How can we evaluate social learning?

A group of women farmers in India meet with CCAFS project personnel. Social learning can be a powerful tool for helping adapt to climate change. Photo: A. Tall

A new working paper applies the social learning monitoring and evaluation framework to an adaptation pilot project in drought-affected districts of Southern India.

Climate change is a policy problem characterized by a high degree of uncertainty. Given the likelihood of non-linear changes in the future climate, the impacts associated with climate change on sectors such as agriculture are also uncertain. The role of social learning in building appropriate adaptive responses, enabling transitions to sustainable agriculture futures, and enabling farming communities to cope with a changing climate has been well-acknowledged. However, there is less guidance on how to operationalize the concept of social learning and measure it in practice.

The CCAFS Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) framework for climate change and social learning (CCSL) marks an important step towards operationalizing the concept of social learning and offers a framework to measure social learning in practice. A new CCAFS working paper focuses on the formulation of adaptation strategies at the community level in response to current and anticipated risks and uncertainties associated with changes in the climate. The motivation for this paper came as part of my PhD dissertation work at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore that focused on studying the design and implementation of pilot initiatives as an effort towards developing and testing strategies and processes to deal with changes in the environment and their impacts. The rationale of undertaking this research was to assess the merit of these pilots as a tool to facilitate policy formulation under environmental risk and uncertainty.

The selected case, titled the Strategic Pilot on Adaptation to Climate Change (SPACC) project, was one of several agricultural pilot initiatives identified as part of my PhD research that comparatively studied the design features and outcomes of innovative pilot projects launched to deal with production risks to agriculture in rainfed parts of India. SPACC was selected to illustrate the usefulness of the CCSL M&E framework and add to the social learning evidence base. The SPACC was launched as a three-year (2010-2013) pilot initiative in Andhra Pradesh, a state in southern India to strengthen the knowledge and capacities of rural communities to respond to climate variability and change impacts in selected parts of seven drought-prone districts of the state. Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for 89.6 percent of the population in the project area.

The agriculture sector in India is the mainstay of a large part of the population. The sector is prone to production risks because two-thirds of the cultivated area is largely rainfed and capacities of farming communities to deal with conditions of risk are rather limited. Hence agriculture becomes a sector of high policy significance and also a sector where policymaking is both difficult and complex.

The Indian agricultural landscape has been interspersed with several community-based pilot projects to address risks to agriculture production, especially in rainfed areas. SPACC was considered to be a good example of the international community supporting adaptation at the local level, while engaging local NGOs and the state government. SPACC was funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and co‐financed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The project took a bottom-up approach for rehabilitation, protection and productivity enhancement of the dryland agriculture areas in the state and to encourage soil carbon sequestration.

SPACC aimed at facilitating social learning through collective local experiences in integrating climate change adaptation in sustainable land and water management. Through an innovative farmer driven grass-root level environmental action, which takes into account the effects of climate variability and change, the project aimed at contributing to the rehabilitation and protection of local agriculture systems, and improve soil carbon sequestration while raising agricultural productivity. SPACC facilitated the formation of community-based Climate Change Adaptation Committees, which are key farmers’ institutions that manage the climate monitoring system at the local level and disseminate information and knowledge on climate variability/change. This includes identification of sites for establishing climate monitoring systems, selection of volunteers, data collection, organizing Climate Field Schools, identifying pilots to test adaptation measures, selecting field sites for pilots, prepare climate change adaptation plans, conducting field days, and disseminating project lessons and results, among others.

The working paper, “Addressing environmental degradation and rural poverty through climate change adaptation: An evaluation of social learning in drought-affected districts of Southern India”, captures the social learning component of SPACC through identification of specific indicators at three levels: Community level, project level and beyond the project level. In doing so, this paper aims at contributing to a growing inventory of case studies that apply the M&E framework to different innovation platforms across the world, focusing on climate change adaptation and social learning.

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Dr. Sreeja Nair has recently completed her PhD at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. She can be reached through sreeja.nair(at)