Launched in 2016, LIRA has been a unique research funding programme that has built the capacity of early-career researchers in Africa to undertake transdisciplinary research and make scientific contributions to the implementation of Agenda 2030 in African cities. By fostering new partnerships across different stakeholders and sectors, 28 LIRA projects have helped anchor the Sustainable Development Goals in local contexts, and have increased local ownership and responsiveness of communities to the global agenda.
One of LIRA’s key impacts has been contributing to shifting the political economy of research on African cities from the Global North to the African continent. More than 60 academic articles and 20 policy briefs have been published since its inception. LIRA grantees have also produced books, reports and publications, gained Master’s and postgraduate degrees, and worked together to produce geographic information system maps, databases, training courses and research tools. Besides all these achievements, the most significant contribution of the programme has been the creation of a community of practice of engaged early-career scholars who are skilled and practiced in transdisciplinary approaches in various contexts.
By experimenting with alternative ways of engaging with and influencing contemporary urban challenges, early-career African scientists have crossed the conventional boundaries between science, policy and society, carrying out innovative, engaged and relevant research that ultimately contributes to social change. The knowledge and data generated through the LIRA projects are extensive and are of academic interest and significance for local communities and policy-makers.
LIRA has made an impact in many countries. In Mozambique, it was instrumental in preparing the country’s SDG Voluntary National Review and contributing to a collective Voluntary Local Review for municipalities. In Angola, the federal government invited project stakeholders to support the development of a national housing policy. In Zimbabwe, a climate change desk was established under the Town Clerk of Harare. In South Africa, the project’s lessons learned are being included in the review of the informal settlement upgrading policy of eThekwini. The LIRA project team was also included in South Africa’s COVID-19 informal settlement policy and technical platform. In the city of Durban, transformative adaptation was added as an agenda item to meetings of the Environmental Health Services.
The full range of achievements and lessons learned were captured exhaustively and featured in two reports to be released in early 2023.
The value of the transdisciplinary approach for understanding and addressing urban complexity in African cities was endorsed by the LIRA community, who all indicated that they would like to continue practising transdisciplinary research. However, this would require creating a more enabling environment for transdisciplinary research in Africa and globally. In addition, to foster a profound transformation of existing institutional structures, policies and processes within universities and science funders, strategic dialogues with key actors must continue to ensure that science is geared towards transformative and systemic change.
‘My experience with LIRA has been remarkable. I am glad to be selected to be part of this amazing academic journey. I intend to further enhance the relationship through future collaborative engagements with colleagues, communities and practitioners we have grown to know.’A LIRA researcher in an anonymous evaluation form
The LIRA cohort has done more than any other group on the continent to substantially advance the volume, quantity and relevance of urban research on the continent. LIRA is ahead of its time, and it was able to harness significant work and initiate significant shifts in thinking that will anticipate shifts in practice in urban research. Now we need to do more: we need to use LIRA to mobilize the African community of urban scholars to think and act differently and to consolidate and advance what we have built.Susan Parnell, Chair of the LIRA Scientific Advisory Committee
and Professor of Geography, University of Bristol