Lost at sea? Climate knowledge brokers throw a lifeline in Warsaw

Lost at sea? Climate knowledge brokers throw a lifeline in Warsaw

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Date: 22nd November 2013
Type: Feature
Tags: knowledge management

Geoff Barnard, CDKN’s knowledge management strategy advisor, and the current coordinator of the Climate Knowledge Brokers (CKB) Group, reflects on the recent side event he chaired at COP 19 showcasing the work of the CKB Group.

Are you adrift in an ocean of climate information? Drowning in the flood of reports and briefings coming across your desk? Are you sinking or swimming as you try and stay afloat? There were watery metaphors everywhere at the Climate Knowledge Brokers Group’s first public launch event at COP19 in Warsaw last week.

COP is the annual monsoon season for climate information, bringing a fresh deluge of fact sheets, briefings, websites, brochures, and information products of all kinds. In their efforts to stand out from the crowd all kinds of imaginative approaches are used, from laser-embossed apples to chocolate bars with hidden message. The ODI “Change the Game” folding fact sheet on fossil fuel subsidies won the novelty prize for me this year (though I am perhaps a bit biased). I was speculating how many new or revamped websites have gone live in the last week alone. 25 for sure. Maybe even 100? How do you begin to take all this information on board?

This was the dilemma that the CKB side event surfaced. Helping people navigate this sea of information is the whole raison d’être for climate knowledge brokers. But the strong message was that they can do this job much better if they work together. It’s like satellite systems and lighthouses combining to create a global navigation system.

Set up in 2011, and with more than 50 online initiatives on board, the CKB Group has made impressive strides in coordinating and orchestrating what previously had been isolated efforts. The panel focused on four key challenges that members of the Group have been jointly working on:

  • Really understanding user needs was first on the list. Anne Hammill presented the headlines from a recent IISD-led study involving a survey of more than 200 users from four different climate portals.  The results provided a timely reminder how websites need to engage with  their users, and keep engaging, if they are to stay relevant.
  • Pointing users to the right knowledge platform was the second challenge, and Fatema Rajabali from IDS showcased the new Knowledge Navigator tool which is designed to address this head on.
  • Connecting up knowledge platforms was next. Florian Bauer from REEEP showed how the new REEGLE tagging tool can help information sharing by ensuring web content is tagged consistently.
  • Avoiding reinventing the wheel was the final challenge. This      is a strong tendency with new websites popping up every week and Jane Ebinger spoke of how her team at the World Bank had benefitted from a CKB “knowledge clinic” event in Washington last autumn as they developed plans for the new Platform on Climate Smart Planning.

The CKB Group has achieved a lot in a short space of time, especially as it is still an informal network. It is filling an important gap in the online information market, with a number of new online initiatives approaching the Group for advice at the ideal moment, while they are still in the design phase. The REEGLE tagging API and Knowledge Navigator are being built in to several major new websites as a result.

While in Warsaw, another knowledge clinic session was held, this time hosted by the Canadian delegation. Representatives from the Arctic Council and the Climate Technology Centre and Network joined by phone from around the world to get advice from the CKB peer group on the challenges they are facing in designing their new knowledge platforms.

With more websites and portals on the horizon, especially as national level climate information systems emerge (as they must), the CKB Group has a big role to play in future in ensuring these new initiatives are learning from best practice, and connecting up intelligently, rather than duplicating each other. To allow it to be more ambitious, the plan is to formalise the CKB Group and establish a secretariat so it can steam ahead in playing a more active capacity building and coordination role. It is on the lookout for funders who see the merits of investing in this kind of coordinated information navigation system, and the benefits it will bring to climate information users who would otherwise be lost at sea.

That’s more than enough nautical metaphors. It’s time for a tot of rum, or possibly Polish buffalo grass vodka!

The side event was filmed by the IISD Reporting Services team, thanks to support from GIZ, and the video is available for viewing here.

CDKN was one of the founder members of the CKB Group and has provided seed funding for a series of pioneering projects that have helped to bring the group together and show what can be done through closer collaboration.


Image: Courtesy of Reeep

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