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OPINION: Changing context for climate knowledge brokers

If you run a climate and development website, what should you be thinking about in the next year? What do your users actually want?

These are the hot questions under debate at the Climate Knowledge Brokers’ workshop this weekend in Bonn, Germany. CDKN’s Mairi Dupar reports.

Climate and development websites have blossomed in the past few years. Not only are organisations publishing their own information online, but many have become online ‘knowledge brokers’. They are hosting portals that pull together climate and development information from many sources.  Such is the proliferation of such portals that CDKN’s Geoff Barnard has coined a phrase for it: ‘Portal Proliferation Syndrome’.

Recognising that users could be confused by portal proliferation, and funds spent on overlapping initiatives, CDKN, GIZ and PIK last year convened more than 20 such knowledge brokers to find new ways of linking up, sharing technologies, and making the online climate and development landscape more user-friendly.

This year’s meeting convenes more than 20 such initiatives again, to take stock and inject new momentum into this collaborative work. We are meeting this weekend in Bonn, Germany.

Since the group met last year, the environment has changed for online knowledge brokers  and so has the demand for online knowledge services.  The first day’s stock-taking exercise highlighted how the world of climate policy and action is changing, how the world of digital communications is evolving, and how knowledge brokers could respond:

Changes in climate policy and action

International climate politics are evolving. The Durban Platform for Action, agreed last December, signed up the parties of the UNFCCC to agreeing an international deal on climate change by 2015, a lofty ambition but with agreement far off, and implementation further off still. Meanwhile, the process of developing National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) and National Mitigation Plans of Action (NAMAs) for submission to the UNFCCC, has catalysed national action. Because the UNFCCC hasn’t defined the requirements of NAMAs in sharp detail, countries are figuring it out for themselves and there’s a strong need for bottom-up knowledge sharing. Knowledge brokers can help facilitate this knowledge exchange.

National level climate politics are evolving. In developing countries, understanding of adaptation and mitigation action has matured a great deal. Decisionmakers have a better grasp of what’s involved – and they are ready to act, if the funding is there. Knowledge brokers can assist developing country audiences by meeting their appetite for signposting to sources of climate finance.

In developed countries, decision-makers are largely consumed with the economic crisis, and the money available from public coffers for international climate finance will be constrained. Knowledge brokers will likely face a funding crunch if they aren’t already. There remains a question mark around the larger availability of climate finance for project implementation.

Preparing the international community to deal with ‘loss and damage’ from climate change is a hot topic– that’s the damage caused when you have mitigated against climate change, and can’t adapt any further to its impacts. Despite the general buzz around loss and damage in climate circles, defining loss and damage, and ways to tackle it, are a mystery for many concerned audiences.   Knowledge brokers may be able to help ‘demystify’ this area for relevant stakeholders, and assist developing countries to collect and access an evidence base of sound scientific data, to aid decision making in this area. 

Ministries of Finance are increasingly latching on to the climate agenda. Participants have noted the increased willingness of developing country Ministries of Finance to budget for climate-related action, which is very positive. On the negative side, Finance and Environment Ministries remain largely in silos. Knowledge brokers have an opportunity to package important climate-related knowledge in ways that speak to financial and economic decision makers and to adopt vocabularies that encourage cross-working.

Groups working on climate change and development have an identity crisis in the run-up to the Rio+20
. There is a lot of confusion about terminology: what do ‘green growth’ and the ‘green economy’ actually mean? And where does climate change fit in that picture? Knowledge brokers can play an important part in clarifying the terminology and encouraging diverse audiences to adopt common vocabularies.

Developing country decision makers are interested in detailed case studies. Given their more mature understanding of climate adaptation action required, and low emissions development possibilities, developing country decision makers have an increasing appetite for detailed, often sector-based, case studies that reveal successes and failures in implementation. Knowledge brokers should invest in commissioning and disseminating detailed case studies that highlight implications for others.

Trends in online communications

There’s a trend toward increased use of infographics in the online world. An important trend is the increased use of, and expectation for, infographics to represent economic, social and other forms of scientific information. Knowledge brokers targeting developing countries need to consider when and how such investments are merited, depending on the bandwidth of their users. Creating infographics also raises tricky questions about which information to include, and which to leave out.

Platforms for user-generated content are gaining further in strength, globally, but miss some developing country policy communities entirely. The astonishing rise of twitter and other social media platforms at a global level means that knowledge brokers who are not using these platforms daily are way behind the curve. However, developing country participants issued a ‘reality check’ on the persisting lack of connectivity even for policy makers in developing countries, let alone for ultimate beneficiaries at the grassroots level. Knowledge brokers with developing country target audiences need to maintain a focus on accessibility of content for low bandwidth users as well as for more connected users.

Listening to users
This year’s workshop had a particular focus on understanding what users want from online climate and development portals. The knowledge brokers’ group invited representative ‘users’ to talk about their habits in seeking knowledge online – a subject that revealed some fascinating findings. Please watch this space for more updates from the workshop, and how climate knowledge brokers will tackle some of the challenges outlined above.


Image courtesy Jessica Sinclair Taylor, CDKN.

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