Tag Archives: Infrastructure

Urban and Rural Energy Access: “Leapfrogging”?

Mark Borchers from SEA writes on the recent context of SAMSET work in the wider space of urban and rural energy access in the developing world.

Christoph Frei, Secretary General of the World Energy Council[1] recently noted that “only three years ago, when suggesting to energy professionals that there could be ‘leap frogging’ in energy similar to what has happened in the mobile phone industry, the response would have suggested little understanding of energy realities. We now see tens of thousands of direct household solutions being delivered to rural Africa without a formal supply chain and in the absence of any energy infrastructure backbone. What does leapfrogging mean, if not this?”


“In many rural contexts in Africa, renewables are providing an engine for local development and poverty reduction.  Of the two-thirds of people in Africa without access to power, 80% live outside urban centres. A mix of off-grid renewable power instalments could be the key to electrifying rural Africa with consumers buying power locally and paying via their mobile phone.”

The potential of energy delivery modes “without a formal supply chain and in the absence of any energy infrastructure backbone” that Frei speaks of is indeed exciting. This largely bypasses the cumbersome processes of central institutions with their inefficiencies and mixed agendas.

He also notes: “For the energy sector, unprecedented speed of change and new realities pose a wide range of challenges and new opportunities for companies and governments who are on a high-stakes journey to adapt their business models and policy frameworks.”


Energy leapfrogging does not only apply to rural areas, direct benefits to the local economy can be seen in large cities such as Kampala, above. Image: Daniel Kerr

Frei importantly reinforces the perception that the energy sector is changing rapidly, and that the old way of doing things – where centralized planning and large utilities are the key players – needs revisiting, as it is unlikely to be the way of the future.  Yet most national governments and utilities in Sub-Saharan Africa seem to be moving into the future as if this is not the case, with the potential for stranded assets and business failure. Surely new approaches and business models need to be explored more urgently.

Secondly, Frei emphasizes rural energy access in Africa. This rural focus is clearly important, and it suits national governments whose political support is generally rural-based (opposition movements tend to grow from urban areas).  But this traditional focus on rural access can unduly overshadow the importance of urban energy access. Looking at access to electricity, although most unelectrified households are currently rural (around 550 million people are unelectrified), urban electrification rates are not high – often well below 50% – and currently around 150 million urban dwellers have no access to electricity[2]. Between 2035 and 2040 Africa’s population is expected to become predominately urban[3].  Modelling undertaken by Sustainable Energy Africa as part of the SAMSET project[4] indicates that the future energy demand of Sub-Saharan Africa is likely to be substantially urban, with the urban share of total demand rising to over 75% by 2040 (see Figure).  We should not overlook that there are huge opportunities to boost access to modern energy in urban areas. It is in urban areas that populations are closer to infrastructure, more dense, with higher average incomes and where delivery systems can be more cost-effective.  It is in urban areas also where the very poor can be the most destitute, with reduced access even to traditional biomass energy.   It seems justifiable to encourage a parallel focus on rural and urban access in a sector where ‘access’ currently seems almost entirely synonymous with ‘rural access’.


Figure: Urban sub-Saharan energy demand over time showing Business-as-Usual, Universal Access and Energy Efficiency scenarios. Total sub-Saharan Africa energy demand (urban and rural) is also shown (Source: Modelling the Urban Energy Future of Sub-Saharan Africa, Sustainable Energy Africa, 2015).

One more point worth considering regarding the urban-rural population dynamic: At a recent course SAMSET was running for municipal officials and urban energy practitioners, a lecturer asked “how many of you are first generation urban, or still consider your ‘home’ to be in a rural area?”.  The majority raised their hand. There may be various implications of this characteristic: urban-rural remittances are likely to remain common into the medium-term, which could facilitate rural energy access with small decentralized technologies such as PV being funded from urban earners for their rural homes and families.  On the other hand remittances may reduce investment in urban areas, which may impact to some extent on urban economies and possibly also the willingness to invest in urban energy infrastructure.  Let’s keep an eye on how this dynamic plays itself out over the coming years.

