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FEATURE: Postcard from Frankfurt 2 – CDKN Knowledge Brokers Workshop round-up

By Tristan Stubbs, CDKN Global Communications Officer

My journey to the CDKN / GIZ / PIK Knowledge Brokers Workshop started early on Friday morning. I took a train from London to Brussels, and from there to Frankfurt, Germany. It was an appropriate way to travel. In his opening presentation on Saturday morning at GIZ’s headquarters in the suburb of Eschborn, Geoff Barnard, CDKN’s Head of Knowledge Management, compared the current map of climate knowledge platforms to the British rail network in the early days of steam. There are bits of track linking together clusters of knowledge, but they haven’t yet been connected up.

As a first step to addressing these gaps, the Saturday morning session attempted to find out how much the knowledge platforms had in common. We were asked to evaluate the focus of our projects in six key thematic areas – purpose (why we were set up), content type (what media we work in), subject focus (what area of climate policy we concentrate on), audience focus (whom we try to communicate to and influence), editorial approach (where the content comes from), and technology and delivery approach (what tools we use to get our messages out). The rail theme continued: ‘station masters’ stood by large boards, interrogating us on our projects, and urging us to challenge our own assumptions about the work we do. Participants came from across the climate knowledge spectrum – scientists, economists and communicators were all represented.

The results were eye-opening. Two main responses emerged – firstly, that this was a long-overdue initiative; and secondly, that the level of previous collaboration between the platforms varied widely. Questionnaires on how much we knew about each other were turned into a chart, and it became clear that there were real opportunities for cooperation between initiatives working in similar areas. Geoff called this relationship ‘coopetition’ – working in the same space, with sometimes differing objectives, but recognising where our expertise and experience complement each other. The length of time that initiatives had been in existence also varied a lot – from over twenty years, to being launched just two days before!

In the next session, Blane Harvey of IDS suggested we ask ourselves questions about our initiatives. Are they demand-led? How far are they user-driven? Are they still relevant? We took up pen and paper, and drew a picture of the typical end-user of our platforms. I chose a Minister of the Environment (I won’t say from which country). My partner asked how CDKN planned to reach someone like him. I explained that while government ministers might not always access the CDKN website directly, we hoped that our knowledge products would reach their advisors, and that ministers would approach CDKN for technical assistance.

What this exercise demonstrated is that there’s often a distinction between knowledge brokers’ target audiences and the actual end-users of their services. In my group, we decided that it was sensible to focus on the needs of the target audience when presenting information, but that because this usually means making information as clear and accessible as possible, gaining a wider audience is both inevitable, and an indicator of the usability of our knowledge services.

Day 2 was all about collaboration, and how much we should expect to achieve through working together. In break-out sessions, we discussed what the climate change knowledge architecture should look like in 10 years’ time. While we thought a single gateway to climate change platforms would be desirable, a single platform would be too impracticable, given the varied languages and societies it would need to interact with. One way to bring platforms together would be an ‘intelligent search’ portal, based on linked open access data – concrete examples of how this might work were presented by Florian Bauer of REEGLE and Sadie Cox of Open EI. Two other presentations of existing projects were an API designed by Eldis, and the WeAdapt platform, managed by SEI.

The final group discussions centred on how to maintain the community we’d developed after the workshop, what problems we planned to tackle together, and which media we could use to keep in touch. We decided we’d set up a space on OpenEi – details on how to join will be posted on the CDKN website as soon as it’s established. Group members would keep in touch with each other through regular calls on subjects they want to discuss or collaborate on. We plan to meet up again in person in a year’s time, and in the meantime, members volunteered to organise regional knowledge brokers meetings. As one participant summed it up, our objective should be to avoid ‘Groundhog Day’ syndrome – we need to make sure we address relevant, and urgent issues, each time we talk.

It became evident during the two days that the workshop was just the beginning of a process to address a substantial need. Though meetings that discuss other aspects of climate change happen all the time, this was the first international forum on climate change knowledge management that many of the participants had attended. Much of the discussion had centred around the need to break out of ‘silos’ – to address together the knowledge challenges of adaptation, mitigation and development. Though it won’t be easy, by building on the relationships we developed here, participants hope – like those railway pioneers – to establish a worthwhile and long-lasting network.

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