Tschakert receives NSF Human and Social Dynamics Grant

Sept. 29, 2008

Petra Tschakert (Assistant Professor of Geography and AESEDA) has received a $749,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (Human and Social Dynamics Program) for a three-year project entitled "Anticipatory Learning for Climate Change and Resilience." The project will involve Penn State faculty Robert Crane (Geography), Esther Prins (Adult Education) and Ken Tamminga (Landscape Architecture) as well as Chris Hoadley (New York University) and Katie Dietrich and Maureen Biermann, who are both Penn State geography graduate students.

Tschakert and her colleagues hypothesize that cyclical (loop) learning strengthens people's anticipatory capacity in decision-making with respect to climatic and other livelihood stressors. They 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, Tschakert explains, "our aim is to reverse the deterministic notion of presumably vulnerable groups as passive victims of climate change by highlighting people's sills, knowledges, strategic responses, anticipatory capacity, and agency for adaptation planning. We hope that our project will foster people's capacity to influence their future through iterative planning rather than learning by shock."

Research will take place in Ghana and Tanzania in collaboration with partners from the University of Ghana (Geography and Performing Arts), the Afram Plains Development Organization (A Ghanaian NGO) and the University of Dar-es Salaam (Geography). Sharing of learning tools and dissemination of knowledge will also involve disaster risk and development organizations, primarily CARE International and Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre. The team proposes to use methods from the learning sciences, rural sociology, cultural geography and participatory action research - including participatory video, popular theater, and vision-based scenario building - to understand how anticipatory learning occurs on the ground, how it can be enhanced, and how it contributes to livelihood resilience.

"We are all incredibly excited about this great opportunity," Tschakert says. "There is a huge need for practical learning and adaptation tools, especially in Africa. The team also plans to provide initial measures of people's individual and collective capacity for anticipation. On a more theoretical level, the objective is to illustrate how anticipatory learning works in the context of climate change. For Penn State, this project will bring diverse field experiences, an undergraduate course on climate change adaptation, a graduate seminar to design anticipatory learning tools in collaboration with African colleagues, and study abroad opportunities in Ghana and Tanzania.

For more information, contact Dr. Tschakert at petra@psu.edu.