[1] World Energy Council Secretary General reflects on key highlights of 2016. Africa Energy Indaba Press Release, 12 January 2017

[2] Calculation from IEA’s African Energy Outlook 2014 electrification database.

[3] African Urban Futures 2016, Bello-Schünemann and Aucoin; State of African Cities 2014, UN Habitat

[4] Modelling the Urban Energy Future of Sub-Saharan Africa, Sustainable Energy Africa, 2015. www.africancityenergy.org

Strategies for Sustainable Energy Transitions for Urban Sub-Saharan Africa – SETUSA 2017

The SAMSET project team is pleased to announce the hosting of the Strategies for Sustainable Energy Transitions for Urban Sub-Saharan Africa (SETUSA) Conference, which will be held at the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) Conference Facility, University of Ghana, Legon, Accra, Ghana from the 19th – 20th June 2017.

SETUSA Banner 2

By 2050, it is envisaged that three out of five people from the estimated 2 billion population across Africa will be living in cities. Sub-Saharan African economies have grown 5.3 percent per annum in the past decade, triggering a dramatic increase in energy needs. Against this backdrop, it is estimated that by 2040 about 75% of the total energy consumption in Sub-Saharan Africa will be in urban areas with its associated implications on sustainable development.

Given these challenges on sustainable development, solutions for sustainable energy transitions in the Sub-Saharan African region are extremely important, and likely to have wide-ranging consequences on the sustainability of the region’s economies. This reality also imposes an urgent obligation on the continent to consider sourcing more of its abundant renewable energy resources to ensure long-term security of energy supply. Particularly, renewable energy resources — solar, wind, organic wastes – and their corresponding technologies offer more promises for sustainable energy futures than the conventional energy sources.

Therefore, there is the need first of all to raise awareness on renewable energy options and energy efficiency opportunities in urban areas, and to promote strategies which will maximise their benefits in providing secure, sustainable and affordable energy to meet the rising energy demand in the region’s fast-growing cities. Secondly, there is also the need for national as well as local government planners and policy makers to understand local urban contexts so that they can grasp the significant opportunities of engaging at a local level, as well as acquire the critical set of capacities and skills necessary to drive and influence the uptake of clean energy and efficient technologies.

The conference aims to bring together social scientists, policy-makers and entrepreneurs in the urban clean energy sphere, to discuss strategies for moving Sub-Saharan African economies to a more sustainable energy transition pathway. We are inviting papers on energy efficient buildings, energy efficiency and demand-side management in urban areas, renewable energy and energy supply in urban areas, electrification and access to modern energy in urban areas, waste to energy in urban areas, spatial planning and energy infrastructure in urban areas, energy and transportation in urban areas.

SETUSA Final Call for Papers (PDF)

Details of the call for papers and other information, can be found on the conference website: www.setusa.isser.edu.gh

More information on the SAMSET project can also be found on our homepage: www.samsetproject.net

Africities, 2063, and Time

This is a joint blog by Simon Batchelor from Gamos and Sumaya Mahomed, Professional Officer in Renewable and Energy Efficiency in the Cape Town Municipality.

At the recent Africities conference, some of the SAMSET researchers had a conversation with municipal partners, and this article tries to capture its essence.  Their subject – timescales.

In the development sector, donors, civil society, NGOs, researchers, all tend to speak in terms of 1 to 3 years projects. While the planning processes of logical frameworks and business cases allows for an impact after the project end, there are few agencies willing to commit to more than 3 years. SAMSET is actually a four year project and in that sense quite rare.  Most of the other USES projects were 1 to 3 years. Yet within SAMSET is the aspiration to assist our partner municipalities to gather data, create a state of energy report, to model the future (based on that data), to take decisions and create a strategy for ‘energy transitions’. And, within the timeframe of the project, to take some first steps in that strategy, some actions.

