed the fire, in terms of where he had to deliver results will affect the lives of, you know, of poor people, not, not necessarily high-quality research papers.  Although, it’s very important that the research that we do is oft the best quality.  You know, bad research doesn’t help anybody.  So, so, you know, you need to ensure that the research we do is of the highest quality, but then we need to also ensure that that research is focused on delivering outcomes for poor people.

Interviewer: And how do you see that going forward?  Like, what kind of also what kind of challenges do you see in keeping the ball rolling?

Ken: Well, there’s lots of challenges even with the ball stopped actually.  No, the, the, the challenge is really these are, these are complex problems that we’re trying to tackle.  There is no silver bullet.  They, they require a good understanding of the whole.  The problem in, in, It’s kind of holistic sense and that involves, that requires an involvement of, as I said earlier, a kind of transdisciplinary team.  Although, although we’ve been talking about interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches for a long time.  In practice, actually, you know, practice is like behind the kind of theory in, in a way.  So, that’s difficult.  That’s actually quite a difficult endeavor to put together.  These are big problems, as I said.  The teams are spread across many geographies, many institutions, each with their own culture and ways and norms of working.  So, there’s a lot to do I think in terms of just bringing the, the, the range of players that you need to bring together to address difficult problems.  Such, so they simply understand what, what each other’s saying and talk the same language, and kind of have similar conceptual framing of what, what it is they’re trying to do.  That takes time basically.  So, I think really we’ve made a good start.  Again, I would say there’s lots of other initiatives working in a similar way.  But, but I do see that, that researchers have, you know, moved a huge distance in a relatively short time from very kind of focused on producing papers in academic journals to actually, you know, trying to tackle some of the most difficult problems that we face today, and it’s not going to be done quickly.  But I think they’re making progress.

Interviewer: And how do you think you and I, like (inaudible) and if DIFiD can actually help progress?

Ken: Well, by, by continuing to support this kind of work for starts.  But, but by being, by learning from our experiences so far, and ensuring that, that the way we design and deliver research programs, you know, sort of helps these teams to work together in the most efficient and effective ways.  That they remain focused on, on achieving that objective of, of poverty reduction.  But that we, you know, we understand the various incentives of the different players and, and ensure that we facilitate them working together best to deliver the outputs that we’re looking for.  You know, it’s just team work, isn’t it? 

Interviewer: Sure.

Ken: It’s the same in any, in lots of things.  But, in this case, you know, you’re dealing with teams who are some based in Cape town, some are based in sort of England, some are based in Holland, you know, India, Pakistan, you know, it’s, it’s difficult actually.

Interviewer: Sure.

Ken: But I think they’ve, you know, I’m, I’m amazed at some of the achievements that the teams have, have, have delivered.  So, I think we can just continue pushing them, as ourselves.  Pushing ourselves to become more focused on delivering impact in whatever way we, we think we can.

Interviewer: Okay.  And then, well finally, any words of wisdom, or any last word that you would have, you would like to share with us?

Ken: Well, what I think is that these are big problems, you know.  The poverty and, and, and, and, and development is enormous in itself.  And then you have things like climate change layered on to them.

Interviewer: Yes.

Ken: You know, you’re dealing with, you know, enormous potential problems.  I think we just, you know, work hard and, and try and convince others to join the effort, and I think that’s about as much as we can try and do.  Ya.

Interviewer: That’s already a good start.  I think that’s already good.  (laughter)

Ken: Yes, I think so, I think so, yes.

Interviewer: Okay.  Well, thank you very much.

Ken: Not at all, and thank you for doing this.

Interviewer: It, it’s really our pleasure to get to talk with you and learn more from your work.

Ken: Good.  Thank you.

Interviewer: Thank you.