Adapting research projects to the COVID-19 pandemic: Experiences from the Nairobi Risk Hub

Chengo, V & Atela, J
Tomorrow's Cities
May 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic presents unique challenges to the research community beyond the devastating impacts to livelihoods and economies across the globe. Most researchers are currently struggling to develop adaptive measures to facilitate the continuity of ongoing research activities, and at the same time identify the relatable opportunities from the pandemic.

The Nairobi Risk Hub, part of the broader Tomorrow's Cities research project, is one of numerous donor funded research projects experiencing this adjustment. The UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) funded project is expected to undertake interdisciplinary research and inform disaster management in rapidly developing cities: Nairobi, Kathmandu, Istanbul and Quito. The vision of the Nairobi Risk Hub is specifically to generate research evidence geared towards helping the city of Nairobi move from crisis/emergency response to integrated, proactive urban planning to enhance disaster risk preparedness and management. The research puts specific focus on floods and fires as the most prevalent hazards in Nairobi, especially within the informal settlements, as well as other cascading hazards that affect the wellbeing of the residents. The COVID-19 pandemic thus becomes a research opportunity for the hub, as well as a bottleneck to the planned research activities designed to be achieved through the application of multidisciplinary research to establish an integrated evidence base on the city’s leading risks and hazards, their drivers, institutional structures, and feasible disaster reduction measures that support pro-poor action planning.

The Nairobi Risk Hub plans involve a very ambitious research and policy action plan and learning agenda. More specifically, the critical path for the hub is premised on locally grounded research involving community engagements, ground measurements, and leveraging key insights to the Nairobi city-wide policy planning. This critical path enables the hub’s work to directly and indirectly interact with the COVID-19 management processes including the impacts on research plans, but also presents new opportunities to inform strategic policy responses to the pandemic. Nairobi is one of Africa’s main economic hubs with a large attraction of international trade and activities, but faced with numerous social, economic, environmental, and urban risk-related challenges that constrain the city’s growth and resilience. Ultimately, understanding how the hub is reorganising itself and adopting to the ensuing COVID-19 related challenges and opportunities is an important element in the Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) framework. This article outlines the experiences of the Nairobi Risk Hub in this regard. The article also draws from the ongoing COVID-19 discussions and communications taking place at the overall Hub level on mapping out the entry points for working within the context of COVID-19.