A large mixed group of Hub researchers smile at the camera as they stand around, sit on, and lean against the TECNICAFE outdoor sign

The Hub has progressed so much since that first meeting in Malaysia, moving from uncertainty in its new relationships and developing work packages, to that of mutual cooperation and rewarding partnerships across and within the collaboratories that will last beyond the Hub’s lifetime. The Hub is very much like a family now.”

~ Catherine Flynn, UKRI

As a global project tackling water security issues across different locations and contexts, we know how important it is that we work together, building cross-country relationships to allow the sharing of expertise and experience. Our Collaboratory model was developed to enable just that, creating the perfect platform for interdisciplinary dialogue and knowledge exchange amongst stakeholders, industry, communities, and researchers. 

Coming together in-person provides crucial opportunities for more detailed, nuanced discussions between colleagues and partners, and chances to gain first hand insights into work taking place on the ground in our collaboratories. As a Hub we strive to minimise our environmental impact and maximise time spent travelling, and so in the weeks leading up to our Hub Assembly in Colombia in November, several of our Early Career Researchers spent time together in Popayán to build on existing research and plan further collaborative projects.

The trip consisted of several workshops, discussions, and visits to important research sites and stakeholders that our Colombia Collaboratory are working with. The team led Hub colleagues through their participatory social cartography methods and social mapping with communities; Dr Maria Valasia Peppa (Newcastle University) conducted a practical workshop on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in research; and Professor Apolinar Figueroa (Universidad del Cauca) led a discussion on interdisciplinarity and working with communities in research. 

Hub members went on a field visit to TECNiCAFE, a Coffee Innovation Technology Park that offers open access education to local coffee producers to increase the quality and sustainability of coffee production. During the visit, connections were established for future collaboration between TECNiCAFE and Hub researchers. The team also visited the indigenous Misak school, the Mama Manuela Educational Institution in the reservation of Guambia. In an enriching field day, they had the opportunity to learn about indigenous cosmovisions, and hydrological projects developed by students of the school, including water wheels for energy generation, laser sensors for humidity, milling with hydropower, and commercial trout production.

We asked colleagues to share their thoughts on how important it is to have opportunities like this and the value of spending time together.

“This reaffirmed to me the need for taking time to build shared understandings, as we strive to work across disciplines.”

After two years of Zoom-based interaction, the time we spent in Popayán was immensely valuable to me; a week to luxuriate in making new connections and to think expansively about transdisciplinary research culture. Our visit to the inspirational indigenous school, Misak Mama Manuela, sparked discussions on potential research directions concerning the language we use to talk about and analyse ‘territory’, ‘dwelling’, and landscape in relation to water. The small scale of the group and mixture of researchers from the UK, Colombia, and Ethiopia allowed for real face-to-face connections and in-depth conversations, helping me to ‘map’ what our teams are doing across the Hub. This reaffirmed to me the need for taking time to build shared understandings, as we strive to work across disciplines. It was a joyful week, in which the seeds for future collaborative research were sown. I’m certain that these will be nurtured into long-term connections.

~ Dr Helen Underhill, Newcastle University (NU)

“These were great experiences that allowed us to see the benefits of bi-directional knowledge exchange in action.”

The Ethiopian team is working closely with Colombian colleagues, adapting their social cartography research method for use in community engagement and participation in the Akaki catchment. During our time in Popayán we were able to hear from Professor Apolinar Figueroa as he shared his experience on community-based participatory research methods, and involving communities at different stages in research projects. The visits to TECNiCAFE and Mama Manuela Misak School were great experiences that allowed us to hear directly from communities and organisations, and see the benefits of bi-directional knowledge exchange in action. This is a great contribution to our work with communities in Ethiopia, and the experience will assist my own research in combining and integrating social cartography methods with GIS and remote sensing methods. 

