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Forecast-based humanitarian decisions: designing tools and processes to link knowledge with action

Project Reference: RSGL-0019G

People often suffer and die because of natural hazards even when the hazard is predictable.  The remarkable progress in science and technology over recent decades allows us to anticipate future conditions, communicate early warnings and take early action to avoid losses, yet many recent disasters are evidence of a dreadful gap between science and the humanitarian sector. Forecasters and risk managers must build common ground, designing smart forecast-based decisions as well as simple decision-based forecasts.  To do so, the humanitarian sector needs to restructure its relationship to predictable climate-related threats, particularly given climate change.

Research demonstrates that participatory approaches to risk management improve the benefits of climate information. This requires treating the end users of information not merely as a target audience but as partners in co-learning through processes and products that reflect their own contributions. At present, most stakeholders are not aware of the range of decisions they can make in response to plausible forecasts at different timescales. Lacking tools to evaluate options, they are not investing in plans, assets and institutional mechanisms to reduce climate risk building on the opportunities provided by science and participatory dialogue processes. The proposed work aims to address this challenge by bringing together stakeholders to turn knowledge into action.

This project embeds science into humanitarian work, designing participatory games and other innovative tools for smart forecast-based decisions. The goal is to manage climate risks and promote effective responses for development and adaptation in Africa across various sectors, time scales, and spatial scales of decision. Specifically, the project will:

1)    Develop, test and apply an analytical framework to link knowledge and action, combining the “forecast-based decisions” approach with climate risk management responses (mobility, storage, diversification, pooling and market exchange).

2)    Build the capacity of decision makers from different sectors and operating at different geographic scales to link climate knowledge with humanitarian and development action.

3)    Support stakeholders to access, understand, trust and use science-based predictions at different time scales, turning knowledge into action.

4)    Promote policy dialogues and new partnerships to manage climate risks through collaboration between research, government, civil society, international organizations and the private sector.

5)    Nurture a new generation of scholars and practitioners at the interface between climate science and humanitarian and development work.

Research sites primarily comprise African states with an emphasis on East Africa.

Recent Update:

Through this project on participatory learning and dialogue, The Red Cross / Red Crescent Climate Centre and partners have seen remarkable growth in the demand for interactive sessions addressing climate risks. To date, over 80 game sessions have been held across 23 countries, reaching 2,700 participants. Participants have been humanitarian workers, scientists, donors, government officials and other policymakers, private sector, international civil servants, students, and members of communities at risk. For instance, in September 2012, Pablo Suarez was invited to the White House to lead a participatory gaming session as a part of the Champions of Change series on September, where attendees played the role of vulnerable community members in the path of a potential hurricane with the choice to evacuate or stay. The game-based approach to teaching climate risk developed in this project has also been adopted by professors teaching climate-related courses, from University of Bahir Dar in northern Ethiopia to Harvard University, among others.

The team has designed 7 new games on climate risk management on different aspects of disaster risk management including on the value of early warnings, disaster preparedness, upstream-downstream risk at watershed level, games which introduce new types and levels of risk.  In addition, games have been designed for the World Food Programme, on regional insurance pools, and the World Bank, on safety nets.

The game-based approach to communicating climate risk has been covered by in the media including Reuters’ AlertNet and the New York Times, in blogs, the Inter-American Development Bank, UNDP and AusAID newsletters, among other avenues. Two NGOs, CARE and WWF, have used the games in their work.

On the back of these successes, the team has established links with the Africa Climate Change Resilience Alliance (ACCRA) In addition, games have been designed and Boston University to support them in integrating participatory learning and dialogue approaches, including games, in their work.

Project outputs and resources:

In addition, an academic article looking at bridging the gap between forecasts and humanitarian decision making has been submitted to a journal for publication, a policy brief drafted on participatory game design as a tool for learning, dialogue and decision making, and a book manuscript written on the use of games and experimental learning as a mechanism for scaling up community based adaptation. These will become available when they are formally published. For more information please visit the Red Cross/ Red Crescent Climate Centre website or download the research project case study.

Additional information:

CDKN Blog Promoting extreme event learning through serious fun
CDKN Blog The climate and gender game
Oxfam Blog Playing games with the climate – a great way to explore difficult choices in complex systems
What Works? Blog Serious Games: How to make climate science entertaining
iied blog by Suzanna Fisher Knowledge is power in this game of chance
Reuters article (repeated in New York Times & elsewhere) Games Wake People Up to Climate Change
Reuters Alertnet Climate Conversations – Can a game combat malaria?
Climate Centre News 2012: A Year of Games
Video: Games for a New Climate at Boston University
Video: Upper Basin, Lower Basin Game session in Nicaragua (in Spanish)
Video: Training of Trainers in Nicaragua (in Spanish)
Video: Game Session on micro-insurance at COP17 Side Event, Durban


Lead: Pablo Suarez (Red Cross / Red Crescent Climate Centre)

Project partners: Hassan Virji (START); Youcef Ait-Chellouche (UNISDR, Regional Office for Africa); Maarten van Aalst and Arame Tall (Red Cross / Red Crescent Climate Centre); Arun Agrawal (University of Michigan).

CDKN funding: £120,000

Project contact: Phil Lewis

Image credit: CIFOR

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