In a slight contrast to this, Africities has as its slogan – “SHAPING THE FUTURE OF AFRICA WITH THE PEOPLE: THE CONTRIBUTION OF AFRICAN LOCAL AUTHORITIES TO AGENDA 2063 OF THE AFRICAN UNION.”. It is looking at 2063!  That is (nearly) a fifty year horizon. Africities knows that municipal planning, changes in infrastructure, raising the finance for those changes, takes decades not years.

SAMSET is funded by UK donors and some of the researchers come from the UK, so lets take the London Cross rail link as an example. First of all, lets remember that the essence of London Underground – the transport system that effectively keeps London working – that the essence was established in 1863 (The Metropolitan Railway, using gas-lit wooden carriages hauled by steam locomotives!). That’s nearly one hundred and fifty years ago. The cross link is a new tunnel that will join east London (the banking and business hub) to west London, and beyond. This tunnel has to go ‘in a straight line’ while at the same time missing existing underground tunnels, water mains, etc. At times it will be created just 1 metre from an existing underground structure.

So its perhaps surprising that it was apparently first mentioned in 1941, was written on a plan in 1943, serious consultations in the seventies, serious proposals in the nineties, commercial proposal in 2001, and decided on in 2005 (10 years ago) and construction started 2009. Despite the huge advances in tunnelling, it will still take another 5 years to complete.

And of course it is only one part of an ongoing dynamic change in infrastructure of one of the worlds leading cities.

So imagine now trying to raise funding for a Bus Rapid Transport system in Polokwane. The changes will require that roads be changed, new lanes created, negotiations with landowners of key areas, procurement of the equipment. It is not surprising that it has taken over 9 years since serious planning started (2006), and that it will take until 2020 before it is fully implemented, with all the associated traffic disruption of road works etc. Infrastructure in cities takes time to change.

SAMSET modelling shows what the energy consumption of a partner city might look like in 2030. It starts with a ‘business as usual’ model and then explores possible changes, assisting the partners to identify a key change that will make a good (low carbon) longer term change. In the case of Cape Town, the municipality asked for projections to 2040, as the felt 2030 was too close. The timescales in municipality minds are of 10 year, 20 year projects, not 1 to 3 year disconnected projects.

gamos.capetown blog growth

Figure 1 Cape Town Growth in energy consumption per sector for ‘business as usual’ scenario.

And consider the energy impact of a building. A building will last 40 years or more, so if planning permission is given to an energy inefficient glass tower, the air-con commitment is there until 2063.

So municipal planning has a very long term view. Of course in a counter flow to this long view of the municipal civil servants are the politicians who have a very short term view. Politicians are often concerned with short term benefits and easy wins, so they or their party gets re-elected.  For city planners it is a difficult balance.

So when we think of energy transitions what is the right timescale? Well in a complex world we have to think of all the actors, their different needs and juggle all of them together. We do need to find early easy wins so that donors to research projects and politicians are happy enough to fund a phase two.  We do need to build capacity so that despite the movement of people from job to job, a municipality gradually gains the required skills to consult, plan and implement longer term energy transitions.  And we do need to have a long term view. Building infrastructure, even building buildings, commits a city to a particular energy path for decades not just years, and so those long term implications need to be taken into account.

Local Government’s Role in Energy Transitions is Poorly Understood

Mark Borchers, Megan Euston-Brown and Melusile Ndlovu from Sustainable Energy Africa recently contributed this post to the Urbanafrica.net Urban Voices series, analysing the role of local government in sustainable energy transitions. The original is reproduced in full below.

African local governments have an important role to play in sustainable energy transitions, yet the ability within local governments to step into this role is severely inadequate. This is problematic because municipalities, in close contact with their citizenry, are often better placed to plan and respond to energy needs in locally appropriate ways than national governments or other ‘external’ agents.