~ Endaweke Assegide, Water and Land Resource Centre (WLRC)

“The visit provided a valuable opportunity to learn more about additional methods of research dissemination and community engagement.”

Seeing in person how our Colombian colleagues work very closely with communities in their research was particularly valuable - the communities are empowered as the guardians of their environment and culture. Our colleagues led us through mapping exercises for understanding current conditions and monitoring hazards and change, and shared insights on the researcher’s position and approach, and using ontological and epistemological viewpoints. We will be incorporating what we have learned into the Ethiopian team’s community engagement plans. The visit to TECNiCAFE provided a valuable opportunity to learn more about additional methods of research dissemination and community engagement, and the centre’s work on innovation, sustainability, and entrepreneurship. We are already discussing and reviewing further potential collaborative projects with our Colombian colleagues, including a project based on work with TECNiCAFE.

~ Bitew Kassaw, Water and Land Resource Centre (WLRC) 

“So far, my greatest takeaway from working at the Hub”

Prior to my visit to Popayán, I had been assessing climate change impacts on water use in coffee farming in the region for almost a year, working from my office in Newcastle. I thought I knew about the area and its characteristics well and all I needed was to finally be there, collect some field data, touch those coffee trees, and meet the people that I have been talking with online for months. However, what I found in Popayán was a lot more. The depth and extent to which I learnt about intersectionality, and the methods our Colombia colleagues follow in their community-based research, was really valuable. I will always carry with me the concept of “Learn from and with the local communities, do not educate them. They know best about their territories”. 

Learning more about Popayán’s history, the local culture, its beautiful nature, and amazing food (especially the fruits!) made the overall experience extra special. Although my research is about engineering and the physical environment, becoming aware of those elements adds, undoubtedly, an enormous value to my research and its significance. That by itself is, so far, my greatest takeaway from working at the Hub.

~ Dr Nasser Tuqan, Newcastle University 

“This trip has further strengthened my working relationships with colleagues and highlighted the importance of engaging with researchers from different disciplines on a regular basis.”

To summarise my trip to Popayán in one sentence, I would say that it was captivating and inspiring. Every day I learnt something new. I delivered a short-course to Hub partners on how to collect images with drones, and process and analyse them in order to generate 3D digital surface models of the Earth. We conducted a live demonstration at a coffee farm, and preliminary results showed the potential of using drone-based photogrammetry for characterising particular trees that were planted amongst coffee crops, used as a nature-based solution to support water storage for coffee production and enhance the quality of coffee. The openness, authenticity, and simplicity of interactions with colleagues from Universidad del Cauca has inspired me to bring a more social aspect into my pure engineering daily work. This trip has further strengthened my working relationships with colleagues and highlighted the importance of engaging with researchers from different disciplines on a regular basis, building trusting relationships that ultimately could last for a lifetime. 

~ Dr Maria-Valasia Peppa, Newcastle University

“The opportunity to converse with peers made it possible to hold discussions that enriched the development of our projects.”

Having the opportunity to receive and host colleagues in Popayán was a supremely enriching experience. Meeting face-to-face allowed me to establish a relationship that was not only academic, but also more human and personal. The cultural exchange and academic knowledge brought together the realities of different countries, where similarities and differences converged and became points of articulation and growth. This enabled the construction of new ideas, the intention to replicate research processes, and the opportunity to compare methodologies and results. Being able to interact with professionals who are so qualified and willing to share their knowledge and research experiences was very helpful, and working with colleagues who are highly committed to jointly seeking solutions is invaluable. This opportunity was definitely very positive for the strengthening of my capacity in terms of issues of water quality, pollution, and the analysis of land cover through photogrammetry. These meetings help enrich the human capital in our research, which will have a significant impact on sustainability, water, and food security. 

~ Juliana Salazar Benítez, Universidad del Cauca

A large group of people wearing yellow hard hats stand together and smile at the camera, whilst stood in a large warehouse with coffee bags either side

Visit to TECNiCAFE

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