On the first weekend of March, the Think Tank met for a residential workshop in order to enable a productive start into a new year of research and to broaden its capacity for effective public engagement.
The residential workshop was designed as a space to provide the opportunity to all members of the Think Tank to engage directly and develop new topics for the year 2017. Choosing four areas of interest – Uganda’s Energy Future, Pollution Management in Uganda, Fostering Female Entrepreneurship, and Oversight Mechanisms regarding Corruption – the members formed groups and engaged in a process of research and discussion resulting in a final presentation on the specific issue that highlighted the chosen research question, direction for further research, research methodology and potential stakeholders to be addressed. The research groups will continuously work together on their individually chosen topics throughout the year and finally aim to publish a paper for policy formulation and recommendation.
Working in groups, the participants formulated different questions for a more nuanced approach towards each topic. The group focusing on energy debated heatedly about the question how Uganda can realize affordable clean energy for the urban poor. At the same time, the question of rural electrification also played a significant role – participants critically examined the current focus on hydropower as a main source of energy and a connection of rural areas to the national grid in favour of localized, more individual solutions involving biomass generation and solar power. Meanwhile, the group which had chosen pollution as a research topic reflected upon the interaction between economic disadvantage and pollution of the environment – how does economic hardship affect pollution levels? Additionally, the issue of insufficient solid waste management, as well as its effect on air pollution, was debated.
The research group working on corruption discussed several recent scandals involving corruption. Of particular interest was the question of how these scandals – and the respective court cases – were followed up on and the way public attention and opinion evolved around the cases. Discussing female entrepreneurship, the respective research group examined challenges and opportunities for female entrepreneurs in Uganda – what is the status of women’s access to land and credit? How does this affect their opportunities in realizing female entrepreneurship? They took off from a research report published by KAS in 2016 (http://www.kas.de/uganda/en/publications/47384/).
The workshop further focused on the topic of audience engagement in order to increase the impact of Think Tank publications and discussions with stakeholders and the public. Some insightful input from Michael Niyitegeka on public speaking and presentation skills was used by the Think Tank members when, after additional work sessions on the second day, they developed and finally held a presentation on their topic of choice.
The presentations held contained multiple creative tools to keep the audience engaged – from innovative Power Point slides to pictures, manila papers, cartoons and even a memorable musical performance by the corruption group. The presentations gave an overview of the topics the groups had focused on as well as their respective research questions and ideas on the specific research strategies. As such, the Energy Group plans to focus on electrification strategies for Uganda’s urban poor with a focus on Kampala as a case study. Similarly, the group on pollution also chose the urban context as a focus, with an emphasis on effects of economic disadvantage on environmental degradation. A passionate presentation on women entrepreneurship revealed that the group intends to focus on how female entrepreneurship can be encouraged by facilitating women’s access to resources, credits and land. In the aftermath of their presentation, the Think Tank also debated on how women should be represented and covered in this context without portraying them in positions of inferiority but all the while giving an adequate overview of their struggles and hardships.
The group which focused on corruption presented their plan of conducting a case study to analyze media cycles for two high-level corruption scandals. Each presentation was concluded by feedback from the audience. The attendees used this way of constructive criticism to address the weaknesses and strengths of their fellows in order to improve their capacities to hold presentations in front of important stakeholders.
Overall, the workshop proved to be a successful launch of Think Tank Activities for 2017. Not only were new research topics heatedly debated, the focus groups also formulated first research questions and devised roadmaps for the way forward in their work.