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FEATURE: Peer exchange highlights innovative approaches to mainstreaming climate knowledge  

Achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement calls for quick effective learning about climate adaptation and mitigation solutions and rapid creation and diffusion of knowledge.

It also requires a good understanding of how to influence changes in both policy and action.

One of the main challenges is to mainstream climate knowledge and action across sectors (e.g. agriculture, energy, transport) and vertically across governance scales, e.g. through decentralised policies and city and district planning.

In this context, ‘knowledge brokering’ is essential. ‘Knowledge brokering’ is about linking producers and users of knowledge to strengthen its generation, dissemination and use.

Knowledge brokers play a variety of roles, from making information more accessible, tailored and understood, to connecting stakeholders, enhancing their collaboration, and facilitating synergies and change. When it comes to mainstreaming climate information and knowledge, they employ a range of tools and approaches.

Collaborating to share strategies for climate knowledge brokering

In February 2021, the Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation (WCDI) and the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) partnered to discuss knowledge brokering with the 50 participants of the WCDI online Food Security under a Changing Climate course. The learners hailed from research institutes, government agencies, NGOs and the private sector from 27 countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Two groups of learners, divided according to their time zone, were engaged in a mix of synchronous (same time, online sessions) and asynchronous activities (such as reading course materials and contributing to assignments in their own time) from November 2020 to March 2021.

CDKN contributed to an interactive learning session by inviting three of its network partners – the  University of Namibia, University of Ghana, and the Indian NGO Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) – to discuss:

  1. the concept of knowledge brokering;
  2. the tools, approaches and processes that knowledge brokers use to mainstream climate issues vertically (from national to local levels, and vice versa) and horizontally across sectors;
  3. the challenges they face and how these can be overcome.

An initial poll of course participants showed that hardly anyone had heard about the term “knowledge brokering” before the session. By the end, a few participants excitedly shared that they too, were knowledge brokers:

In my work I usually work with communities, training them on agricultural and environmental practices, and sustainable activities to tackle climate change. So I am transferring my knowledge, so that at the end of the day they will do tangible projects to adapt to climate change and be sustainable in this climate change era – which means I am a knowledge broker” – Kudzai, course participant from Zimbabwe.

CDKN speakers presented three case studies that highlighted different aspects, tools and tricks they have been using for mainstreaming climate issues across scales.

Knowledge brokering on the role of peri-urban ecosystems for urban resilience

In India, for example, GEAG has been creating a critical mass of knowledge from the field that marries traditional wisdom and scientific evidence on climate adaptation measures in peri-urban agriculture. This knowledge has been used for co-developing training materials (in collaboration with the National Institute for Disaster Management, Govt of India) for a range of government actors from national to city and community levels. The evidence has also been used for networking and developing advocacy materials (e.g. briefs, videos) to collaborate with strategic institutions that can help to mainstream peri-urban issues in policy.

“Climate change is still a novel subject in the government systems. Therefore, capacity building is the crux for developing the understanding on how it can be mainstreamed in all development planning processes and programmes” – Nivedita Mani, GEAG.

Understanding community needs for knowledge brokering at the local level

In Ghana, the University of Ghana team has partnered with the local government’s Department of Agriculture to set up climate advisory resource centres where farmers can watch and discuss videos on climate-smart agricultural practices, in their local language. A partnership with agricultural extension officers is using a mobile phone app to make climate adaptation information more accessible. To deal with the challenge of low literacy levels, the team is collaborating with women groups to produce songs, which constitute a traditional means of communication in communities in the Upper West region of Ghana. The songs are also transmitted on weekly radio events on agriculture and livelihood opportunities on local radio stations.

Strengthening climate change governance across scales in Namibia

The third example showed how the CDKN Namibia team has realised that to mainstream climate issues in the ministries of gender and urban and rural development, as required by the National Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan, project activities and themes (e.g. the keyword “climate change”) must appear in ministries’ annual institutional work plans. To achieve this, it is useful to meet with managers, political leaders and people of influence early in the programme to get them on board. One-on-one or small-team meetings from each institution that one wants to influence, appear to be most effective for strengthening horizontal relationships and to open opportunities to discuss how to institutionalise climate change in the country.

As the three speakers shared their stories from the ground, highlighting the lessons they have learned as they have circumnavigated a range of challenges, course learners were asked to continuously reflect back on their own experiences. One course participant described how hearing the insights from Ghana made her realise she ought to feed back research results to the communities she works with:

“Reflecting on today, I feel challenged, being an implementer – I work for the government at the district level and we implement government projects, we work with NGOs and I got a lot of insights from the discussions and presentations today. Going forward, even as a researcher, I do research at the small scale, and have done a project on groundwater quality but I have not gone back to the community, so I think that has challenged me” – Emma, course participant from Zambia.

Shared challenges – common solutions

In their assignments, the course participants were asked to identify the barriers that they have faced in their own work as they have tried to mainstream climate issues and bring about positive change. Many of these barriers reflected those faced by CDKN partners in their knowledge brokering work, too.

They mentioned language and literacy challenges in communicating; stakeholders’ limited awareness and knowledge of climate issues and ways to address impacts; bureaucracy and political interference; actors’ slowness to change due to traditional practices and entrenched social dynamics; limited political will and support, accompanied by staff turnover; and challenges in resourcing and achieving continuity between projects and initiatives.

They also talked about what enabled them to succeed and overcome these challenges. They mentioned capacity building, especially through discussion forums, field demonstrations and technical assistance; increasing access to knowledge about good practices (e.g. for farming) and resources to test these (e.g. trialing drought-resistant seeds); the importance of investing in social capital and establishing friendly relations with local actors and leadership; and increasing local government’s ownership, including through the allocation of budget for climate activities in their annual plans.

This was the first time for me to have a beneficial session like this, with the cocktail of knowledge we acquired. They encouraged me to personally follow this path and dig deeper to know about knowledge brokering. We are very vulnerable for such kind of vital information” – Essam, course participant from Sudan.

 

Image (top right): Indian farmer, courtesy Nithi Anand.

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