Dr. Caroline Ouko, an Alumni of the Mentoring for Research Programme (MRP) 2018 Cohort, graduated with a PhD in Environmental Policy. Her dissertation topic was on ‘Governance Dilemma and Sustainable Provision of Ecosystem Services by Mt. Marsabit Forest, Kenya’. She shares her research journey, motivations for the chosen topic and what she benefited from the programme.
Congrats on the completion of your PhD programme. Would you like to tell us about yourself?
My name is Caroline A. Ouko a multi-skilled professional with 15 years’ experience in leadership, policy development and facilitating change in the Agriculture and Environment sectors. I recently completed my PhD in Environmental Policy from the University of Nairobi – Centre for Advanced Studies in Environmental Law and Policy (CASELAP). With over 15 years progressive involvement in various initiatives geared towards supporting the global agenda on environmental management both in Kenya and Canada, I have a strong track record in networking and stakeholder engagement, partnership modelling and relationship building. I have successfully designed and executed successful programmes applying innovative participatory approaches involving the government agencies, local communities and private partnerships. I have also led the CETRAD team in various research projects funded by the Eastern and Southern Africa Partnership Project (ESAPP), National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCR), Act Change Transform (ACT!) among others.
Why a PhD? Motivation and considerations
An Advanced degree is critical for me at this time for career progression. I was motivated to join a PhD programme in order to develop independent research skills in environmental management; focusing on the gaps in research, which have characterized protected areas especially forests in Kenya, addressing the paradox of continued degradation and loss of biodiversity leading to unsustainable provision of ecosystem services.
What was your research focus and what motivated the choice?
My research topic was “Governance Dilemma and Sustainable Provision of Ecosystem Services by Mt. Marsabit Forest, Kenya”. In Africa, the interdependence between man and environment cannot be overemphasized. There are wicked problems which can only be solved by understanding and creating scenarios for sustainable existence between man and environment. I have a lot of interest in environmental management and my research focus was mainly driven by my working experience and realization of the disruption of provision of ecosystem services due to anthropogenic issues.
What spurred you to do a PhD in the field of environment/energy/climate science?
I am passionate in promoting sustainable natural resource management. The drive to join hands with like-minded scholars to reduce degradation and ensure sustainable provision of ecosystem services is a noble call to me.
Apart from gaining a PhD degree, what are your findings?
The findings of the study confirm the importance of studying the human – environment -relationships to increase the efficiency of natural resource management and ecosystem conservation. Governance of protected areas and especially the interaction between different actors and the biophysical system influence the provision of ecosystem services. Stakeholder network analysis of the Mt. Marsabit protected area in northern Kenya provided insights of the complexity in collaborative governance set-ups. The results showed that centrally placed stakeholders are very important during interactions and representation. Multistakeholder processes such as policies and communication strategies should be based on stakeholders’ positions.
And how long did this take you?
There was a one-year course work, followed by proposal defense, data collection and the write-ups which included peer reviewed journal publication articles and the thesis. This took a total of five years and two months.
Beyond academics who do you think could directly benefit from your findings outside your university?
This study uncovers the linkages between state-society partnerships in Kenya and Africa generally. It addresses institutional design aspects of governance systems mentioned in sustainable goal 15 and 17, Africa Union agenda 2063 and thus it contributes to partnership scenarios nationally regionally and internationally.
The community members depending on the ecosystem services provided by the protected area are the immediate beneficiaries because effective governance will lead to sustainable provision of the ecosystem services.
You are one of the 2018 cohort of ISNAD- Africa’s Mentoring for Research Programme (MRP), how would you describe the programme in general?
The one on one mentoring is unique in that the pairing of mentor and mentee is well done. It is one of its kind and I would highly recommend it for African graduate students.
Could you kindly share with us your personal experience in the programme?
I joined the Mentorship for Research Programme (MRP), a programme of the International Support Network of Africa Development (ISNAD-Africa) in 2018. I had just published one paper, when I joined the programme. We had several skype meetings with my mentor but I vividly recall the first skype meeting because my mentor had asked me about the problem statement. After explanations she shared that the governance issues I was raising were being faced in other protected areas and they are not uniquely Kenyan. This enlightened me and I appreciated that effective governance for sustainability was a global focus. I highly appreciated my mentor’s comments during the preparation of the following published article;- Ouko Achieng, Mulwa Richard, Kibugi Robert & Oguge Nicholas (2019) Effectiveness of Protected Area Governance in the Conservation of Mt. Marsabit Forest Ecosystem, Kenya, Journal of Sustainable Forestry, DOI: 10.1080/10549811.2019.1683752
If we may ask, taking a retrospect of your research programme, what do you think you could have done better or in another way?
I completed my studies recently and for now I feel that I did my best with the available resources and the guidance from the supervisors. However, I know that with time I will realise that maybe there were other additional inputs or lenses I would have used.
I would like to thank everyone who was involved in one way or the other during my PhD journey. I would like to invite the readers to read and share comments on my publications.