Urbanization rates in Africa are amongst the highest in the world and the municipal capacity to undertake minimum levels of urban planning and basic service delivery is severely inadequate, as acknowledged by the African Development Bank, UNHabitat and Cities Alliance.

A major challenge is that local government is poorly understood by those trying to be agents of change, and research often remains at a superficial level. Even work which specifically aims at going beyond the usual ‘vague policy suggestions,’ to use a phrase from the ACC’s Edgar Pieterse, struggles to get to grips with many key local government dynamics, and the number of outputs produced by consultants or researchers with local government as an intended target audience, which have little or no purchase, is worrying.

Non-profit Sustainable Energy Africa’s experience of working in partnership with local government in South Africa for 17 years to support with sustainable energy transitions affirms this. The organization has provided capacity to local government in areas where government did not have experience, staff or systems, and in an environment where officials are often preoccupied with short-term service delivery and other urgent goals displace longer-term considerations such as those linked to climate change mitigation.

Sustainable Energy Africa has spent years supporting several municipalities in the development of energy and climate change strategies. However, after official approval of the first few strategies, it started becoming apparent that the momentum that had led to strategy finalization rarely continued into implementation. For example, the first set of strategies developed in the municipalities of Cape Town, Sol Plaatjie, Ekurhuleni, Buffalo City and Tshwane struggled to gain significant traction.

What followed was many years of supportive partnership with municipalities: participating in meetings, undertaking research in areas where there were concerns, developing specific motivations for political or other vested interests as they arose, engaging with city treasury to raise their awareness and explore workable revenue futures, exchanging lessons and sharing success stories amongst municipalities, and raising the profile of local issues in national fora and strategies.

Sustainable Energy Africa’s experience has demonstrated that the work involved in getting to the point of having an officially approved energy and climate change strategy is but a small fraction of what is required for any real change to gain traction. Unfortunately, the dynamics that impede efforts to bring the strategy to fruition are often poorly understood by development support institutions (including donors) and researchers. Guidelines and resource documents on urban transport policy development, climate proofing of informal settlements, and energy efficiency financing, to give a few examples, are often of little use to local government. Research focusing on dynamics affecting service delivery and assessments of renewable energy options for urban areas, for example, seldom talk to the constraints and pressures that senior officials encounter on a day-to-day basis, and thus tend to have little impact.

It is not surprising that adequately detailed understanding of local government is lacking, precisely because it is difficult to gain useful insight into this world from normal development support programmes, which may last a few years and often involve imported expertise, or from research projects, even if they are methodologically well considered. To illustrate, about 10 years ago work undertaken by development support organisations and researchers pointed to solar water heaters being economically, socially and environmentally beneficial for application across South Africa’s urban areas. Cost and technical feasibility studies were undertaken, presentations made, guidelines produced, case studies circulated, and workshops held. Introducing solar water heaters was considered by many to be a ‘no brainer’, and was a standard feature of all municipal energy strategies developed at the time. Yet over the years little changed. Within municipalities there were staff capacity barriers, institutional location uncertainties, debates around mandates, political ambivalence, and a good dose of plain old resistance to change.

When one of the most progressive South African municipalities finally developed a detailed solar water heater rollout programme, further obstacles had to be negotiated: it ran foul of the city treasury (it threatened electricity sales and thus revenue), electricity department (impact on the load profile, technical issues and revenue), procurement department (selection of different equipment service providers), housing department (roof strength issues of some government housing), and legal department (ownership of equipment and tendering processes), which further delayed progress by several years.

Solar water heaters on low-income housing in South Africa. Image: SEA

Other sustainability interventions such as energy efficiency in buildings, renewable electricity generation and densification (an important enabler of sustainable transport options) all face their own mix of complexities, most of which are difficult to know from the outside.

