Connecting climate knowledge – talking about a revolution

Connecting climate knowledge – talking about a revolution

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Date: 13th May 2015
Type: Feature
Tags: climate knowledge, climate knowledge brokers

Geoff Barnard is Knowledge Management Strategy Advisor for the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), and Chair of the CKB Steering Group. CDKN has supported the work of the CKB Group from the outset. Here, Geoff introduces the CKB Group’s latest initiative: a Manifesto on climate knowledge.

A quiet revolution is happening in the climate information world, in what feels like a remarkable outbreak of collaboration, innovation and joined-up thinking.

It all began at an exploratory workshop in 2011 to test out the appetite for collaboration between online climate knowledge players. “Surely we can do this job better if we are talking to each other,” was the hypothesis posed. At the time it was not obvious that initiatives would be prepared to work together, given that they were in many respects competing for attention and user ‘clicks’. But four years on, this hypothesis feels like a ‘no brainer’. If we are not combining efforts, how else can we crack the huge challenge of getting reliable climate information into the hands of all those who need it?

This is good news for climate information users, many of whom are drowning in the flood of reports, scenarios, data, toolkits and other publications that is being produced each year, yet struggle to find what’s useful to them in their daily work as town planners, agricultural extension workers, energy policy advisors, and the host of other roles where climate impacts need to be factored into their analysis and decision making.

Emerging from the 2011 workshop was the Climate Knowledge Brokers (CKB) Group. It started as an informal group of collaboration-minded climate websites and portals and has grown to become a thriving community of practice embracing many of the leading global, regional and national information players. Unusually, it cuts across all the different climate-related sub-sectors, from green growth to disaster risk reduction.

Instead of an information ‘free for all’ where everyone is doing their own thing, blind to the duplication of effort involved and the confusion it creates for users, a whole new vision is emerging. It is of a more connected climate information world where users are guided to what is most relevant to them, where content can flow between websites easily, and where information providers are working together and learning from each other, rather than operating in isolation in their own information silos. In a nod to the new demand-sensitive smart electricity grid that is evolving to cope with future distributed energy generation and use, it has been dubbed the ‘climate knowledge grid’.

Stepping outside its home territory in the renewables and energy efficiency sector, REEEP has been at the heart of this revolution. It has been among a group of pioneers that has taken on a leadership role in championing collaborative approaches across the whole climate field. In 2014, REEEP took on the role of hosting the newly-created CKB Coordination Hub that is orchestrating efforts to make the vision of a joined-up information world a reality.

Progress is coming about through a combination of technology and trust. Smart digital tools are opening up new ways of sharing information, allowing people to find what they are looking for more quickly and precisely. The ‘Climate Tagger’ is one of these. It allows online content to be automatically ‘tagged’ with a consistent set of key words, so it becomes much easier to find. Developed by REEEP, it is fast becoming an industry standard, and has been adopted by over 150 websites around the world.

Without the trust element, however, these clever tools would be rusting in the digital toolbox. Face-to-face meetings have been crucial in building a collaborative ethos within the CKB Group, particularly the ‘knowledge clinics’ which have become as staple item on workshop agendas. Participants take turns to be ‘patients’, sharing the challenges they have encountered in getting their climate information service off the ground, and getting practical advice from peers on how to tackle them.

Every good revolution needs a manifesto, and the CKB Group is working on just such a document. The aim is to present in simple and convincing terms the rationale behind the CKB vision and the principles that will guide the development of the knowledge grid concept. It is early days. It will need concerted effort and an ongoing investment of resources for the full vision to be realised. But the signs are encouraging and the potential benefits for climate information users everywhere compelling. Bring on the revolution!

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