HSD: Anticipatory Learning for Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience

Project: Research project

Project Details


Adaptation to the impacts of climatic change is now at the forefront of scientific inquiry and policy negotiations, but the current debate has contributed little to the understanding of the decision-making processes that shape adaptation and resilient livelihoods. This interdisciplinary research project hypothesizes that cyclical (loop) learning enhances people's anticipatory capacity, which is reflected in more flexible and dynamic local and regional adaptation plans. The investigators propose a resilience-enhancing approach that emphasizes an iterative way of analyzing and learning about changes and uncertainties in the past, present, and future. By focusing explicitly on learning processes and decision-support tools, this project is expected to reverse the deterministic notion of presumably vulnerable groups as passive victims of climate change by highlighting people's skills, knowledge, strategic responses, anticipatory capacity, and agency for adaptation planning. Research will be conducted in selected rural communities in Ghana and Tanzania using methods from the learning sciences, rural sociology, cultural geography, and participatory action research to understand how anticipatory learning (learning that helps people anticipate and adapt to change) occurs on the ground and how it can be enhanced.

The contributions of this project are expected to be threefold: (1) a theory regarding how anticipatory learning works in the context of climate change; (2) initial measures of people's individual and collective capacity for anticipation; and (3) pilot interventions for anticipatory learning tools. The project will address new and important questions in decision theory with respect to processes that permit some communities to better adapt to change than others; relationships among social configuration, learning practices, and decision making under climatic risk; and dynamics in knowledge creation and action. The project also will provide immediate benefits for the study populations, training opportunities in the U.S. and in Africa, and findings that have high potential impact on the pressing human impacts of climate change. Through co-design of adaptation tools and interventions in Ghana and Tanzania, the research will foster people's capacity to influence their future through iterative planning rather than learning by shock. The study will involve students in the U.S. in three ways: (1) graduate and undergraduate students educated and trained through their direct participation in the conduct of this project; (2) undergraduate students enrolled in a course on climate change adaptation and study abroad in Africa; and (3) an interdisciplinary graduate seminar to design anticipatory learning tools with African colleagues. The U.S. investigators will work closely with researchers and practitioners at African partner institutions (the University of Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, the University of Ghana, and the Afram Plains Development Organization (APDO) as well as with disaster risk and development organizations (CARE International and the Red Cross/Red Crescent). An award resulting from the FY 2008 NSF-wide competition on Human and Social Dynamics (HSD) supports this project. All NSF directorates and offices are involved in the coordinated management of the HSD competition and the portfolio of HSD awards.

Effective start/end date10/1/083/31/13


  • National Science Foundation: $749,814.00


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