Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre Internship Program :: Center for Science and Technology Policy Research

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notes from the field

These field notes are personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre

Leslie Dodson

Lusaka, Zambia

Blog Post 1
June 2, 2014


Elephant, lion, leopard and rhino – the big game of East Africa. If you’re preparing to go on safari, you’d never forget your camera to take close-up photos and your binoculars to see far into the distance. Even though I had an elephant sighting within 48 hours of landing in Zambia, I didn’t come here for that kind of game. I came to join Pablo Suarez and Bettina Koelle of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre and Richard Jones of the UK Meteorological Office (UK Met) to learn about and play games, not about wildlife, but about life in a changing climate. Similar to joining a safari (although I’ve never been on one), games for a changing climate involve looking at what’s near and what’s far away. In this case, the focus is on making better decisions now in order to prepare for climate-related risks in the future.

Over the course of three days in Livingstone and Lusaka in mid-May, 2014 I joined in on two Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) workshops featuring ‘serious’ games and experiential learning for climate adaptation. The Climate Centre, which serves as a research and resource base for the Red Cross/Red Crescent on climate change and disaster risk reduction, partnered with the UK Met to facilitate the FCFA workshops.  The FCFA initiative is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) to support research to better understand and predict climate change and to develop knowledge and tools to better integrate science into investments, policies and plans across Sub-Saharan Africa.

Zambia Red Cross employees and others play the Wobbly Table game. Photo credit:  Bettina Koelle

Zambia faces a host of climate change-related challenges that affect the nation’s agriculture, forestry, health, water and energy sectors. As Ms. Patricia Nambuka, the Acting Secretary General of the Zambia Red Cross Society explained, Zambia has limited resources to effectively respond to threats posed by climate change. “Climate-induced changes to physical and biological systems are already being felt and exerting considerable stress on the country’s vulnerable sectors.”

The workshop was organized to elevate the importance of including forecast-based information into planning and decision-making for Zambia’s future. RC/RC colleagues from around Zambia and regional meteorologists, development practitioners, policymakers and journalists worked together to anticipate future development scenarios in Zambia that will be affected by a changing climate and to be creative about climate resilient development plans.

UK climate scientist Richard Jones’ presentation on medium-to-long-term forecasts for Zambia sparked a lively discussion of the challenges related to inadequate climate information. Some participants noted that inadequate information refers to a lack of data such as intra-day rainfall data or wind maps. For others, inadequate information means lack of access to existing information or a disconnect between climate information provided by scientists and forecasters and the needs of information consumers.  For example, participants highlighted how difficult it can be to convey seasonal weather forecasts to rural community members who might be baffled by highly scientific forecasts that are too opaque to act on.

That discussion set the stage for a climate meet-up game, a networking activity that involved taping pink and green pieces paper onto your shirt. Each page announced either a climate-related offering or service such as climate modeling or youth engagement that the attendee could provide (green), or a climate-related need such as improved communication or application of data in rural settings (pink). Everyone was let loose to work the room in what resembled a climate ‘speed-dating’ exercise to make new connections and offer help.

Zambia Red Cross Workers play The Wobbly Tobbly game

Attendees participate in a climate meet-up.

Photo credit:  Bettina Koelle

We also saw master facilitator Bettina Koelle lead participants through a game of Blind Chicken that reveals how easily information gets distorted and acted upon, and the Headline game where players wrote climate-related newspaper headlines that might appear 50 years from now. Players turned out headlines such as “Maize Seed Turned to Popcorn,” “A Flood of Complaints and a Flood of Water” and “Trade with Angola Stuck in the Mud.”


The Headline game encourages players to create the news stories of the future.

Photo credit:  Bettina Koelle

Pablo Suarez led games such as “Answer with your Feet” that sent players dashing around the room to answer climate and development questions. SNAP! merges rock-paper-scissor with development planning. It’s a game where participants come up with examples of development plans being formulated now that will bear fruit in 2020-2050 and players were urged to consider whether climate information is currently being used in that planning. The “Failure to Act/Acting in Vain” game tries to capture the ambiguity and uncertainty inherent in planning for climate changes that may or may not happen.

When game players showed a propensity to focus on the effects of climate change on infrastructure and public works projects such as roads and dams, the facilitators prodded them to think outside of the cement box to consider the climate-related components of other development plans.  Those might include potential impacts of climate change on migration patterns, or shifts in disease patterns that might accompany changes in the level of rainfall, or changes in dietary habits related to shifts in water availability. Players then considered creative solutions to initiate now.  For example, if in 20-50 years increasing drought compels Zambian farmers to move out of harvesting maize, maize-based nshima might become a delicacy instead of an everyday staple. Therefore it might be wise to introduce more drought-tolerant cassava-based foods in school lunches now in order to prime the next generation on new tastes that may be common features of meals in the future.

I suspect that attendees arrived at the workshops expecting passive powerpoint presentations and lectures.  Instead, they spent their time running, haggling, coordinating, debating, guessing, plotting and creating new futures that connect climate information with action.


DFID. UK Department for International Development.

FCFA. Future Climate for Africa. The Natural Environment Research Council.

NERC. The Natural Environment Research Council.

RC/RC-CC. Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre.

UK Met Office.

Zambia Red Cross Society.