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OPINION: Is a conference the only way to share CCD knowledge?

Elizabeth Gogoi, CDKN and Arif Rahman, LEAD Pakistan, put forward a new approach to Climate Compatible Development (CCD) knowledge management.

Conference season comes 2-3 times in the annual calendar of a typical climate change and development practitioner in South Asia – and probably elsewhere also. During these months your schedule is packed with conferences and meetings, you put on a few pounds because of the generous buffets and your working day extends by many hours.

There has been much written in the Western press about the supposed waste of foreign aid – and conferences in flash hotels with guests flown in from around the world are often singled out. However, in virtually all cases the event is organised as a genuine attempt to bring people together to share knowledge and experiences on a particular topic. This is a legitimate objective given that a critical problem in the development sector is that people work in isolation and don’t learn from the successes and failures of others. So actually conferences are organised to try and increase the cost effectiveness of aid.

Despite this, most people in the sector would agree that there are often more innovative and impactful – and probably cheaper – ways of sharing knowledge.

During a recent conference-hopping week in New Delhi a thought-provoking workshop organised by Development Alternatives explored how we can more effectively manage knowledge on climate change and development. Some of the questions the group grappled with are the same as those CDKN and LEAD in Asia have been trying to find solutions to.

For example, how can we make sure that the existing research and new evidence on climate compatible development is built upon, and not duplicated, by new projects? How can we package our knowledge to make it accessible and relevant to policy-makers? What are the different vehicles for getting information to those who need it? Who’s knowledge are we talking about – who should have access to it and how? How do we include indigenous knowledge in scientific research?

We had the opportunity at the workshop to present some new ways of doing knowledge management which CDKN and Lead are experimenting with.

Firstly, Lead Pakistan is documenting and using indigenous knowledge to design and develop CCD options at the local level. In Muzaffargarh district, a local adaptation plan of action (LAPA) was developed following a bottom-up approach to planning where community members identified their level and areas of vulnerability and identified adaptation options which they were able to implement given their resources and capacity. In March 2013 local community group committed to implement nine projects which will implement the LAPA including a community-led drive to rehabilitate salinity drains across the district to improve community’s resilience to river floods and yield of crops.

While experts in Lead Pakistan facilitated this process it was carefully designed so that local knowledge and decision-making was the driving force.

CDKN has explored the role of the media in getting climate change onto the agenda of politicians and bureaucrats. Annual CDKN/Panos South Asia journalist fellowships have been supported since 2011 which train national and local journalists with the knowledge and skills to communicate the latest science on climate change, as well as provide funding and mentoring for the fellows to write more stories. This is increasing both the volume and quality of coverage on climate change in print, radio and TV media.

There are some early examples that this is motivating policy-makers, such as in Nepal when a story that Ramesh Bhushal wrote on ‘Climate Change? Most Nepalese unaware of it!’ got the attention of the Government. He was asked to present his report to a meeting of key officials, including the Secretary of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment and the Vice Chair of National Planning Commission which resulted in a debate on how the Government can better communicate the science to citizens.

The media can therefore be useful in connecting those that hold the knowledge on climate change with those that need that information, including the most vulnerable communities. CDKN’s partner Development Alternatives is experimenting with community radio in Bundelkhand region in India to create a new space for dialogue between scientists, communities and local government authorities to exchange information on the problems and discuss possible solutions to the impact of climate change.

Lastly, CDKN has recognised the important role that knowledge brokers play, those who manage networks, forums and platforms for housing CCD information. In recent years the trend has been for online knowledge brokering platforms, but research suggests that many of these initiatives are supply-driven and without an adequate understanding of the needs of the users. To address this CDKN is supporting collaboration among knowledge brokers and a group has formed which is committed to sharing best practices as well as resources and technology in order to make the online knowledge architecture for climate change more relevant and cost-effective.

Both LEAD Pakistan and CDKN are trying to practice what we preach and using cost effective and interesting ways to communicate our work. Bringing together partners and experts for large international gatherings is avoided as much as possible, while smaller focused and output-driven workshops have shown lots of results (for example the success of CDKN’s Disaster Risk Management Learning and Innovation Hub in Thailand last month). Knowledge management is an integral part of any effective climate change and development programme or initiative, but we should avoid the business-as-usual approach and try new ways to get knowledge shared.

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