Social learning in climate change adaptation initiatives in South Africa

Shakespear Mudombi assesses the evidence for social learning in climate change adaptation initiatives, past and present, in South Africa, and looked at the the enablers and obstacles to the use of social learning in this context.


Climate variability and change are having marked impacts on some communities. Moreover, future changes in the climate will result in an increase not only in the number of people and communities experiencing negative effects but also in the extent and intensity of these effects. This points to a need for adaptation to climate change, and the ability to adapt depends on the adaptive capacity of individuals and communities. Notably, social learning can enhance this adaptive capacity. The objectives of the study were, first to assess if there was evidence of social learning in climate change adaptation initiatives that are or have been undertaken in South Africa. Second, to find the enablers of and obstacles to the use of social learning in climate change adaptation initiatives.


Based on a comprehensive literature review, a number of social learning indicators were identified which were included in the questionnaire. The variables were split into two categories: social learning indicators and organizational variables. The study used primary data collected through an online survey on SurveyMonkey [1]. The data were collected in January and February 2013. The respondents were individuals working on climate change adaptation and vulnerability reduction initiatives in South African local, provincial, and national government departments and non-governmental organizations. The survey was sent out to 279 potential respondents, of whom 38 responded, indicating a response rate of 13.6%. The data analysis was conducted using Microsoft Excel and SPSS.


Generally the majority (over 80%) of respondents indicated that most of the social learning variables (sharing of ideas with stakeholders, development of trust, participants valuing the sharing of information, collective action toward project goals, continuous interaction and feedback, and participation by all stakeholders) were present in adaptation projects. However, improved conflict resolution was less evident. Important organizational factors that contributed to learning  had local stakeholders capacity, were projects being initiated locally, that were building local-level champions, and had long-term cooperation with the communities. Factors that limited the use of social learning in climate change adaptation projects were inadequate funding, short project time frames, political factors, lack of awareness and knowledge, lack of trust and conflicts, and structural and governance issues.


Generally, the findings in this study show evidence of the use of social learning in climate change adaptation projects in South Africa, with the majority of respondents indicating that the social learning indicators under consideration were present. However, the practical capacity and governance-related barriers to implementation present significant challenges. Furthermore, improved conflict resolution as a social learning outcome was less evident than other indicators. For the different actors to work toward  the same goal, they need to have a common understanding of the challenge or at least some sort of converging perception, which is exceptionally difficult to achieve.


[1] SurveyMonkey


Christo Fabricius, Sustainability Research Unit, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, South Africa
Anthony Patt, Risk, Policy and Vulnerability Program (RPV), IIASA


Shakespear Mudombi of the Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa, is a South African citizen. he was funded by IIASA's South African National Member Organization during the YSSP.

Please note these Proceedings have received limited or no review from supervisors and IIASA program directors, and the views and results expressed therein do not necessarily represent IIASA, its National Member Organizations, or other organizations supporting the work.

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Last edited: 23 March 2015


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