Researchers from across the UK, the globe and from a wide variety of disciplines gathered last week to address the building of resilience to environmental hazards, both natural and man-made, in developing countries.
The Building Resilience event took place on 9 March to share the impacts of interdisciplinary projects funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund.
Held at The Wellcome Trust, it was an opportunity for Principal Investigators (PIs) and other project collaborators to highlight successes, challenges and insights from their projects; these had all been financed by the Building Resilience funding call, which was led jointly by three research councils: The Natural Environment Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
The call was launched in 2016 and acknowledged that complex challenges require a broad range of disciplines as well as in-depth knowledge of the communities affected. Each of the funded projects drew together experts working in environmental science with those working in social science and the arts and humanities; this generated a series of multi-faceted, innovative approaches to tackling complex issues.
The presentations at the Wellcome Trust event revealed a range of interdisciplinary collaborations between scientists and experts in fields as diverse as landscape architecture, medicine, philosophy, history and the arts.
Project outcomes were equally wide-ranging, including the development of an app to make data collection and learning more accessible in earthquake-prone Nepal and the creation of a new word, vumo, to allow unambiguous community discussion in Nicaragua about the dangers of volcanic smoke.
Professor Angie Hart of the University of Brighton co-organised the Building Resilience event and was the PI on one of the projects funded by the call. Used to taking an interdisciplinary approach, she was inspired by the successes of the projects.
"It’s been fascinating to see how much energy and commitment people have demonstrated today," she said. "It’s also been great to hear that some of the projects have had interesting policy impact too. Working across different disciplines on shorter projects is a challenge so I’m really impressed by what has been achieved."
A 'Lessons Learned' session revealed the importance of winning the trust of the local community, while the opportunity to build in time for mentoring in order to increase capacity building was a desire for the future among some delegates.
Both keynote speakers, Kimaren Stanley Riamet and Richard Robertson, provided valuable insights from a project partner perspective.
Riamet, the Director for Indigenous Livelihoods Enhancement Partners in Kenya, underlined the importance of action-orientated research so that knowledge gained does not merely linger in European institutions.
In his address, Robertson, the Director of the University of West Indies Seismic Research Centre in Trinidad & Tobago, provided a 'checklist for good collaboration'. This included engaging with potential partners ahead of applying for funding and seeking out the insights of local communities to enhance experts' own knowledge.