African Climate and Development (ACDI) U Process

A deep dive into climate change and development transdisciplinary research questions with academics from UCT and local practitioners.

e designed and facilitated a Theory U process for the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI). The aim was to come up with a range of transdisciplinary research projects at the nexus of climate and development in the Bergrivier region an hour north of Cape Town. We led twenty UCT academics and local Bergrivier practitioners from diverse disciplines and perspectives through a process that combined learning journeys, online discussion and in-depth workshops.

Co-sensing: The first ten weeks focused on seeing the region through one another’s eyes, to get a felt sense of how each person makes meaning and how they understand the issues facing the region differently. Each participant took turns hosting the on-line forum for a few days, sharing their personal and disciplinary understandings of climate change and development, and the methodologies they use in their work. Over this time, we met at different places in the area to deepen our understanding collectively.

Presencing: We then spent 3 days together on the banks of the Berg River at Kersefontein Farm “at the bottom of the U”, coming up with 4 broad research questions, at different scales

Co-creating: Over the next few months we developed these questions in smaller groups and then came together to review and integrate, exploring through a mapping/modelling process, and then coming up with a synthesising theme of “Transitions” and a commitment to develop the Bergrivier Climate Knowledge Network through different expressions, including new projects, a post-graduate student track, writing together and providing support to one another as our respective work in the region evolved.

With Meshfield, ACDI made its first deliberate exploration of transdisciplinary learning and research. The U process we followed was a deep and immersing process that engendered individual and group understanding of the variety of languages, methods and epistemologies used by different disciplines in academia and practice. This was critical for building trust and appreciation of each other, and creating the environment within which transdisciplinary enquiry could flourish. Many things emerged from the U process, including transdisciplinary student research projects (in one case with five supervisors from different disciplines), the FLOW project, which among other things, drew unemployed youth into an investigation of environmental risks in the Bergrivier municipality, and a new project exploring Food-Water-Energy trade-offs in poor households in the Berg and Breede river catchments.
Prof Mark New, Pro-Vice Chancellor and Director, Vice-Chancellor, Climate

Meshfield processes build a field of trust and love, creating networks of people to do the work. Anna and John are skilled at creating conditions for doing the tough work required in these transition times full of uncertainty and deep ambiguity. They are passionate about social process and able to help build empathy, compassion and awareness among diverse participants. Their processes enable visioning other possibilities while making it fun and playful. These times require people who are helping, strong, understanding, curious, systems oriented, improvising and vulnerable – Anna and John are such people.
Tania Katzschner, Senior Lecturer, UCT School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics

We were a bunch of academics from different disciplines, as well as farmers, activists, and officials, trying to understand and work with each other - no easy task! Anna and John did wonders in fostering such collaboration, enabling us to better understand and also to challenge each others’ assumptions. This was all the more remarkable for being a lot of fun, as well!

Ralph Hamann, Research Director, Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town

I think my most enduring memory of working with Anna and John is the appreciation they had for different ways of interpreting or seeing the world. I also appreciated the combination of theory and practice which they brought to the facilitated workshops. I miss those wonderful and creative interdisciplinary journeys we all undertook together during the Bergrivier project. One great thing to emerge from that effort is that Petra Holden has now been awarded her PhD. I am really pleased about that as her rich and detailed interdisciplinary study of the Grootwinterhoek mountains arose directly from the Bergrivier project.

Timm Hoffman, Leslie Hill Chair of Plant Conservation, Plant Conservation Unit, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town