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FEATURE: Portal proliferation syndrome responding to treatment

With no end in sight to the proliferation of websites offering climate information, Geoff Barnard, CDKN’s Knowledge Management Strategy Advisor, offers some advice on how to add value to existing sources of data

You’ll recognise the symptoms of portal proliferation syndrome: seemingly every week, a new climate information portal or knowledge platform is launched amid a burst of publicity about all the great things it will offer. You check out the latest offering and it looks impressive. But when you start digging, there doesn’t seem to be much information there. And you’re not sure how it’s different from the one you heard about last week. The prognosis: if the trend continues, you’re going to get ever more confused about where to go for good information on how to tackle climate change.

The syndrome is still widely prevalent, and a cure seems unlikely given the allure of setting up new initiatives, rather than building on what’s already there. More websites and portals are on the way, as the need for more targeted climate information at the country level comes into focus. However, the good news is that treatment is now available, thanks to the efforts of the Climate Knowledge Brokers (CKB) Group, the community of practice set up in 2011 to foster collaboration between online climate information providers. Helping to address portal proliferation syndrome, by encouraging information providers to work together, is one of the CKB’s key aims.

The CKB Group’s recommended treatment involves a mix of common sense steps for new information portals, plus some smart tools to help content flow more easily between websites and point users to what they are looking for. If you’re planning to launch a climate information site of your own, bear in mind these six points:


  • Learn what other initiatives are doing before you establish a new one, so you don’t reinvent the wheel. This seems obvious, but far too many websites are set up without really considering how they will be distinctive, who their target audience is, and what added value they have to offer. Joining the CKB Group is a good place to start finding out who’s doing what.
  • Get to know your counterparts from other initiatives early, so you can learn from their experience while your site is in the planning stage before it goes live.  Meeting up face-to-face is best, since trust is a vital element in nurturing subsequent collaboration.
  • Think strategically about how to work with other knowledge brokers. One website cannot do everything. If another organisation is already producing good climate country profiles, for example, why not pull their material directly onto your website using the clever content-sharing tools that are now available, and add to it, rather than doing the work all over again (you may have noticed how the CDKN website displays content from Eldis, Thomson Reuters and IPS – all created using automated feeds that selects relevant content for that section of the site). Focus your efforts on what you can do best for your priority audiences.
  • Adopt common standards and open data principles so information can be exchanged seamlessly between your website and others, and so users can find what they are looking for more easily. The “reegle Tagging API”, developed by REEEP, is a breakthrough on this front. It allows websites to tag their content with keywords in a consistent and logical way, using a common thesaurus of specialist climate terms. It is already being used by Eldis, OpenEI, weAdapt and several other leading climate information providers, and is ready to deploy elsewhere.
  • Put your climate portal ‘on the map’ so it is easier for users to locate. This is the purpose of the Climate Knowledge Navigator, created by IDS in collaboration with other CKB partners. It’s an interactive tool that guides users to the websites that most suits their interests. It already has over 100 sites listed and is designed so it can be added as a ‘widget’ to other websites; if users can’t find the information they’re looking for on one website, they can use the widget to see where else to try.
  • Think about sustainability from the outset. How will you keep your site updated and what is the long-term funding model? Without a good answer to these questions, your website is likely to be short-lived and end up in the graveyard of well-intentioned online initiatives that fizzle out after a year or two.

The CKB Group now encompasses more than 40 initiatives, including many of the leading regional and global climate information players. At its third annual workshop in Bonn in June 2013, there was a clear consensus that the group should be raising its ambitions, since there is still much to be done in improving access to climate information. It was agreed that establishing a more explicit capacity-building role should be a core objective, so the group can support the new generation of climate information portals being set up at national level in developing countries.

Raising awareness of climate knowledge brokering work among funders is another priority since addressing the sustainability issue is a key challenge for everyone involved in the sector. If funders talk to each other and take a strategic approach in the way they support climate information work, they can do much to avoid the worst forms of portal proliferation syndrome and ensure the resources they do invest are spent wisely, not wasted.

The 2013 Climate Knowledge Brokers Workshop was held in Bonn, Germany, from 7-9 June and was co-hosted by GIZ and REEEP.

The Workshop report is available to download here.

To find out more about the CKB Group see the CKB shared webspace or contact Geoff Barnard.


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