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FEATURE: Postcard from Cancun – Knowledge sharing, capacity building and advocacy for adaptation and climate compatible development

A COP-16 side event on Thursday, 2 December cast light on how knowledge about climate compatible development can be packaged to reach the development practitioners and communities who urgently need it.

‘Knowledge is often least accessible to vulnerable communities who need it most’, argued Blane Harvey, Research Fellow at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS). He said that Africa is challenged by a lack of coordination among knowledge-sharing initiatives – and that information is often disseminated in the wrong languages and formats. Moussa Na Abou Mamouda, Dr Harvey’s collaborator in the Africa Adapt initiative, concurred, noting that it’s not just vulnerable communities but ‘marginalised groups within communities [that are] excluded from the usual formats’ such as policy briefings.

Dr Mamouda outlined the activities of Africa Adapt’s Innovation Fund, which will bring lessons about climate compatible development to grassroots communities via songs, dances, visual arts, video and town hall meetings. The fund will attempt to overcome ‘language, cultural, structural and economic barriers’ to knowledge sharing.

Fellows from IIED’s Climate Change Fellowship for Least Developed Countries, introduced by Dr Hannah Reid, provided testimonies about their roles as ‘knowledge intermediaries’. The Fellows, from as far afield as Nepal and Sudan, have gathered knowledge on climate adaptation from international processes (such as CoP meetings)  to inform national and subnational decision-making. They have also been extremely active in drawing lessons from community experience and helping to scale this up and share it in their broader national contexts.

In my closing remarks, I concluded that the speakers had avoided three common pitfalls in development communications and knowledge sharing:

  1. Allowing oneself to be seduced by technology. Many initiatives take a ‘build it and they will come’ attitude to website development and social media use, and fail to define their audience well.  By contrast, the Africa Adapt website defines its audience clearly as development practitioners and knowledge-intermediaries, much in the same way as CDKN aims to do – while adopting complementary forms of face-to-face knowledge sharing for other audiences.
  2. Telling without listening. Knowledge sharing initiatives frequently rush into conveying information without sufficiently understanding the target audience’s point of view. Dr Mahmouda, by contrast, took a sophisticated approach to assessing communication channels that would resonate best with the target audience: communities vulnerable to climate change. He chose the most relevant communication channels: video, dance and song. The IIED Fellows recognised the considerable indigenous knowledge at community level that could be validated and shared at national level, thus enriching the pool of relevant knowledge available.
  3. Duplicating efforts. There is a risk that knowledge management initiatives duplicate efforts and waste precious effort in the struggle to design and deliver climate compatible development. Africa Adapt and the work in Kenya and Bangladesh undertaken by IIED Fellows was explicitly designed to avoid duplicating work and, instead, aimed to reach segments of society that others had failed to reach. I emphasised that the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) also strives to avoid duplication. CDKN aims to strengthen existing knowledge management efforts.

In summary, the initiatives on display at the ‘knowledge sharing, capacity building and advocacy’ side event embodied best practice in development communications and knowledge sharing. They:

  • Defined their audience clearly;
  • Took time to understand the audience’s perspective and how best to interact with them;
  • Provided clear added value.
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