CreativeDrought - Creative experiments for building resilience to future drought in Africa

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Sch of Geography, Earth & Env Sciences


Drought events cause severe water and food insecurities in many developing countries. In many of these countries resilience to drought is low for a myriad of reasons, including poverty, unequal political and social structures, limited access to information, and problems adapting traditional knowledge to changing situations. In the CreativeDrought project we aim to increase drought resilience by combining local indigenous knowledges with scientific methods. With a multi-disciplinary research team, we developed an interdisciplinary approach that: i) collects existing drought narratives (i.e. stories about past drought events) and other useful local knowledges, ii) develops hypothetical future drought scenarios with a hydrological model (verified with local communities), iii) organises creative experimentation workshops in which communities build future drought narratives based on the narratives and model scenarios, and finally, iv) embeds the outcomes of these workshops in local water management.

This new approach needs to be tested in a pilot project. The pilot study area we have selected is the Mzingwane area in southern Zimbabwe, a very poor rural area, with a dry and irregular climate, traditional dryland farming systems, and limited effective water management. The region is currently experiencing a severe drought, related to below normal rainfall in two consecutive rainy seasons, and leading to major impacts on local communities in terms of food and water.

We will conduct interviews and group sessions, based around narrative elicitation, with various groups within local communities in the Mzingwane area. In this way we will learn about the experience, perspective and cultural significance of drought events. We will build on this knowledge to develop hypothetical future scenarios with a hydrological model by extrapolating the narrated droughts to outside their historic range. The communities can then use their own experience and the modelling scenarios to experiment with stories about possible future drought events and possible effective ways of responding to them. Through this experimentation they can build up experience of dealing with droughts that are outside the range of previous drought events. This way of increasing resilience to drought is regarded as robust because it uses scientific methods, is culturally embedded and bottom-up. It also ensures that the perspectives of different members of the community are heard and incorporated. Finally, we work with local authorities to make sure the future drought narratives that the communities have developed will feed into official decision-making processes.

The team of the CreativeDrought project consists of experienced academics from different backgrounds. While some have collaborated before, the project also creates new links and allows team members to apply their work outside the UK. We actively build on recent and current projects of the team members. The team builds bridges between different disciplines (natural and social sciences, arts & humanities), between countries (UK, Zimbabwe), and between scientists and local stakeholders (community members, NGOs and authorities). To increase success of the project, we will link up with existing projects in the same area and have an international scientific steering committee.

The outcomes of this research are diverse, including meetings and workshops with local stakeholders, high-level scientific publications, a website to disseminate results and archive collected data, and a proposal that aims at applying our new interdisciplinary approach to other case study areas in Africa and around the world. With the CreativeDrought project we hope to lay the foundations for new ways of increasing the drought resilience of rural communities in developing countries, by combining strengths of local knowledge and cultural expressions with scientific methods.

Planned Impact

A coproduction approach is at the heart of the project, which means that CreativeDrought has several direct beneficiaries. Routes to wider impact have also been identified. The range of beneficiaries is as follows.

1. Local rural community members and groups in southern Zimbabwe affected by droughts
Through the excellent links already established by our local partners, we will work directly with rural women and men in southern Zimbabwe, especially small-scale/subsistence farmers, who will be direct beneficiaries. In these communities, there is endemic poverty and food insecurity, primarily due to socio-political and structural reasons but also due to barriers to scientific knowledge and poor ability to withstand extreme climatic events such as droughts. We will work with them to combine indigenous and scientific knowledge and experiment with narratives of future drought. We will ensure that multiple community perspectives are heard and shared. Through this creative experimentation process with possible future droughts, their preparedness and resilience to droughts will improve. Improved resilience will lead to improved livelihoods and contribute to poverty reduction.

2. Local water management agencies in Zimbabwe, as well as regional agencies in southern Africa
The second group of beneficiaries are local water management agencies and policy makers in Zimbabwe and southern Africa. These work with local communities and implement policies on the ground. They are, however, faced with the complex problem of managing the variable water resources, in the face of contention between different demands, perceptions and social structures, including those of (groups within) poor rural communities. They also lack the capacity to deal with extreme climatic events. Through a series of dedicated science-policy meetings, we will work with local and regional management agencies to see if the future drought narratives developed with the communities can be embedded in IWRM in Zimbabwe. This will improve the context within which decisions are made and resources are managed. At the policy level, improved knowledge on cultural aspects of water resources and drought will improve IWRM policy to enable sustainable, equitable and conjunctive use of the resource.

