Social Action and Analysis for Adaptation: the Process

Social Action and Analysis for Adaptation: the Process

PRIME Learning Brief: Social Analysis and Action for Climate Change Adaptation in Ethiopia’s pastoral communities

March 2015


Pastoral livelihoods are inherently adaptive, using mobility and other mechanisms to manage fluctuations in availability of key resources, notably water and fodder for livestock. However, as the effects of climate change become increasingly evident, pastoral and agro-pastoral communities are struggling to protect their livelihoods in a context of increased risk and uncertainty. Among other challenges, there are social and cultural beliefs and traditions that inhibit adaptive actions, creating barriers to building climate resilience. To address this, the Pastoral Resilience Improvement & Market Expansion (PRIME) project is piloting the use of Social Action and Analysis, a learning, reflection and action approach, to address barriers to climate change adaptation. This learning brief aims to share PRIME’s early experiences with Social Action and Analysis for Adaptation (SAAA), identifying key learning points and recommendations for taking the process forward. It is part of a series of briefs developed by CARE Ethiopia to share the project’s experience with innovative approaches that aim to build resilience and enable adaptation to climate change. The briefs are designed for practitioners working on climate resilience and adaptation in Ethiopia and in other pastoral contexts, as well as donors and government decision-makers with an interest in climate change and resilience programming.

Social Action and Analysis for Adaptation: The Process

This section provides an overview of the Social Action and Analysis for Adaptation process, including its origins, why it was selected as a tool for climate change adaptation and how the tool has been adapted for this purpose.

Background on Social Action and Analysis

Social Action and Analysis was originally developed as an approach for sexual and reproductive health programming. It was designed to catalyze a process of exploration and reflection on issues around healthy sexual, reproductive and maternal health (SRMH) behaviors and gender and social norms, through regularly occurring dialogue. The process aims to facilitate individual and community actions that support more equitable gender norms and healthy SRMH behaviors. As shown in the diagram, Social Action and Analysis is a cycle, comprising five main steps that facilitate learning, reflecting, challenging and exploring by both staff and community participants. /

The Social Action and Analysis process involves the use of participatory tools such as problem trees and social mapping to uncover the social, economic and cultural factors that influence health, as well as focus group discussions to delve more deeply into particular issues. The cycle of dialogue facilitates exploration of the social dimensions of well-being, creating understanding among community members of the social complexities that aid or impede progress towards good health. This provides a basis for identification of concrete steps that can be taken to address health and social issues in a reflection-action cycle.[1]

Why Social Action and Analysis for Adaptation?

As a first step in developing a strategy for supporting adaptation by pastoral and agro-pastoral communities, the PRIME project conducted participatory climate vulnerability and capacity analysis processes with stakeholders in 19 grazing systems in Afar, Somali and Southern Oromiya regions. These were followed with facilitated dialogues on disaster risk reduction, livelihoods and adaptation, which aimed to provide a better understanding of decision-making processes and access to information. Through these processes, it was revealed that there are four main categories of barriers to adaptation: information and knowledge; access to resources and decision-making; financial and technological; and, social and cultural. Efforts to support adaptation have typically focused on the first three categories, with limited attention to social and cultural issues that influence how people respond to change and how they make decisions in the face of risk and uncertainty.

Because the Social Action and Analysis process is explicitly focused on addressing social issues that inhibit behaviour change, it provides an entry point for addressing these issues, alongside complementary processes that address other dimensions of adaptation.[2] Recognizing this potential, PRIME has adapted the Social Action and Analysis approach to focus the discussions on adaptive actions and social and cultural barriers to their implementation. The SAAA process aims to explore the beliefs, attitudes and socio-cultural norms that influence people’s behaviour in confronting climate change, creating understanding among community members of the linkages between social issues, adaptation and resilience. Through dialogue and over time, this understanding will evolve into action to promote positive behaviours and informed, forward-looking decision-making in relation to livelihoods and climate change adaptation.

