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FEATURE: Building trust between users and producers makes for better climate services

Suzanne Carter (SouthSouthNorth) looks at how the producers and users of climate information can build trust and ultimately work to make weather and climate services more useful in planning for development. Contributions by Anna Steynor (Climate Systems Analysis Group), Madeline Thomson (Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society), Molly Hellmuth (ICF) and Fiona Percy (CARE International).

A dam developer in East Africa learned the lesson of not factoring climate information into their design when an unexpected flood destroyed the first construction. But why didn’t decision-makers factor climate information – including historical and current weather data, forecasts and future climate projections – into their plans in the first place?

We know that users of weather and climate information, including infrastructure developers, engineers, farmers and government officials, may find it difficult to engage with the information they receive. Often, weather and climate information is not what users actually need: for instance, not on a useful time scale or geographic scale. Decision-makers may not know where to find the ‘right’ information; or, they may struggle with the technical nature of the data or mistrust the quality.

At the same time, national meteorological services, regional climate centres, universities and NGOs, often find that opportunities to use their weather and climate information to improve development outcomes are not fully realised.

Using ‘co-production’ to match weather and climate information with development needs

Co-production is increasingly seen as a way to improve the use of weather and climate information in decision-making, by building relationships between producers and users of the information.

In practice, co-production takes many forms. It can be anything from consulting decision-makers in the process of developing a seasonal forecast, to longer-term collaborative approaches where users and producers of climate information work together to develop and deliver new climate services.

An example of long-term collaborations is the FRACTAL project. This project has set up city learning labs that bring together experts from different disciplines with local decision-makers. Together, they aim to solve urban development challenges that could be affected by the changing climate in the coming decades.

The four-year Weather and Climate Information Services for Africa (WISER) programme is also looking at what co-production processes can deliver, and how they could be strengthened. WISER defines co-production as “bringing together different knowledge sources and experiences to jointly develop new and combined knowledge which is better able to support specific decision-making contexts” and it lays out principles for co-production in its guidelines document.  WISER is focused on delivering transformational change in the quality, accessibility and use of weather and climate information services at all levels of decision-making for sustainable development in Africa.

A new project called WISER TRANSFORM will draw on experiences from the first two years of the WISER programme to distil lessons learned on co-production – and advise on how WISER and other programmes can better integrate co-production in weather and climate services. It will extract learning from projects such as the Strengthening Climate Information Partnerships – East Africa (SCIPEA) project, which enabled information users and providers to develop tailored climate services together.

WISER TRANSFORM: Initial highlights on ‘co-production’ of weather and climate services

Definitions of co-production. In early May 2018, WISER TRANSFORM convened representatives from the WISER programme’s current eleven projects and explored definitions of co-production. The projects are all focussed on improving the uptake and use of weather and climate services within East Africa, with many of them using a co-production approach.  They range from improving regional observations through the use of commercial aircraft to providing regular weather forecasts for fishing boats and small transport vessels on Lake Victoria.

In the workshop, participants came up with the following words to describe co-production:

 

Participants suggested three core components of co-production:

  1. Connecting knowledge to decision-making;
  2. Developing a clear process with measureable outcomes;
  3. Involving and defining stakeholder roles and responsibilities.

The group had different perspectives, but largely agreed that the process of co-production should ideally be long term, sustainable and driven by the needs and priorities of those using the information (bearing in mind that sustained funding can be a challenge). The process should be owned collectively while setting out specific roles and responsibilities to allow for collaboration, joint understanding and interpretation that allow stakeholders to take action for a specific outcome.

Moving in the right direction. One way of understanding co-production is to view it as a process of moving towards greater levels of collaboration. It may start with raising awareness of user needs, but also being realistic about the information that scientists can reasonably provide. Learning from each other builds trust and stronger working relationships, which can be a key step towards combining different types of knowledge and developing climate services that would better meet user needs. The relationship between users and producers can then develop further into regular dialogue and feedback. More complex and longer-term processes of co-production such as embedding researchers into decision making spaces can also build strong relationships and improve development outcomes, through a better understanding of how things work in a particular context, such as a city government.

More ambitious forms of co-production of weather and climate services can be the ideal way to address weather and climate problems, but due to financial and institutional constraints are not always feasible. It is crucial for all those involved to see the value of the process or it is unlikely to succeed. That is why moving towards increasing levels of co-production over time is perhaps most helpful and practical.

Overcoming challenges. True co-production requires a level of trust and cooperation between all parties involved, built over time. However, it is often hampered by short funding cycles, which break relationships because of financial constraints, leaving partners feeling disillusioned with the process.  In addition, if collaborative spaces are convened without respecting all stakeholders’ inputs,  some or all the contributors may lose trust in the process, and uptake and use of weather and climate information is less likely. Champions of co-production also need to be realistic about all stakeholders’ capacity to be involved in multiple processes.

Suggesting practical steps. Co-production should not be seen as the only option and in some instances user engagement and feedback is enough (and better value for money) for effective weather and climate services. The WISER TRANSFORM project will be thinking about the best stakeholder engagement options for different situations to ensure that climate information is accessible and useful, and that co-production is used where it makes sense.

Thoroughly planning, communicating and listening to each other in setting roles and responsibilities for all actors involved is a crucial step in successful co-production. At the end of the day, co-production should improve the utility of weather and climate information and that’s an outcome that we all can benefit from.

If you found this blog interesting, please look out for a joint initiative between WISER and Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) that will produce a practical manual in late 2019 covering approaches to co-production alongside case studies from across the African continent. If you would like to suggest any case studies or learning on co-production of weather and climate services for Africa please get in touch with suzanne@southsouthnorth.org

 

Image credit: World Meteorological Organization

 

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