3. Local NGOs and humanitarian response organisations
The third group of beneficiaries includes local NGOs and humanitarian response organisations, working with communities to increase their resilience to climate variability, as well as providing emergency response should droughts occur. The improved understanding of local communities' perceptions of drought and how these can be adapted to prepare for an uncertain future, within cultural framings, will help NGOs and humanitarian agencies interact with communities to help them increase resilience, as well as in taking a timely response to reduce impacts when events do occur. We will actively engage in capacity building of these organisations through targeted workshops.

4. Local, regional and international communities of stakeholders, researchers & students
The CreativeDrought project has various indirect beneficiaries. These include rural communities and agencies that we will not directly interact with, but who could similarly benefit from the research, both inside and outside the pilot study area. Through partnering with other projects and outreach, we will share the project outcomes and ensure local capacity building. Through our project website and digital archive, we will also reach out to other rural communities around the world that are vulnerable to drought. Communities worldwide might benefit from possible follow-up projects based on this pilot study. We will also work with local, regional and international universities and education institutes to ensure the research benefits IWRM education programmes, thus helping to build long term capacity.
Title Impact and Adaptation Digital Stories 
Description As part of the project, we filmed community members telling us about the impacts a future drought would have on them and on the village, and what solutions they envisaged would need to be put in place. We commissioned Storyworks UK to use those recordings and some still images to create digital stories of impact and adaptation to drought. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact We used a selection of the videos to engage with local government officials in discussing the challenges of drought management in South Africa. We found that the videos were a very good starting point to engage with them on a difficult topic about an uncertain future. 
Description The CreativeDrought project has combined narrative methods with hydrological modelling with the aim to increase preparedness for future drought in a community in rural South-Africa. We have generated new knowledge on the barriers of preparedness to uncertain future events, both at community level and in the relation between the government and the community.
Using a hydrological model, we generated locally-relevant future scenarios, which we translated for a lay audience into locally-focused storylines about the future. We used the storylines in community workshops to engage community members in discussion about future drought. We tasked participants with telling us a story about what their future would be like in those scenarios. To do so, we asked them to work in groups chosen to foster intergenerational exchange and conversations across different professional sectors. We found that:
- The model scenarios gave a relevant scientific backing to the discussions about the future.
- Building a group narrative enhanced the exchange of knowledge and experience between different groups in the community.
It became clear how important it is to use methods that align with the local cultural expressions and how powerful creativity and exchange are when imagining an uncertain future. The future drought narratives were not only shared with the community for local use, but also explored in conversations with local and regional government representatives. We found that these government representatives valued the narratives as a starting point for discussion and for raising awareness of challenges faced at local level. New research questions that emerged from this research are in relation to upscaling, for example:
- Will the recorded narratives be able to travel and increase drought preparedness in community members who did not participate in the workshops? Will they reach other communities in rural South Africa and increase their drought preparedness?
- How will policy makers use this information in their decision making on supporting these communities to cope with future drought?
Exploitation Route Our findings are of high interest to the developing research field of socio-hydrology (as is shown by the interest at international conferences). Our methodology of combining scenario modelling with narrative workshops can be used by researchers investigating preparedness to future events (including droughts, floods, landslides, etc.). Within the international research initiative Panta Rhei (the International Association of Hydrological Sciences international decade on changes in hydrology and society) our experience of truly integrated interdisciplinary research is being used as an example of combining different research fields and methods to advance the science of hydrology and water management. Additionally, research on water management and policy making can use our recommendations to investigate how local perspectives can be embedded in decision making to make the governance less top-down.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description The CreativeDrought project has already resulted in a number of societal impacts in the rural community of Folovhodwe in South Africa. The local leadership reported that the community valued having taken part in our research project and that it had resulted in the community being more organised. The workshop participants reported that the workshops increased their engagement with uncertain future drought events and that they valued the discussion and exchange of experience with other groups in the community. The local and regional level government representatives have also indicated that they found our findings and the recorded drought narratives interesting and that they would look for opportunities to use them in drought management. More impacts are expected over the coming months and years when the community and government engage more with the recorded narratives.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

