Professor, geographer, and researcher at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, Ibidun Adelekan knows the importance of engaging with diverse groups – from city authorities to farmers, students, and the media – to increase the reach and impact of her research.
Throughout her career she has been navigating the science-policy-practice interface, including while engaging with START’s programs. For example, in 2011-2013, as the team leader for the city of Ibadan during a START-led assessment on urban and peri-urban agriculture, Ibidun put a strong focus on engaging a wide range of stakeholders to help orient the direction of the assessment towards producing actionable knowledge for urban resilience planning.
We connected with Ibidun to learn more about her work, and how her involvement with START has impacted her approach and career trajectory.
START: How did you get involved with START?
I.A.: My first encounter with START dates back to 2011, during a science-policy dialogue in Ibadan under the project Integrating Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation in Development Planning (CCMAP), a collaborative effort of WMO, UNEP, the IPCC and START. The dialogue brought together participants from Nigeria and other countries of East and West Africa, and South East Asia to disseminate the findings of the IPCC AR4 to national-level policy makers and civil society as part of a larger effort to increase awareness and understanding of climate change in the context of sustainable development. I presented a paper on my research on climate change risks to urban areas at the meeting.
Shortly thereafter, I was selected to lead the Ibadan team to undertake an assessment of climate and urban and peri-urban agriculture in Ibadan under the Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture and Climate Change program. The program looked at how nine cities in West Africa, East Africa and Asia were dealing with climate change and population growth and how this affected agricultural practices in and around the cities. In Ibadan, I wanted to ensure that the team’s efforts had a strong link with policy and decision making. We were ultimately able to make sure that the findings fed directly into the city’s flood management plan and gave city officials a better understanding of building urban resilience and how to work with farmers, including women involved in Ibadan’s vibrant urban agriculture sector.
A few years later, I participated in another START program, Coastal Cities at Risk. I worked with partners from Canada, Thailand, and the Philippines. We found that even though we are in different continents, the impacts of climate change in coastal cities, especially in mega cities, are similar. However, circumstances in terms of data, knowledge technology and the capacity to address the impact of climate risks in coastal cities differ. This project opened my eyes to the need of African cities, and especially coastal cities, to do much more to develop knowledge and the capacity to use this knowledge effectively to reduce the risks related to climate change.
START: Has the involvement with START changed your perspective and impacted your career in any way?
I.A.: The involvement with START programs did have an impact on my approach. START projects have enabled me to network with other scientists at international level, and to better understand what it really means to undertake international research projects, and work in tandem with partners with similar research focus in other countries.
The international research projects extended my research horizon and exposed me to new research frontiers, provided the opportunity to network with other international scientists and this has greatly advanced my career. I have also benefited from capacity building and training workshops. Also, community and stakeholder engagements on all the research programmes have exposed me to the rich knowledge of the environment owned by community members and the importance of engaging with local stakeholders and communities when addressing such issues.
START: How have these connections, and others developed during the programs, helped increase the reach and impact of your research?
I.A.: During the Coastal Cities at Risk project, while interacting with Canadian researchers, I learned a lot about research in the area of social vulnerability. More importantly, during the project we were able to engage with city officials, insurance associations and media practitioners in Lagos.
The media played an important role in helping us share the knowledge generated with broader audiences, including with city officials who needed the information to make informed decisions. I still continue to work with them. For example, when media practitioners need information from scientists, they still get in touch with me, and I am happy to give interviews and educate the public on our research work. I have been invited to TV shows focusing on the environment and other current issues that relate to climate or other hazards in the city.
START: What is the current focus of your work?
I.A.: My research focus is the application of climate knowledge. I bring to the classroom contemporary knowledge and examples from my research activities and engagements which help students understand better the concepts that I teach and the relevance of what they are learning to everyday living. I have been teaching a course on impact of disasters, as part of a disaster risk management programme at the University of Ibadan. In Nigeria there is a high risk of natural hazards, which, coupled with increasing populations and urbanization, can have devastating impacts.
Besides teaching students, I am working with city officials so that they make informed decisions and effective planning based on the research results. I try to convey information such as what are the risks and what can be done, which areas can be affected with different types of risks, given that the city is not homogeneous and therefore experiences different hazards and risks.
START: Do you have any advice to offer to START or other capacity building organizations or programs? Is there anything that can be done better, especially in the developing world?
I.A.: Yes. I would encourage organizations to keep in mind that the level of expertise, knowledge and facilities available to different developing countries is not the same, and therefore the ability of scientists from different countries to move ahead or to fully engage may not be the same.
For example, data accessibility can be a problem in Nigeria and more broadly in Africa, while other countries, in Asia for example, might have good databases that can be easily accessed to extract the information needed. That means that, if you can focus on other issues in Asian countries, in Africa there is still a strong need for enhancing data accessibility, which is fundamental to be able come up with evidence and knowledge for planning and decision making.