Flattening the hierarchies between academics and community agents in research for sustainable energy communities in Kampala City, Uganda

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As part of its approach to changing the culture of knowledge creation, through collaborative learnings amongst academic researchers, community representatives and policy actors, the Urban Action Lab (UAL) Makerere University Uganda in partnership with the Living Lab of University of Nairobi, has enhanced the collaborative learning capacities of postgraduate students at the Department of Geography

and Community representatives from Kasubi-Kawaala. With support from the International Social Science Council (ISSC), under a SIDA-funded project, dubbed: co-designing energy communities (CODEC), research questions, methods and instruments were subjected to academic and non-academic reviews during a workshop that comprised of: 4 postgraduate students and 2 scientists from UAL; 4 community co-researchers that are involved in a waste to energy project in Kasubi-Kawaala; and the Principal Scientist from University of Nairobi. By facilitating and deepening dialogue around what is happening in Kasubi-Kawaala, and what should be done to address gaps around alternative cooking energy for positive health outcomes in households, both academics and community agents had an equal chance to contribute to the framing of research questions; co-designing methodologies (household survey and GIS mapping) for finding and experimenting options for households energy that results into reduced health risks (e.g. respiratory infections) in low-income neighborhoods.

 Community members and researchers discussing the progress of the project at Makerere University Guest House.

After five days of knowledge exchange and engagement, both students and community actors admitted to having expanded their skill set for solution-focused interfaces between academics and non-academics in confronting the challenges facing their neighborhood environments beyond the issue of energy, to include other sustainability challenges such sanitation and urban health. After learning how academics and community agents operate alongside each other to aggregate their perspectives on a given research and societal issue, both the students and community co-researchers have embarked on co-creating maps for a relational visualization of energy sources and use patterns within and beyond Kasubi-Kawaala, while they also undertake drawings of interior designs for different housing types and the implications for indoor air quality.

Community members and Researchers discussing about the project at Grand Global Hotel in Kampala.