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OPINION: Creating knowledge together to face climate change

Maria Jose Pacha, CDKN’s Knowledge and Networks Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean, reflects on how we all need to exchange experiences and learn from others to advance effective strategies to address climate change.

The need to record practices and lessons learned

There is a raft of promising strategies for tackling the effects of climate change but the international context in which climate negotiations unfold is characterised by its complexity and uncertainty. It’s a nonlinear, unpredictable and poorly understood process. Social, economic, political and cultural factors influence how climate policies are implemented locally.

In this ever-changing context, professionals working on climate change and other organisations – public, private and non-governmental – are learning the best ways to prepare for the consequences of a changing climate – “we learn while doing”. It is therefore crucial that lessons learned about what works and what doesn’t are collected, analysed and incorporated into national and international debates that influence climate change. Learning and sharing knowledge are key to the success of efforts to reduce global emissions.

CDKN recognises that learning is a cross-cutting component in the design and implementation of strategies and plans to prepare for climate change, linking all scales, geographies and disciplines. It is critical to minimise duplication, maximise the flow of knowledge and encourage active learning. To facilitate these processes, CDKN has an international team that supports knowledge management and communications, whose main task is to create materials that can aid better understanding of the complex information used on climate change, and generate learning processes, knowledge exchange and material to support decision-making processes effectively.

It is not easy to gather practices and lessons learned

Identifying, collecting and disseminating best practices to influence the design and implementation of climate policies is not an easy task. Often, these obligations fall on the already overburdened programme coordinators who spend little time reflecting on lessons learned or considering another item to fill their technical reports. To reflect effectively, they need to develop skills to help them collect interesting and relevant elements of their practices as well as lessons that provide innovative and strategic solutions to current climate dilemmas.

A fundamental principle is the importance of the collective construction of knowledge that is based on the value of generating learning experiences for people and groups. To transform this learning (which most often goes unnoticed by the actors themselves), it is necessary to develop a methodology aimed at fostering recognition, reflection and developing lessons learned.

‘Systematising’ knowledge

The method of ‘systematising’ knowledge promotes encounters among actors to analyse their experiences, review the rationale behind them, and foster lessons learned. The technique emerged in Latin America in the mid-1970s and integrates learning concepts from popular education and tools for social intervention such as Participatory Action Research. It encourages critical and reflective interpretation of the processes of transforming behaviours, where the processes are as important as the product. Knowledge emerging from collective reflection is packaged into neat, sharable products. The ‘triple advantage’ of this approach:

  • allows professionals and communities working in projects to draw conclusions from their own experiences;
  • helps identify lessons learned about what works and does not work;
  • develops capabilities that support monitoring and dissemination of projects.

The task of systematisation should be seen as a component of the planning of projects and programs. This model differs from other methodologies for monitoring and evaluation insofar as it probes hardly measurable, qualitative aspects that can only be discovered in an integrating context and collectively. It also proposes a method for transforming the knowledge emerged from the experience into a neat, transmissible offering; the conceptual framework that articulates two dimensions, pedagogic and communicative:

Pedagogic dimension:

  • It is centred in processes
  • It comes from people’s interests
  • It fosters reflection about different practices
  • It promotes the creation of new knowledge to improve real-life situations.

Communicative dimension:

  • It fosters participation
  • It encourages dialogue among stakeholders
  • It values different knowledge and ways of learning.
  • It facilitates the construction of intelligible, useful messages that are clear for all.

By stimulating processes of reflection of the experiences from their own players, this methodology helps to highlight the key elements that influenced obtaining certain results. It also provides ideas and strategies to disseminate and communicate new knowledge with a view to a more holistic understanding of the problem of deforestation and degradation of forests in the world.

The systematisation of experiences presents a triple advantage:

  • allows professionals and communities working in projects to draw conclusions from their own experiences,
  • helps identify lessons learned about what works and does not work.
  • develops capabilities that support monitoring and dissemination of projects.

In July 2015, CDKN convened practitioners from 10 climate compatible development projects around Latin America and the Caribbean to reflect on their experiences in urban climate resilience, using this methodology. The event generated cross-cutting learning and created the crucible for an emergent community of practice for Latin American urban resilience practitioners. The projects that shared their experiences were:

  • Reciprocal watershed agreements: alternative to traditional payments for environmental services in Latin America
  • Strengthening Climate Change Policies in Buenos Aires, Mexico City and Sao Paulo
  • Disrupting urban ‘risk traps’: Bridging finance and knowledge for climate resilient infrastructure planning in Lima
  • Green Growth and Climate Compatible Development Plan for the Eastern Antioquia Region (Colombia)
  • Proyecto Plan 4C: Cartagena Competitiva y Compatible con el Climate
  • Integrating adaptation to climate change in local planning and sector management in Cartagena and islands
  • Climate Vulnerability of the Health Sector in Quito: Making Technical Data Accessible to Policy makers
  • Water and Carbon Footprint in three andean cities: Lima, La Paz y Quito
  • Pilot climate change adaptation measures in the Metropolitan District of Quito
  • Identifying opportunities for climate compatible tourism development in Belize

The event generated cross-cutting learning and created the crucible for an emergent community of practice for Latin American urban resilience practitioners. In the words of one participant: “It is encouraging to meet people with the same vision and is important to maintain and nurture links, which can lead to impact with the authorities or local actors.  Another participant said: “It is important to reflect on projects, but more important is to realise the ideas and turn them into guidelines for developing a paradigm shift.”


For more background reading on this topic, I recommend:

Oscar Jara(1998) The contribution of the systematization of the theoretical and practical renewal of social movements.


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