Overseas Institutional Visit to the Institute of Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) in Cape Town

by Elizabeth Harrison (Environment and Sustainability Pathway, University of Leeds), eeeh@leeds.ac.uk; @EPHarrison; www.theramblingrover.com

I have just returned from an Overseas Institutional Visit to the Institute of Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) in Cape Town, South Africa. I chose PLAAS because it is one of the leading institutions working in my academic field and area of interest, namely community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) and resource governance. Not only that, but some of its members of staff were influential in setting up the project I have been studying in Zimbabwe for my PhD.

I had 5 goals to achieve during my placement, all of which have been successfully met with some exciting outputs in the pipeline, and plenty of opportunities to think about post-doctoral research areas.

The first goal was to establish a sustainable and active partnership between my institute at Leeds – the Sustainability Research Institute (SRI) – and PLAAS over the duration of my stay. Not only was I able to connect a number of academics in both departments working on similar topics, which I hope will turn into some collaborative work in the future, but my own placement has lead to an exciting collaboration between SRI, PLAAS and two Universities in Zimbabwe with whom I established relationships during my fieldwork last year. Together all four institutes are putting together a study on the state of CBNRM across southern Africa using our networks and joint knowledge exchange.

dtcmatter3The second goal was to share research findings with key stakeholders in South Africa in order to provide targeted recommendations and identify entry points for my research to inform policies. I held a public seminar at PLAAS on my research findings thus far and used this platform as an opportunity to utilise the knowledge and expertise of those attending (including WWF and South Africa National Parks) to identify the similarities and differences between my findings in Zimbabwe and those of researchers in similar areas in South Africa. It also gave us the chance to discuss the differences between academic research and CBNRM on the ground. For more information on the seminar, see here.

The third goal was to disseminate my research findings to key stakeholders in Zimbabwe. Working with the Centre of Applied Social Sciences (CASS) at the University of Zimbabwe, myself and a local Professor brought together a great mix of policy-makers, practitioners, and researchers from all over Zimbabwe to discuss the country’s long history in CBNRM and how we can move the debate forward in a constructive and combined way. This was a great way to kick start the discussions on CBNRM once again (it has been lagging), allowing us to look back in order to look forward. Overall the workshop highlighted a number of key issues in the region which were then followed with ideas on how we, as a group of eclectic expertise and knowledge could move the discourse forward. These discussions are ongoing. For more information on the discussions that took place, see my blog here.

The fourth and fifth goals were more personal – to identify timely and relevant post-doctoral research foci, and to challenge and develop myself both personally and professionally. Both of which I definitely did! The overall OIV experience was a brilliant learning curve, not just in experiencing working in a new country and organisation, but in branching out of my academic comfort zone and undertaking activities and responsibilities I otherwise may not have had access to. I definitely recommend anyone who has the opportunity to apply for an OIV to do so! 

ESRC-funded students: find out more about how to arrange an Overseas Institutional Visit (OIV) through the WR DTC on the DTC website.