Innovative educational formats at international adaptation conference

Innovative educational formats at international adaptation conference
1 August 2017

The annual international conferences on community-based adaptation organized by the UK-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and partners are well known for exploring new ways to learn and share knowledge.

Innovative formats for conveying information and ‘out-of-the-box’ sessions push conference participants to engage in sharing and receiving knowledge.

This year’s CBA11 conference in Kampala was no different: four out-of-the-box sessions used games, campfire stories, ‘data cuisine’ and other active learning methods – many of them developed by the Climate Centre – to engage participants and spark excitement for work on adaptation.

Research and experience tell us that even an interested audience is only able to focus on a presentation for about seven minutes before minds wander.

We also know audiences struggle to remember more than three key points after a session.


The convergence of climate and conflict is a topic that can sometimes feel very remote, especially in a conference setting.

To bring home the seriousness of the issue at CBA11 and connect to it on a deeper level, knowledge-sharing during the session was facilitated through stories told by practitioners who work in fragile and conflict-affected states.

Why stories? Stories stick – humans have been using oral storytelling for millennia to pass on experience and learning.

Our brains are attuned to hearing stories and getting drawn into their reality; that’s why a well-written book can be so hard to put down.

Stories can be illustrative and support best practice; they can also inspire the audience to derive their own lessons from the experiences shared.

Importantly, they also help presenters think about the information they would like to share and distill it to the most important two or three points, increasing the chances people will remember it after the conference.

‘Pervasive games’

Games have long been used as instruments to make learning fun and engaging. They often represent simplified versions of reality and allow people to see the consequences of their decisions and adjust them for the best outcome.

CBA11 featured a number of games, including one for optimizing flood resilience as well as climate adaptation strategies for youth like ‘Y-Adapt’.

New at CBA11 were ‘pervasive games’, also known as ‘big’, ‘social’ or ‘alternate-reality’ games.

A pervasive game is played while other sessions are underway, constantly engaging with participants in the midst of the conference. 

At CBA11 the pervasive game ‘CBAction!’ featured extreme-weather events that struck participants randomly, forcing them to group together to frame ecosystem services to absorb the pretend drought, flood or heatwave.  


Engaging in multi-sensory experiences can make complex or abstract concepts personal, understandable and memorable – exactly the idea behind the CBA11 session on ‘data cuisine’ which combined food and climate data.

For example, measurements of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere from 1900 to the present aren’t easily accessible. But we can understand how increasing the concentration of peppers in hot sauce has an impact on its taste and colour, literally making it hotter and eliciting a reaction from the taster.

The experience helped participants think about how they communicate their work when they were asked to create data cuisines of their own.

These are only a few examples of the many innovative formats used at CBA which included a marketplace, an art exhibition, field trips and a film expo.

These types of engagements can be translated to many other settings including team meetings, workshops and projects to enable better, more effective communication and learning.

This year’s community-based adaptation conference in Kampala used games, campfire stories, data cuisine and other active learning methods to engage participants. New at CBA11 were ‘pervasive games’ (pictured) played while conference sessions are underway. (Photo: Rebeka Ryvola/Climate Centre)