Description Interaction with government officials of Ministry of Agriculture
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Description Building Resilience: Transferability, Scaling Up and Policy Impact for Socio-Ecological Resilience
Amount £7,520 (GBP)
Organisation University of Leicester 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2017 
End 09/2017
Description Connect4 water resilience: connecting water resources, communities, drought and flood hazards, and governance across 4 countries in the Limpopo basin
Amount £252,352 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/S005943/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2018 
End 07/2020
Description additional ODA funding
Amount £5,700 (GBP)
Organisation University of Birmingham 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2017 
End 03/2017
Title Shetran hydrological model 
Description Shetran is a physically-based distributed modelling system for water flow, sediment and solute transport in river basins. Shetran has a set of vertical columns with each column divided into finite-difference cells. The lower cells contain aquifer materials and groundwater, higher cells contain soil and soil water and the uppermost cells contain surface waters and the vegetation canopy. River channels are specified around the edge of the finite-difference column. The flow of water through the finite difference cells and across the surface and canopy is calculated using physically based equations. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2008 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The ability to model reservoirs has been added to the model. Previously lakes could be added by blocking a river channel and allowing the water to gradually fill in a lake, which would eventually overtop. Water can now also be released from the lake to the downstream river, so that there is a constant release if the water is above a specified depth but a reduced release as the water depth decreases with the release proportional to the water depth. The parameters associated with the release are calculated from the measured releases. So for the Creative Drought project two reservoirs have been added -the Luphephe and Nwanedi reservoirs. For both of these the release rate has been parameterised with water removed from the reservoir and added to the downstream river as well as overtopping of the dam when the inflow exceeds the release rate. 
Description Limpopo Province Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, South Africa 
Organisation Government of South Africa
Department Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries (DAFF)
Country South Africa 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We took part in a knowledge exchange exercise with members of the Limpopo Province Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. During a two-day training workshop, we introduced our methodology to them and reflected on overlaps and differences with their current practice. At the end of the project, we shared with them observations and lessons we made on current drought governance practices at the local level. We drew attention to our analysis of the challenges that they face and to some solutions we suggested.
Collaborator Contribution From their side, during the workshop, they gave us some local context about the Vhembe District and the Limpopo Province, and taught us about their local practice of participatory extension approaches. They gave us feedback on our proposed interview schedule and helped with the translation of our questions. Towards the end of the project, they took part in meetings with us when we showed them the videos that we made during our fieldwork and presented our findings to them, as well as shared a science-policy brief with them. They gave us some feedback on those and discussed with us how this might best be useful in the local context of drought management in South Africa.
Impact [thoughts for here: science-policy brief; end of project report]
Start Year 2017
Description University of Venda, South Africa 
Organisation University of Venda
PI Contribution As part of this partnership, we provided training in qualitative interviewing and research ethics to four research assistants studying for an MSc and one research assistant studying for a PhD. All of them were local South African students. We supervised them as they took part in three phases of fieldwork in a remote location of South Africa. They gained valuable experience of the research process by being involved directly with participants recruitment, interviews and transcriptions, ahead of having to carry out their own research for their MSc/PhDs. They also gained organisational skills as they had to work to the deadlines of the project.
Collaborator Contribution Prof. Nesamvuni was our contact at the University of Venda. He was instrumental in supporting the research. He introduced us to local contacts at the ministry of agriculture, which we needed for sharing our results at the end of the project. He made contacts with the village that was to be our case study ahead of our field visit, and ensured we would have the necessary permissions to carry out the research. He then introduced us to the village's chief and conducted any formal procedures according to local customs on our behalf (and interpreted those for us). In relation to this, he offered advice on cultural customs and helped ensure we were respecting those. He recruited the research assistants for us and supervised them whilst we were in the UK. We expect he will be taking part in writing the end of project report we are currently preparing.
Impact Expected output: end of project report; multi-disciplinary: hydrology; human and cultural geography
Start Year 2017
Description Blog posts about the project 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The project team shared their reflections on the project on the CreativeDrought blog, which was shared on social media.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Drought vulnerability in South Africa: observations and reflections 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation for c. 50 scientific colleagues at the International Association of Hydrological Sciences Panta Rhei scientific decade, which sparked lots of discussion and interest.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Final meeting with Chief, Royal Council and other community members 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact We presented our results to the Chief of the village, his Royal Council and other community members. All showed a great interest in the work and engagement with the recorded stories.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description How can society build resilience to increasingly extreme hydrological events? A watershed moment for drought research 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A press release by the University of Birmingham.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Let Cape Town revolutionise the way we think about water 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact newspaper article on the Cape Town Drought in The Observer
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description invited seminar Universities of Leicester, Reading & Oxford 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact I gave department seminars for an international interdisciplinary audience of academics at the University of Leicester, University of Oxford and University of Reading. This sparked discussion and interest in future collaboration.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019