Today was always scheduled to think and plan in the morning and to expose those of us who arrived only yesterday to the crucial first phase of the project – participatory rural appraisal. This proved to be a stimulating, challenging and humbling day which captured much of what the whole ESPA programme is about. As I sit writing this blog, reflecting on the day I feel a sense of energy and passion amongst the whole team, something exciting for me to see as it gives me real confidence in the caliber of the team and my own desire to ensure we really do deliver a project which really can undertake “world-class research on ecosystem services (ES) for poverty alleviation at the forest-agricultural interface and deliver evidence from a range of sources and in various formats to inform policy and behavior”.
During the morning it became increasingly apparent that some important decisions needed to be made. Everyone was contributing in the numerous brain-storms required to enable us to seek clarity and understanding of the major questions and themes of our project which will help us achieve our goal: “to explicitly quantify the linkages between the natural ecosystem services that affect – and are affected by – food security and nutritional health for the rural poor at the forest-agricultural interface”. Importantly, the conversations and sharing of expertise approaches amongst the disciplines will allow this multidisciplinary project to set off on the right trajectory – something so important for successful multidisciplinary projects addressing complex and grand challenges such as ensuring food and ecological security.
The afternoon involved a group of our Malawian collaborators, who had worked with the ASSETS team members from other countries, led by Kate Schreckenberg, presenting their results from the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) they had conducted in a village the previous week. I was amazed by the detail of the qualitative information obtained and the impact this approach will have in shaping the whole project. It confirmed the importance of community/village led input into projects like ours, the valuable insight from those living in the ecosystems we study and the error in assuming we know the key drivers and issues. Personally, I found the experience an emotional journey and humbling as the storyline emerged towards the coping strategies used by those suffering from extreme poverty in trying to ensure food security. I finished the day feeling honored and privileged to lead the marvelous ASSETS team and thinking to myself, I really want our world class research to make a difference and thus a Theory of Change takes on new meaning.