Climate Impacts Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement (CIRCLE) Programme

Africa is particularly vulnerable to the environmental, social and economic impact of changes in climate, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggesting that Africa is likely to emerge as the most vulnerable region to climate change by 2100 (IPCC, 2007).

Despite consensus on the current and future impacts of climate change on Africa, there are significant uncertainties on the exact nature of future climatic changes. A better understanding is critical to developing sustainable and cost-effective responses. However, sufficient support and resources to build a solid research-base are lacking. Between 1981 and 2009, African scientists contributed less than 2% of global climate change publications. There are a number of initiatives in Africa helping to address Africa’s climate change problems, but the research community remains in need of a boost.

The Climate Impacts Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement in Sub-Saharan Africa (CIRCLE) programme is an initiative of the UK's Department for International Development (DFID), and aims to address the above issues. The project adopted the dual approach of supporting individual academics to undertake research while also working with their institutions to develop better professional development systems for their researchers.

CIRCLE has been allocated GBP 4.85 million over 5 years (2014-2019). The programme will seek to facilitate the capacity of African researchers to develop relevant local solutions and improve uptake and use in local, national and regional policy and implementation. It will also enhance the output of African researchers by increased training and publications.

The programme does not work in isolation, and seeks to contribute to local, national and regional policy agendas and the initiatives of organisations already working in climate change in Africa, as well as those yet to come. It is important that the individual researchers and academic institutions benefitting from this programme work in conjunction with existing frameworks to maximise their impact. The aim of the programme is not simply to produce a body of research, but to strengthen the mechanisms of research uptake and support institutions to develop and realise a clearly defined strategic approach to climate change research. 

The structure of CIRCLE

CIRCLE Visiting Fellowship (CVF)

Between 2014-2017, 100 CIRCLE Visiting Fellowships (CVF) were awarded to support research proposals on the impact of climate change across Africa. 39 Masters-qualified researchers and 61 PhD-qualified researchers received awards and spent 12 months at a host institution within Africa to further develop their research and expertise. For this element of the programme, the ACU partnered with The African Academy of Sciences (AAS), who managed the fellows for the duration of their fellowship year.

Institutional Strengthening Programme (ISP)

Alongside the fellowships, an Institutional Strengthening Programme (ISP) was developed, which aimed to strengthen the capacity of institutions involved in the programme and improve support for early career researchers. The ISP was managed by the ACU in partnership with Vitae.

The position of researchers and their institutions within global academia will be further strengthened through guidance from the Quality Support Component (QSC), a consortium of internationally renowned institutions, led by the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) at the University of Greenwich, UK. The consortium advises on developing and disseminating CIRCLE research that contributes to international discourse in the field.

CIRCLE organogramCVFs host and home institutions, and their involvement in the ISP

Progress to date

Strengthening capacity of African scientists to undertake research on climate change and its local impacts on development

A total of 100 early career researchers were awarded a one-year CIRCLE Visiting Fellowship. Fellowships were awarded to 39 Masters-qualified researchers and 61 PhD-qualified researchers in the field of climate change, with exactly 50% of awards made to female academics.

Proposals covered a range of multidisciplinary research including water, energy, aquaculture, fisheries and marine biology, agricultural science, environment and forests, rural livelihoods and socio-economic aspects of agriculture, and other social sciences.

Through the fellowship programme, CIRCLE has provided opportunities to the fellows to develop their skills and boost their research profile both in academic and non-academic spheres. This included guidance on publishing and conference selection. 

To date: 

  • 72 CVFs have made a total of 142 conference presentations about their CIRCLE research;
  • 78 CVFs have submitted a total of 425 articles, manuscripts and book chapters for publication;
  • 349 articles submitted to peer reviewed journals, including 143 articles on CIRCLE research;
  • 226 articles have been published in peer review journals, including 72 on CIRCLE research;
  • 80 CVFs have been involved in 255 applications for further research funding;
  • 78 funding applications have been successful and over USD $3.5m in funding secured.
In early 2018, 46 CIRCLE alumni responded to a follow-up survey on their progress since completing their fellowship. 70% reported that the level of discussion and communications over support for early career researchers had increased in their institution over the last 12 months. 72% reported that the actual support provided for early career researchers had also increased.

Institutions involved in the Institutional Strengthening Programme (ISP) have been encouraged to include CVFs in their implementation teams, and 67% of ISP Implementation Teams now include CVFs as active members, offering opportunities to extend the benefit of their learning from their fellowship to strengthen the capacity of their peers.

The Fellowship programme is now closed.

Click here to find out more about our Fellowship Programme.

Click here to view our CVF Research Profiles.

Strengthening research capacity in participating African institutions

31 research institutions across 9 African countries are participating in the CIRCLE Institutional Strengthening Programme (ISP). In our most recent survey of CIRCLE Champions, conducted in November 2017, considerable progress was reported in implementing their researcher development action plans. 

The survey also indicated that 91% of institutions had improved the quality and quantity of training and support offered to early career researchers. Examples cited by the Champions included: an increase in the number of workshops and training opportunities for career development; improved engagement between senior researchers and early career researchers; increased access to internal funding; support for publications; and one institution reported the establishment of an internal committee for reviewing departmental research. 

50% of respondents had set up formal programmes for mentoring early career researchers and 75% had held mentoring workshops to improve the quality of mentoring within their institution. Additionally, 68% of respondents had introduced policies and/or strategies for supporting career and professional development planning for research staff, including the redefinition of the institutional vision of career development and several reported the establishment of formal career and professional development training. 

In support of the activities mentioned above, CIRCLE established an ISP Implementation Fund to facilitate the delivery of actions outlined in institutional plans. A total of 18 institutions received awards to deliver a range of activities including workshops on mentoring, career development planning and the utilisation of the Vitae Researcher Development Framework.

Although the project is beginning to witness considerable progress against ISP action plans, much remains to be done to institutionalise and embed those changes for long term sustainable impact. In March 2018, CIRCLE was awarded a 12-month extension to continue work on the ISP, and further monitor the impact of the programme.

Click here to view profiles for all institutions currently involved in the ISP.

The CIRCLE Extension

The extension of the ISP will enable the project to monitor, and further support, the continued progress of universities against their action plans, enhancing the impact of the ISP and the sustainability of its results. 

A structured monitoring framework has been developed to better assess and evaluate the impact of the ISP across the institutional network. This framework is guided by current progress in delivery of the action plans, currently designed using Vitae’s Concordat Principles. Each institution will be supported to set revised targets and actions to further embed the ISP and build on achievements made within the programme so far. These targets will be revisited and evaluated throughout the extension period and updated where necessary. 

Further time will also allow the project to gather more in-depth data on the changes in policy and practise taking place across CIRCLE institutions and factors that have been catalysts for or barriers to change. This will enable the project to contribute more fully to understanding of how to strengthen institutional capacity to undertake high quality research into climate impacts in Africa – one of the project’s intended outcomes.

Finally, an extension would allow more follow-up to be conducted with our CVFs. We will now able to further monitor research outputs, research uptake, conference attendance, grant funding applications and international research collaborations of our Fellows and gather more data on the long-term impacts of the CIRCLE Programme.

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ACUAfrican Academy of Sciences UK AID - Department for International Development

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