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FEATURE: Climate Knowledge Brokers ‘join the dots’ for users of climate information

The Climate Knowledge Brokers Group is linking online climate and development initiatives – to make life easier for information users. The Group aims to help users who are otherwise drowning in a sea of online information. Mairi Dupar of CDKN reports.

In October 2014, representatives from the burgeoning world of online climate and development information gathered in Brighton, UK to discuss how to make their services as ‘user friendly’ and connected as possible.

The meeting brought together website developers and managers of the Climate Knowledge Brokers (CKB) Group, which aims to establish new forms of cooperation to join up the sector. Representatives from major United Nations agencies such as UNEP, the UNFCCC, World Bank and the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) attended, along with leading climate communications firms from as far as Belize, Peru, and Austria. Now a full report of the Group’s debates and future plans is available to read: Climate Knowledge Brokers Workshop Report 2014.

Online knowledge services on climate change and development have become so ubiquitous, and new ones are emerging so frequently, that CDKN’s Geoff Barnard has coined a term for the phenomenon: ‘Portal Proliferation Syndrome’.

Mr Barnard – with CDKN backing – and colleagues from REEEP and GIZ were behind the formation of the CKB Group in 2011. The initial group was joined by dozens more organisations whose website managers realised that a basic level of cooperation among knowledge services is more fruitful than directly competing in overlapping efforts. Mr Barnard says that without cooperation to create smart linkages in this sector, users could feel that they are adrift in a sea of climate and development information.

Among the collaborative projects pursued by CKB Group members since then are:

  • A survey of the users of online climate and development services, to assess where they get their information and who they trust: the results are presented in this 2013 report, Understanding Needs, Meeting Demands by Anne Hammill, Blane Harvey and Daniella Eccheveria.
  • A knowledge navigator widget that can be installed on any website and allows readers to search for climate and development information by broad topic and geography (click on CDKN’s Advanced Search results to find the knowledge navigator in action).
  • A ‘climate tagger’ that enables website managers to tag their content according to a common thesaurus of climate compatible development terms shared by other organisations . Already in use by key sites including CDKN’s; once the ‘climate tagger’ is very widespread, it will help readers navigate seamlessly among pieces of related content: articles, publications, audiovisual and other online material – even if the tagging system and API underlying it is invisible to end users.
  • Several ‘knowledge clinics’ when CKB Group members have advised nascent climate and development web portals on how to link with existing initiatives, most recently with CTCN.
  • Launching of a Secretariat (or ‘Hub’) for the Group in late 2013, hosted by REEEP in Vienna and funded initially by CDKN. The secretariat has developed a common brand for the CKB Group and has given impetus to fundraising ambitions for more collaborative work like that above, including strengthening online knowledge management initiatives in developing countries.
  • Convening Latin American climate knowledge services to improve links, during the UNFCCC’s COP20 in Lima, Peru.

The 2014 meeting in Brighton provided a stock-taking opportunity for the CKB Group. According to the final report: “The collaborative and networking aspect of the CKB Group is seen as one integral part by all participants, which should grow even stronger.” What’s more, CKB Group members see how their “data, knowledge and expertise can complement each other, gaps can be filled between different focal areas and duplication of efforts can be avoided.”

Understanding users’ needs, and monitoring and evaluating websites’ performance (M&E) have provided two of the richest veins for peer support in the Group and are detailed in the report. For instance, website managers said that users more often told them what they didn’t want from their online knowledge services, than what they did want. It seems that the science of surveying users for their preferences is an inexact and uncertain one. Interview methods and in-person ‘user journeys’ are mentioned as among the most promising methodologies for finding what users really want.

The report also details recent progress for the CKB Group. The ‘climate tagger’ now offers a suite of different tools, all aiming at linking websites and their content together.  Originally funded by CDKN, additional funding for the climate tagger has now been received from CTCN for enhancements including the ‘plug-ins’ to make it easier to use on drupal and CKAN (two commonly used web platforms) and additions to the thesaurus.

A next key step for the Group will be to rework the knowledge navigator so that it becomes even more precise and helpful. CDKN is supporting work to refine the navigator this year.

The report also underlines the CKB Group’s ambition to gear up funding partnerships with new donors in 2015. CDKN looks forward to continuing our work with the CKB Group to invite other funding partners – and so keep creating the online connections that will save people time and help them find the content they need.

Read the full report: Climate Knowledge Brokers Workshop Report 2014

The Climate Knowledge Brokers Group always welcomes new members – visit the website to find out more and get in touch.

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