TIPC Experiment: Living Catchments Project South Africa

To be able to meet the Sustainable Development Goals more effectively, TIPC researchers establish methodologies that promote the TIP theory and create the space to put them into practice and understand how transformative processes contribute to transformative change in the longer term through experimental policy engagements. The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) of the South African Government, a member of TIPC, enabled a 16 weeks engagement to apply the Transformative Innovation Policy framework by going through a formative evaluation with Transformative Outcomes methodology developed by the TIPC team in a step-by-step process of co-creation and learning. The engagement had the participation of 12 people. Nine members participating directly in the LCP working in the Water Research Commission (WRC), the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), and the DSI. Four research assistants and one professor coordinating them from the University of Johannesburg. 14 observers from a diversity of organisations such as the Human Sciences Research Council, the National Department of Environmental Affairs, and the University of Pretoria. Finally, 9 TIPC members distributed between researchers and members of the professional services team.Rather than a set of ‘training sessions’ the team (TIPC researchers and practitioners in charge to develop the project) developed ‘co-creation sessions’ with a mix between theoretical concepts and their discussion in the project’s specific context. Researchers and practitioners came together to join their thinking and experience on the concepts and their meaning by learning from each other and from the process itself. Together, they advanced on reinforcing an existing Theory of Change for the Living Catchments project by using the TIPC methodology for evaluation. The objectives of the experimental policy engagement were:The outputs and outcomes of the process were:•Demonstrate how the Theory of Change (ToC) links to Transformative Outcomes•Development of a Transformative Theory of Change for the LCP•Development of a Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Plan for the LCP•Development of skills in this approach to inform transformative action in further work

Lead partner Organisation
South African Department of Science and Innovation; South African Water Research Commission; South African National Biodiversity Institute, TIPC
Lead partner person
Diana Velasco
Other project partners
University of Johannesburg; South African Human Sciences Research Council; South African Department of Environmental Affairs; Uniersity of Pretoria
Further info
Initiative Submitted by
Diana Velasco
Research Fellow at INGENIO / TIPC / Deep Transitions
Organisation type
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End date
Target Country
Initiative Intervention Level
Which unsustainable structures & practices (Regime) does the initiative address?

South Africa is the 30th driest country in the world with less water per person than countries such as Namibia. Water runoff and distribution of water resources across the country is highly variable and unevenly spread in space and time due to variable rainfall distribution. The country is currently facing a number of water challenges including security of supply, degradation of ecological infrastructure, poor landscape governance, resource pollution and these are compounded by aging built infrastructure, growing population and the impact of climate change. At present, more than 98% of the reliable available surface water is already prescribed, demand outstrips supply in most catchments with the Department of Water Affairs cautioning unless the current water challenges are addressed, the country will be facing a disastrous 17% deficit in water supply by 2030 (Department of Water and Sanitation, 2018). Only 10.3 million households (64%) have access to reliable water supply. The population has risen from 44.8 million in 2001 to 58.8 million in 2019 and predicted to continue to rise (StatsSa 2019). This rising demand for water put enormous stress to already scarce resources compounded by aging infrastructure and degradation of important ecological infrastructure for water security.

What are the sustainable structures & practices (niches) being created by the initiative?

About 10% of the land area provides 50% of South Africa’s surface water that flows into rivers and the bulk infrastructure, the dams. These are the Strategic Water Source Areas (SWSAs) that supply reliable source of water to homes and industries. The SWSAs are important ecological infrastructure that generate and deliver valuable water resource to the people of South Africa. Recognition and investment in ecological infrastructure including the SWSAs is fundamental towards ensuring quality and adequate supply of water. Important ecological infrastructure such as rivers, wetlands, mountain catchments, and storm water ponds are crucial for water security and complement the bulk infrastructure such as the dams. Healthy and well managed ecological infrastructure for water security generate and produces quality and adequate water supply thereby contributing immensely to the development agenda of the country.The project is developed in response to the Water Research, Development and Innovation Roadmap (Water RDI Roadmap) which is a national planning intervention aimed at addressing water scarcity in South Africa over a 10-year period between 2015 and 2025. The Water RDI Roadmap is a high-level planning intervention by the WRC, DSI and the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) to facilitate and guide refocusing of research, reprioritisation of funds, synergising of existing initiatives and ring-fencing of new resources to facilitate a more optimal water innovation system.The project was implemented in the uMzimvubu, Tugela, Berg-Breede, and the Olifants rivers catchments. It created a catchment-based learning platform to enhance research, innovation and impact through engaged communities of practice in key catchments associated with strategic water sources (SWSAs). The Living Catchments project is a continuation of the Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) Platforms that was initiated by SANBI and the DSI in 2015 and ended in January 2020. The TIPC experiment Living Catchment Project outcomes are: 1. Catchment based social spaces foster agency, trust, connection, convening, collaboration, co-creation, co-learning, and agenda setting between scientists, policy makers, implementers & local stakeholders working in SWSA at the nexus of built and ecological infrastructure 2. Co-learning occurs within and between different SWSAs at the nexus of built & ecological infrastructure 3. Social spaces fostering collaboration & co-learning are sustainable and locally institutionalised. 4. The science of transformative social learning facilitation is visible and valued by key institutions and individuals working at the nexus of water and ecosystems5.Policy and associated advice (operating at the nexus of water and ecosystems) is articulated and mainstreamed in a way that is responsive to current needs, co-owned by key stakeholders and implementable.

Which sector does the initiative primarily target for change?

Water and Sanitation

Is the initiative an experiment?

YES: The TIPC member, the South Africa Department of Science & Innovation provided the resources, and flexibility in project management and evaluation to expand the transformative potential of the Living Catchments Project in one of the most critical systems for the country, water and sanitation. Through dedicated sessions with TIPC researchers, the team involved and the observers had the chance to learn from each other, adopt and adapt concepts and methodologies, and enhance the theory of change and evaluation of the project.

Building and nuturing niches

- By strengthening existing Communities of Practice (CoP) within important water catchments that bring together stakeholders to develop collaboration agendas across the built and ecological infrastructure. - By growing the practice of transformative social learning facilitation. - By strengthening the practice of policy engagement and the ways in which biodiversity is mainstreamed into the water sector. - More specifically, by: Appointing CoP convenors/facilitators to work within and across CoPs - Organising co-learning events between CoP and sector partnersCreating a network of transformative social learning practitioners to engage with partners at the intersection of water and ecosystems - Deepening the capacity for and understanding of policy advice mainstreaming at the nexus points (science – policy; ecosystems-water)

Expanding and mainstreaming niches

- By establishing the practice of transformative social learning facilitation to enable sustainable social spaces for collaboration and co-learning within the CoPs and beyond. - More specifically, by:Upscaling existing CoPsCreating two new CoPs - Convening critical policymaking and advice thinking hub for applied learning, assessing national and international evidence on policy advice


Diana Velasco
Research Fellow at INGENIO / TIPC / Deep Transitions , University of Valencia