PRIME’s SAAA approach

PRIME is in the early stages of implementing SAAA. The process was initiated through the establishment of a core SAAA group at the Woreda level, which includes representatives from the different Kebeles targeted by the project. Core group members were tasked with facilitating the establishment of Kebele-level sub-groups, each of which is led by a team of two facilitators, one male and one female. These facilitators were selected by the Kebele Development Agents (DAs), who know the community well and were able to identify people who would be enthusiastic and able to lead the group. The group facilitators received training from the PRIME project team, which focused on climate change, adaptive strategies and barriers, as well as on developing facilitation skills. Following the training, the facilitators were expected to identify group members, hold initial discussions and make a plan for ongoing discussions over time. Groups typically include 20-25 members, both women and men, and representing different groups within the community (livelihood groups, wealth groups, and so on). This process is ongoing, however, as shown in the box below, progress has already been made.

SAAA in Sabure Kebele
Sabure Kebele is located in Awash Woreda, approximately 45 kilometers from the town of Awash. It is a community of approximately 20,000 people, including agro-pastoral households that maintain a permanent base in the village, and pastoral households that come and go with the rains. The agro-pastoral households mainly grow maize, tomato and onion for both household consumption and sale. The main livestock owned are cattle, shoats and some camels.
Two community members were selected to receive training on facilitating SAAA in October 2014. One of these, Amina, is a small but powerful woman with a very firm handshake. She, along with her male co-facilitator, has formed an SAAA group of approximately 25 people and has brought them together for three discussions so far. They have agreed to meet every two weeks and to collaborate on actions arising from their discussions. Their discussions to date have focused on the adaptive strategies that were prioritized by the community in their climate vulnerability and capacity analysis[3], namely: savings, herd management and destocking, water harvesting and improved rangeland management. These strategies were identified as important yet facing social or cultural barriers to implementation. /
Amina, one of the facilitators of the Sabure SAA group
Discussions with members of the SAAA group yielded insights into some of these barriers, notably traditional beliefs that keeping cash savings and storing water will bring bad luck to the household. The tendency is therefore to spend cash as soon as it is earned, and to move when the water runs out. There is also the issue of status associated with herd size: as one of the members explained, a ‘good’ pastoralist household was traditionally viewed as the one with the largest herd who was able to move the furthest with their livestock to access water and fodder. However, large herds expose people to significant risks when losses are experienced, and they have negative implications for the availability of fodder and the sustainable use of the rangeland.
According to Amina, the purpose of the SAAA group is twofold: to raise people’s awareness of the identified adaptive strategies and to motivate them to act. This second objective is ultimately about overcoming the barriers described above, and there has already been progress, according to group members. They noted that some people in the community have started accumulating cash savings, and that nothing bad has happened to them or their families. On water, the government is promoting water harvesting and conservation, which leads them to believe that their superstitions around this practice may be false.
Several of the group members expressed openness to the idea of savings in particular, recognizing the value of selling their animals when they are healthy to transform them into savings, so that they have cash on hand to manage in the dry season and provide a buffer for shocks and stresses. Group members are also are talking to their neighbours about the strategies and calling on Clan Leaders to build collaboration on rangeland management. They noted that this way of thinking is new – they have received other training and advice, including from the government, but it has not directly addressed the challenges they face in their livelihoods in the face of increasing rainfall variability.
As one participant in the discussions put it, when you are sick and someone gives you medicine, you take it. The people of Sabure are being offered strategies to help them to suffer less from the impacts of increasing climate variability, and they are planning to take them, even if it means transforming some of their beliefs.
Members of the SAAA Group in Sabure with CARE staff

SAAA in Afar Region: Learning to Date

The first barriers to adaptation that have emerged from the initial SAAA discussions relate to deeply held traditional beliefs and practices, such as those described in the Sabure case study. The group members also highlight a lack of agency on the part of pastoral communities. Each year they hope that the rains will be good, rather than planning for the possibility that they may not. This is exacerbated by a sense of dependency – they assume that if a shock occurs, external support will be provided to assist them in managing the crisis. However, as rainfall variability increases and shocks occur more frequently, motivation is increasing to take a more proactive approach to managing risks. The SAAA dialogue is important in overcoming the barriers to action, however people also require demonstration and evidence: if they see a particular strategy or practice working for others in their community, then they are more likely to try it themselves.