Change in government institutions seldom happens fast. When those hoping to be agents of change better understand the complexities of municipal functioning, transformation can be more effectively facilitated. Supporting local government often means entering an uncomfortable, messy, non-linear space but it can be more effectively done than often happens. In many ways, what is required is an inversion of the usual approach: support agents or researchers need to respond to the specific, not the general; listen, not advise; seek to be of service rather than pursue a preconceived agenda. The focus of the lens needs to shift well beyond general observations on ‘local institutional capacity’, ‘reform of regulatory systems’ or ‘policy impasses’. What is needed is a much more detailed, nuanced, and longer-term understanding and set of relationships for more impactful engagement.

Through applying these approaches, Sustainable Energy Africa’s work in South Africa has helped local government move from being considered irrelevant to the energy field 10 years ago to being regarded as critical agents to a sustainable energy future today.

A recent independent review of Sustainable Energy Africa’s local government support programme points to its success. It is described as, amongst others, having a clear role in the development of nation-wide city energy data, in facilitating energy efficiency programmes in different sectors in several municipalities, in promoting renewable energy (often rooftop solar PV) in several major cities, and in institutionalizing sustainable energy and climate change issues within municipalities.

Drawing on the above experience, the SAMSET project is working with African municipalities at a detailed level in partnership with universities and development organisations in Africa and the UK, and six municipalities in Uganda, Ghana and South Africa. This collaboration walks the full process of systemic change with the municipalities, and focuses the lens of research and implementation support on this inadequately understood, yet critical, arena – the detailed dynamics in the belly of the local government beast.

The Rise of Afro-Smart Cities Should be Viewed with Caution

Johnathan Silver from Durham University writes on the potential challenges to African “Smart Cities”, and why the public discourse on the matter may not live up to the hype.

The recent announcement by IBM establishing its twelfth global laboratory in Nairobi has followed a rise in news about Smart cities across urban Africa. These include IBM’s inclusion of Durban and Abuja in its Smarter Cities Challenge, a plethora of summits and conferences, together with planning for a series of new smart urban extensions on the periphery of major conurbations such as Accra and Kinshasa. Together these developments are generating an ever growing clamour concerning the potential of smart urbanism to transform urban Africa through the integration of digital technologies across networked infrastructures, offering resource efficiencies, global competitiveness, safer cities and ultimately much greater control over the built environment and everyday life.

Here is a depiction of the Smart City (Source: http://www2.schneider-electric.com/sites/corporate/en/solutions/sustainable_solutions/smart-cities.page)

Such coverage is often predicated on these techno-futures enabling ways to leapfrog other global regions through next generation infrastructure and technology. The images and narratives of smart futures in cities like Rio, portrayed in endless representations through its control room, and major Northern cities such as London and New York are ubiquitous and firmly entrenched in the imaginary of policymakers and the wider public. Yet the notion of smart in urban Africa has been less visible (at least on a global level) up till now. But as things change, the rise of Afro-Smart cities is going to require much more attention from those interested in rapid urbanisation and associated challenges of poverty and development faced by these diverse cities. For behind the widely circulated images of slum dwellers using mobile technologies to improve daily lives, the dominance of large ICT companies, a splintered urban landscape, land dispossession and the securitisation of urban space reveal a more complicated potential smart urban future.

Hip high tech start-ups, globally-connected young entrepreneurs and newly configured broadband infrastructures form a key ingredient of the Afro-Smart city or “digital revolution” narrative. In cities such as Kigali new techno-cultures are emerging and seeking to bring the Smart city to a much larger proportion of the population through cheap and accessible smart-phones, successful place-based apps and growing public interest in smart technologies being developed by African-based developers and users themselves. This new generation of Smart city innovators is increasingly connected through tech hubs and incubators for new businesses with spaces such as BantaLabs, Saint-Louis, Senegal through to Hive CoLab, Kampala offering spaces for collaboration and addressing both the specific ICT challenges and opportunities being faced across urban Africa.

