This project is a case study that exemplifies the principle of “Sustainable Development” in the recently launched Open and Collaborative Science Manifesto.
By: Najat A. Saliba of the Local Conservation and Development with OCS project
Eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were set and ratified by the 189 Member States of the United Nations in 2000 with a deadline for achieving these goals set for 2015. The goals established obligations on the part of the international community to promote the well-being of individuals by eradicating extreme poverty, achieving primary education, promoting gender equality and combating diseases. The MDGs also aimed at promoting rural development by ensuring environmental sustainability and supporting global partnerships. For the past 15 years, the MDGs have recorded significant achievements worldwide, but still over 880 million urban residents were estimated to live in slum conditions in 2015, compared to 792 million reported in 2000 and 689 million in 1990. In response, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have set the 2030 global agenda to “reach the furthest behind first” and concluded with a pledge that “no one will be left behind”. This new, wider approach was presented with 17 Goals, 169 tasks, and 304 indicators whose purpose is to protect the planet and human health.
Accomplishing the SDG goals by conventional top-down approaches presents a risk of achieving the goals of the donor’s agenda by forcing them on local communities. Knowledge and data generated, which are usually kept in the hands of donor agencies, create knowledge asymmetries between large corporations and local governments and communities. Instead, the importance of a bottom-up approach through grass-roots inclusion and engagement of urban citizens should be stressed. Fundamentally, this is achieved by empowering urban citizens through grass-roots innovations or community-led initiatives that may have intrinsic or diffuse benefits in the transformation towards sustainability. At the grass-roots level, donor organizations and governments can quantitatively assess the development impacts associated with an intervention. However, for the approach to be successful, citizens must be empowered to also shape the development agenda so they are able to act as agents of their own change. The process of sustainable development requires understanding the context of the community within which an initiative is taking place and documenting lessons learned openly in order to share across different environments and contexts. Below, we would like to briefly present the experiences of the AUB-NCC in implementing our two-year project looking at community-level water quality monitoring in Lebanon.
Case study of the AUB-NCC
The AUB-Nature Conservation Center (NCC) is an interdisciplinary academic research center that fosters a range of projects across a multitude of themes, from community development, to sustainable entrepreneurship, and to a number of action research and education projects, which are directed towards engaging people to appreciate nature and aim to protect it. The “human ecology” is of paramount importance in an area where the well being of nature and people are completely interdependent and where both lives are threatened by desertification, climate change, and anthropogenic environmental stresses. One approach the center has adopted is to examine new technologies and provides access to the experience, concepts, methods, and tools needed to support the development of local communities.
One particular example is addressing the water problem in rural areas of Lebanon. Water is included in SDG 6, “Ensure access to water and sanitation for all.” The target is to improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping, and minimizing the release of hazardous chemicals and materials, reducing the proportion of untreated wastewater by half and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally .
To meet the needs of the village, we formed a multidisciplinary team composed of two chemists (one faculty member and one assistant) whose research focuses on environmental pollution, a chemical engineer with expertise in water treatment, and two community development specialists (one faculty member and one community coordinator). The village formed a committee composed of local officials and volunteers of different genders, education levels, and socioeconomic backgrounds. The academic research team met on a bi-weekly basis at the center to discuss the progress of the project. The meetings strengthened the team’s internal communication and enabled everyone on the team to understand each team member’s discipline and approaches. The academia representatives met with the community frequently to establish a working relationship and common understandings between the two parties and to conduct water quality experiments. Low-cost monitoring toolkits were adapted to the local language and made available to local citizens so they could conduct the experiments. The local citizens in this case made major contributions in taking ownership of and executing the project by locating the water sources in the village, conducting the experiments, generating data, and organizing the workshops to disseminate the information to the community at large. The sustainability of the project has been ensured by establishing a local water-testing lab equipped with proper tools and supplies and by creating a well-trained water-committee.
The success of the project relied mainly on the long-term trust between the community and NCC, providing local residents with low cost easily manipulated tools, and making NCC act as a knowledge reference (but not the only knowledge experts) for local residents. Our relations with the community are based on mutual respect and our success in implementing a change was based on informative discussions of possible remedial solutions.
Based on our experiences over the last two years, we have identified two main components that we believe will help in establishing a foundation for the 2030 SDG agenda: grass-roots-level collaboration and the continued development and contextualization of new and affordable technology.
Strong collaboration between interdisciplinary academic research teams, local and national political decision makers, companies, investors, and local communities must be established. Gains from the convergence of these efforts are higher and more certain than the advantages that a single agent can achieve by adopting a unilateral strategy. Partnerships between scientific communities and private sector encourages innovation, and may help to foster sustainable initiatives. Coordination with the public sector and community members and groups can legitimize new rules, standards, and regulations that may be implemented to protect and promote the decisions of the community.
Contextualization of new, affordable technology
As the world changes, so will the best approaches to meet ecological, economical, and social monitoring demands. Development community leaders (academic and civil) in collaboration with private sector should strategically review appropriate technologies for the development needs of the community and embrace new approaches that have the potential to help further development goals identified by the community.
For more details on the project and project findings, download the final progress report here.
 United Nations (2015). Report of the inter-agency and expert group on sustainable develop- ment goal indicators. Economic and Social Council 17 December 2015. Accessed 8 July 2016 at http://unstats.un.org/unsd/statcom/47th-session/documents/2016-2-IAEG- SDGs-E.pdf.
 Seyfang, G. & Smith, A. Grassroots innovations for sustainable development: Towards a new research and policy agenda. Environmental Politics 16, 584–603, 2007
 Abdelillah Hamdouch & Bertrand. Zuindeau Sustainable development, 20 years on: methodological innovations, practices and open issues. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 53, 4, 427–438, 2010