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FEATURE: Seven top tips for climate vulnerability assessment with impact

What does it take to create a climate vulnerability assessment with impact? Aditi Paul, CDKN’s Country Programme Manager for India, spoke with Paul May, and they distilled these lessons from CDKN’s experience in Uttarakhand state.

Data heavy, full of uncertainties and jargon, and completely detached from real-world policymaking – these are some of the charges often laid at climate vulnerability assessments. Yet such detailed studies, when coherent, credible and clearly communicated, can form the cornerstone of adaptation planning, shape public policy and help future-proof investment decisions.

In India, a CDKN team of local experts partnered with the Uttarakhand State Government to conduct such an assessment as part of the State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC). The experts formed a learning group to brainstorm a common set of principles that ensure assessments are applicable to wider decision-making processes.

Climate change may be a global challenge, but adaptation is site-specific. We therefore also looked to CDKN partners around the world to find the holy grail of vulnerability assessments with policy impact. We found that a high-level of confidence delivered through a multi-faceted engagement plan is key. Here are our seven top tips on who, why, how, and when to engage:

  1. Get to know the machinery of government policymaking. Vulnerability assessments rarely seek to meet government demand or even understand wider political priorities, which we found to be essential in India. Find out about programme planning and policy processes to identify your entry points before you even begin engaging.
  2. Identify champions within government to drive things forward. Although all levels of state government were targeted, insider champions were central to success in Uttarakhand. Influential politicians should be engaged from the outset and sold on the concept of evidenced-based decision-making, while climate knowledge gaps among key people should be addressed.
  3. Be inclusive of broader groups for long-term sustainability. People with power come and go, but officials a level below not only provide data and stories, they keep the process going when politicians move on. Sector champions and planning and finance departments should also be included to strengthen ownership of the project.
  4. Tailor your approach and products to each audience. Short and easy-to-read policy briefs work well for mid-level bureaucrats, while politicians require careful planning around busy schedules and diplomatic handling when talking to opposing political parties. Exchanges with admin departments should be broad and accessible, so not as to alienate staff with too much science speak.
  5. Tell an engaging story with a clear message. Communications should have a clear narrative and a relatable message that resonate with the target audience. Human-interest stories and case studies aren’t just for the general public; policymakers are normal people too. The media also like stories and can be used to spread your messages, change public perceptions and generate political will.
  6. Make community engagement a priority. The entire process should be inclusive of those with the biggest vested interest – communities vulnerable to climate change. Assessments carry a lot of uncertainty, which can make them less meaningful to the average person on the street. Community engagement should therefore focus on the objectives and benefits, rather than technical aspects, and should be done in simple language or local dialects.
  7. Work with local organisations to create a project legacy. Vulnerability assessments should be living documents, reviewed and revised by local organisations according to new information and the latest climate projections. The CDKN team worked with NGOs and academic institutions to conduct surveys and workshops and pass on assessment methodologies so that civil society can participate in future government reviews.

Engagement is often the weakest link in many vulnerability assessments, but it really should be given equal weight to the scientific process. A distinct strategy or plan is needed, and adequate time, investment and human resources. Make engagement integral to each project, and not just an after thought. Ask yourself, do you want your hard work sitting unread in a drawer, or should it be out there in the world – still evolving and saving lives?


Image: families affected by flash floods, Uttarakhand, India, credit European Commission



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