Adding to this smart wave, rising interest from ICT companies,consultancies such as Deloitte and private equity is generating increased investment and policy focus around Smart cities. Yet the presence of global ICT companies across African cities, including IBM’s relationship with Nairobi poses similar questions to those being asked across urban areas in other parts of the world about who actually benefits from the implementation of smart technologies, growing flows of big data and the affordability of being smart. As Adam Greenfield, in his excellent book ‘ Against the SMART city’ cautions, such futures may well be nothing more than a (techno) utopian fantasy that, once unravelled, reveals little more than the opening of markets and opportunities for profit for large corporations. Nowhere are these powerful narratives of Smart city futures better articulated than in the range of urban development projects being pursued across the continent.

New infrastructure and city extensions are being planned and constructed across the length and breadth of the continent with promises of Smart city living that target that emerging but most unsteady of terms, the African middle class. These include projects in existing cities such as Johannesburg, which has entered into partnership with BWired to establish new broadband networks across the city. Yet, as commentators such as Nancy Oderdaal have long noticed, the splintered nature of ICT infrastructures across urban Africa shows a clear spatial division between the poor and rich that may be further cemented by shifts towards smart networks.

As well as reconfiguring existing urban space for the smart city, a plethora of new city extensions promising potential residents a technologised, data drive future, away from the seemingly chaotic (and unconnected) streets of other parts of the city are emerging and mirroring those well-known global hubsof Smart city hubris. Such Smart city developments are thus often designed beyond existing cities and their slum areas. Konza Techno City, 60km away from Nairobi in the newly named “Silicon Savannah” andHope City, Ghana both promise high tech jobs, global corporate interest, advanced building design and high speed connectivity.

Konza Techno City, Kenya (Source: www.bbc.co.uk)

Yet problems in delivering these urban development projects are myriad and likely to entrench inequalities across already divided and contested cities. For example, La Cite du Fleuve, in DR Congo, brilliantly deconstructed by Filip De Boek, is creating a series of overlapping sources of tension in Kinshasa including struggles around land ownership and issues of dispossession that begin to lay bare the rhetoric of these urban developments. Such urban extensions may well offer smart living for urban dwellers but echoing the gated communities of the past few decades also have to be understood as new frontiers for capital accumulation and a clear demonstration of business sectors and parts of society withdrawing from the wider city and society into enclaves or archipelagos of high technology. Scholars are documenting such processes across the global South, most prominently Ayona Datta in India. This emerging knowledge suggests that the stark urban inequalities present in cities is unlikely to be addressed in these Smart city developments. Instead, dynamics of land dispossession, that are beginning to mirror the wider and ongoing land grabbing across the continent threaten, as Vanessa Watson has eloquently written, to turn these urban dreams into nightmares.

The final area of caution around smart urbanism across Africa needs to be centred around the securitisation of urban space through new technologies, infrastructures and data flows. The control of internet usage and social media is common across many cities including Addis Adaba and of course Cairo, where bloggers critical of the government or organisers of social mobilisations are being imprisoned on despairingly long terms. Being aware of how new smart technologies and infrastructures may also be deployed to curtail human rights and civic participation across urban Africa is critical to how we understand the rise of Afro-Smart cities. We only have to look back at the recent past in South Africa to see how IBM-designed, proto-smart technologies were used by the apartheid regime to control urban populations, restrict access to the cities and securitise a racialised, segregated urban space.

Further current examples are not too hard to find. For instance the development of the Skunk: Riot Drone by the South African company Desert Wolf , to deploy against miners in the country’s restive Platinum Belt and armed with surveillance systems and weapons (including pepper spray), provides a frankly terrifying vision of where Smart technologies may take us. After the Marikana massacre in 2012 by the South African police force and a highly-charged five-month strike by thousands of miners those urging caution in thinking that such technologies could not be used may need to think again. And with the first orders for 25 of these drones, it does not take much of an imaginative leap to see them being deployed across the simmering townships of the country as tensions and inequality continue to mount. Such developments provide a menacing retort to boosterish, utopian narratives of smart being used by large tech companies, consultants and increasingly government actors and policymakers.

