This week Dr Natascha Mueller-Hirth, Dr Chris Yuill and myself are in Vietnam for the first workshop of our British Academy International Partnership and Mobility Scheme-funded project into climate change in coastal communities, for which we have partnered with Dr Nguyen Song Tung and her colleagues in the Institute of Human Geography in the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences.
It has been nearly two years since I first visited the institute, when we sat and discussed how we might collaborate and agreed that climate change in coastal communities could act as a broad-based entry point. After much filling in of funding application forms, exchanging of emails and planning of logistics in the interim, it was very satisfying to be able to return to Hanoi with two of my colleagues this week to really begin the next step of our collaboration.
Despite the common theme, I know from experience that bringing two different institutions and two different research cultures together can be challenging, so one of the key objectives of this first workshop is really to get to know what each other does and how we work, with a view to laying a solid foundation for future collaboration. And as useful as emails and conference calls are, sometimes there is still no substitute for getting everyone together in a room talking with each other.
With that in mind, after a welcome from the Director General, Dr Nguyen Song Tung opened with a presentation on her research into management for biodiversity conservation in Xuan Thuy National Park in the context of climate change. Dr Pham Thi Tram then told us more about the impacts of climate change on the livelihoods of coastal communities in the same area – a part of the country about which we are going to be learning a lot more over the course of this week. For the three Scotland-based academics, these talks were hugely useful not only in giving us an understanding of the contexts in which our IHGeo colleagues work, but also in sparking ideas about areas of possible commonality and collaboration. For instance, although the problems faced in north-east Vietnam differ greatly from those faced in north-east Scotland in terms of nature and magnitude, Song Tung’s concluding points that ‘it is necessary to develop a suitable mechanism for collaboration amongst the authorities’ and ‘there is an overlap in tasks and responsibilities in different organisations’ could equally summarise for some of the Aberdeenshire challenges I’ll speak about later in the week.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. After an extensive and thoroughly enjoyable lunch we started the first workshop session, ambitiously titled ‘Climate Change and Social Research’ but rather more earnestly intended as a springboard to get us thinking about the different ways in which we can research the social dimensions of climate change and to what effect. This is something we will develop in more depth tomorrow, so for this afternoon I set the scene by talking through the different techniques I’ve used for some mixed-method research I’ve been doing into heat and greenspace in Taipei, using this as a lead-in to discussing the links between theory and methods. We then broke out into groups, and followed the time-honoured academic tradition of having a good long chat over some flipchart paper and pens.
Seriously, though, experience has told me that when one is starting out in interdisciplinary collaboration like this (in the room we had human geographers, economists, environmental scientists, soil scientists and sociologists) it is really crucial to spend time properly understanding not only what we do, but also why we do it in the way we do. The fact both groups’ charts filled not only with techniques – GIS, interviews, remote sensing, statistical analysis, desk research – but also different drivers and motivations – influencing policy, data availability, personal skills – hopefully reflected the value of mapping out this bumpy terrain right at the start of collaboration. What we do once we’ve started to map this out will be the subject of tomorrow’s post.