Individual actions are important, however they can only go so far. Some of the actions emerging from the SAAA dialogues, particularly those related to rangeland management, require collective agreement and action by the community, as well as leadership and coordination from the Clan Leaders. The discussions have also highlighted the need for climate information to enable people to make informed decisions (please see the case study on Andido Kebele for more details). Access to services such as Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs), market information and veterinary services remains a challenge for many communities, representing a structural barrier to adaptive actions. Consequently, alongside the SAAA processes, efforts to strengthen these systems and ensure equitable access are necessary.

The facilitators are key to the success of the SAAA process. PRIME has chosen to assign community members as group facilitators, which makes sense as they are embedded in their communities and are therefore in a good position to bring people together and mobilize collective action. However, they generally have less facilitation experience than, for example, project community facilitators, who are hired for their specific skills and training in facilitation. The project has provided training to all of the SAAA group facilitators, which was highly appreciated, according to the facilitators in Sabure and Andido. However, as the dialogue evolves and the issues that emerge become increasingly complex, further capacity building will inevitably be required to maintain the momentum and ensure the sustainability of the process beyond the life of the project. It will be important for the project team to accompany and mentor the facilitators on their journey, providing targeted training and guidance on facilitation, including addressing sensitive issues and dealing with conflicts that may arise.

SAAA in Andido Kebele
Andido Kebele is in Amibara Woreda, not far from the central town of Amibara. The SAAA group in Andido consists of 30 members, with 12 women and 18 men. The group has had two discussions so far, which focused on rainfall variability, including both the overall amount of rainfall and extremes, and its effects on livelihoods, particularly on the health and productivity of livestock. They have identified a number of strategies to address these impacts, including production and saving of fodder, shifting to more drought-tolerant livestock types such as goats and camels and rangeland management, including delineation of wet and dry season grazing areas. The group members noted that every season has its risks and opportunities – the challenge is to minimize the risks and take advantage of the opportunities. To do this, they require access to climate information, such as seasonal forecasts and early warnings, to make the best decisions for their livelihoods. Their community has a weather station, but it is not currently functioning. The group has agreed that they want to work with the meteorological agency to get it functioning again, as part of a strategy of increasing access to climate information.

Recommendations for Taking SAAA Forward

The PRIME SAAA process is off to a very positive start. The following recommendations are aimed at maintaining this momentum and improving the process over time:

-Provide further training and mentoring for SAAA group facilitators to ensure that they are comfortable leading their groups through the discussions as they evolve. In particular, provide them with the knowledge and skills to address more complex social and cultural issues that represent barriers to adaptation.

-Develop guidance for facilitating SAAA discussions on different adaptive strategies and social dimensions, for both PRIME community facilitators and for other projects and organizations that may want to implement the SAAA process.

-Use SAAA groups to disseminate advisories from Participatory Scenario Planning, to increase the reach of the advisories and to support ongoing analysis and informed decision-making by the group members.

-Link SAAA groups with other systems and structures established by the project, including Village Savings and Loans (VSLA) groups, technical trainings on livestock and market development and mobile banking, to enable implementation of prioritized adaptive actions.

-Find ways to document the process and the changes that are occurring, without placing additional burden on the facilitators. This could involve periodic observation of group discussions by PRIME staff, as well as follow-up interviews with group members to track behaviour changes.

The PRIME project aims to increase household incomes and resilience to climate change in the Afar, Somali and Oromia regions of Ethiopia. It is implemented by a consortium where CARE International in Ethiopia is the lead agency for the climate chnage and NRM component of the program.
This brief was written by Angie Dazé, with significant inputs by Alebachew Adem. The PRIME team is grateful to the SAAA groups in Sabure and Andido for their contributions to the content of the brief.

[1] For more information on the SAA approach, please see:

[2] See, for example, the PRIME Learning Brief on Participatory Scenario Planning.

[3] For more information on how PRIME conducted this analysis, please see the CARE Ethiopia report, Using Analysis of Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptive Capacity for Program Decision-Making: Lessons from CARE Ethiopia’s Experience.