Afro-Smart cities are becoming increasingly central in narratives about urban futures on the continent. Policies, reports and public discourse tend to paint a remorselessly upbeat vision of smart technologies that big data and advanced ICT infrastructure, connectivity and new urban (tech) space can help to transform landscapes of poverty and contribute to the oft-discussed “rise of Africa”. Some caution and perspective is certainly needed around Afro-Smart cities that interrogates these narratives and better understands the socio-spatial implications of these new forms of data-driven urbanism.

Johnathan would like to acknowledge the support of Alan Wiig in reading an earlier draft of this text.
This blog is also available on the London School of Economics website.

Ghana’s US$498m Power Compact Deal with the United States

Dr Simon Bawakyillenuo of the University of Ghana ISSER recently blogged about the signing of the second Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact (MCC), the Ghana Power Compact, worth US$498 million, for the Institution of Development Studies Globalisation and Development Blog. The full article can be found at: http://www.globalisationanddevelopment.com/2014/08/will-ghanas-498-power-compact-deal-with.html


How to Evaluate the Impact of Research Projects?

Xavier Lemaire and Daniel Kerr from University College London attended the first annual workshop of the Understanding Sustainable Energy Solutions (USES) Network, held at the Wellcome Trust, London, UK on the 8th July 2014. The workshop was designed to give insights into how best to achieve impact and engagement with beneficiaries in the USES Network projects, which cover a wide variety of aspects of low carbon energy research in developing countries, from institutional networking assistance and business support, to technology dissemination for thermal and electrical energy, to institutional and residential energy efficiency. A number of sessions took place, with an aim to convey insights into how funders and research users engage with academic institutions and organisations conducting research; theories of change and the impacts, both potential and real, that past projects have achieved/failed to achieve; and how best to plan for and assess the impact of the USES projects, and what shared experiences could be brought to bear for the good of all involved projects.

The day began with three presentations on impact, engagement and theories of change. Ed Brown from Loughborough University, in conjunction with Alison Mohr from the University of Nottingham, led off with an introduction to the Participatory Impact Assessment (PIPA) methodology. Adrian Ely from the STEPs Centre at the University of Sussex, and Duncan Green from Oxfam also contributed via video presentations.

Of particular interest was the PIPA methodology for assessing impact, which seeks to identify the inter-linkages in the goals and priorities of all actors in research projects, for example funding agencies, research institutions, local and national governments, community organisations, NGOs and the wider population. Through identifying the synergies in these groups’ priorities and needs, the methodology hopes to provide a clearer insight into the potential impacts of research projects, and the methods needed to achieve them.

The following session saw a number of representatives from the Department for International Development and the Department for Energy and Climate Change, as well as the UKCDS and the Knowledge Transfer Network, conduct a roundtable discussion on the experiences of funding agencies and other organisations in engaging with research and researchers. Broad themes included the importance of quantitative measures of impact and results in the view of the funders and their objectives, as well as highlighting the divergence on timescales for results between public sector projects and research projects.

The whole-room discussions sessions that followed, as well as in the case study presentations, brought forward a number of recurring points. The importance of stakeholder engagement from the very beginning of a project  in achieving impact in research projects, particularly in developing country contexts, was consistently highlighted as a key factor. In-depth knowledge of local country contexts, as well as sectoral expertise in key project members, was identified as a useful factor in achieving project impacts. These factors, along with the targeting of invitations to actors based on their expertise, were also identified to be critical in the creation, funding and initial engagement of projects.

The final session focused on the proposed framework for reporting project impacts to DFID, and how shared experiences within the USES project could help to facilitate greater impacts for all involved projects. Finally, the day concluded with contributions from participants on how the USES network can support the involved projects, predominantly focusing around networking via social media and web networking spaces provided through the USES portal on the LCEDN website.

LCEDN Meeting July 2014Roundtable session at LCEDN USES Network Meeting