Enhancing resilience through dialogue
06 June 2012
Bridging gaps between providers and users of science
Vulnerable communities as well as supporting agencies often do not understand ‘the language’ of weather and climate scientists. As a result, scientific information often fails to trigger or inform community action. Innovative methods have been developed to overcome this communication gap.
For humanitarian agencies and communities to adapt their behaviour in response to climate change they need to know exactly what they are adapting to. However, sharing knowledge on climate change is hampered by major barriers between weather and climate scientists, on the one hand, and vulnerable communities, policy makers, and humanitarian and development organizations, on the other.
One barrier concerns the type of media used for disseminating climate information. Currently, information from national meteorological agencies, including those in Kenya and Senegal, is largely disseminated through channels which some rural communities do not have ready access to, such as the internet, TV and newspapers. In addition, information provided through these channels is often compressed into a misleadingly definitive form, masking uncertainties as to the level of rainfall within a seasonal forecast, for example.
Baseline surveys undertaken with users of climate information in Kenya and Senegal show that communities have limited access to, and knowledge of, the available types of weather and climate information and the certainties inherent in these. 1 Even where communities can receive the information, they do not have access to the expertise necessary to support its appropriate application.
A second barrier concerns the type of information. The objectives, terminology, geographic focus and time frames considered relevant by scientists do not correspond with the information needs of communities. Climate scientists are concerned about the inappropriate use of their research and the risks of maladaptation, while users are hindered by the types of scientific information available.
Seasonal forecasts of rainfall totals are available throughout sub-Saharan Africa, for example. But the forecasts often of most use to farmers are those that provide information on the start of the rains, dry spells within the rainy season and the length of the rainy season; such information is not routinely produced.
Addressing these concerns and promoting adaptation at the community level requires scientists to better understand users’ climate information needs and the formats and channels through which they can best address these needs. It also requires agencies that support communities to be willing to invest in future planning and to develop the ‘scientific literacy’ required to understand and apply emerging scientific learning relevant to future vulnerability.
For users to access, understand and act appropriately on scientific research pertaining to future vulnerabilities, there is a need for a practical dialogue between scientists and these users of science. Only through such a sustained dialogue will users know what questions to ask of emerging science and scientists be able to understand how the data and knowledge they generate can better inform specific humanitarian and development decision-making processes and contexts. Two ongoing pilot exchanges in Kenya and Senegal, and the tools used in the exchanges, serve as a practical example for enhancing resilience through dialogue between scientists and users.
Pilot exchanges in Kenya and Senegal
Since 2009, the Humanitarian Futures Programme, based at King’s College London, has been supporting an exchange between climate scientists from the UK Met Office and the universities of London, Liverpool, Oxford and Sussex, and policy makers from the international NGOs CAFOD, Christian Aid and Oxfam GB, as well as the Senegalese Red Cross.
In both Kenya and Senegal over three quarters of the population work in rain-fed agriculture and are thus highly vulnerable to climate shocks. Climate variability and change impact in different ways on the lives of people living in the areas in which the current exchange initiative is being undertaken. In Mbeere District, Kenya, the population has suffered from inadequate rainfall in recent years, leading to a succession of poor harvests and high levels of livestock mortality. In Senegal, exchange activities are being piloted with vulnerable communities in Kaffrine Region, one of the areas most at risk from recurring floods in the country, which affected 400,000–600,000 people a year between 1998 and 2008. 2
In Kenya, exchange engagement focuses on the impact of climate information and seasonal forecasts on agriculture within a rural livelihoods setting. The exchange cooperates with the ongoing Christian Community Services Mount Kenya East (CCSMKE) project that works with farmers groups, their international NGO partner Christian Aid, and brings in expertise from the Kenyan Meteorological Department, the ministries of agriculture, agricultural research, livestock, and development cooperation, Traidcraft and international climate scientists.
In Senegal, exchange activities are coordinated by the Senegalese Red Cross and focus on providing flood alerts to vulnerable communities, specifically to community elders and leaders of women’s and religious groups. The exchange in Senegal employs Red Cross community volunteers and community radio as climate information relays, strengthening existing links with the Senegalese national meteorological agency, and bringing in international weather and climate expertise.
Figure 1: Mbeere District, Kenya and Kaffrine Region, Senegal
The pilot exchanges in both Kenya and Senegal have sought to promote improved exchange of weather and climate information to bridge the communication gap and foster enhanced community resilience in the face of future vulnerabilities. The pilot exchanges are timed around the rainy season in each country, with activities undertaken before, during and after the rains. Efforts prior to the rains promote access to, understanding and appropriate application of the seasonal forecast. Regularly updated information is provided over the course of the season to ensure that community decision-making processes can be appropriately informed by evolving weather information.
Community-based evaluations at the end of the rainy season review the process to ensure that communities receive timely, relevant information and that the necessary changes in format, channels and types of information provided can be made to support their decision making. In both countries, exchange activities are undertaken with around 25 participants in the capital, to inform national decision makers, and with 30–40 participants in the specific communities in which the pilot exchange is being undertaken.
The types of information provided in each pilot exchange are determined on the basis of community-based assessments and adapted to ensure best-fit with local knowledge and contextual conditions. The exchanges include the provision of both weather and climate information as societies that learn to deal effectively with hazards in the present climate are expected to be better equipped to deal with hazards in a changing climate. Using forecasts in the near term – where the outcomes of the forecasts can soon be assessed – can also help to build the confidence of communities to make greater use of information on longer-term climate change.
Practical dialogue tools
The two exchanges have generated a range of practical dialogue tools, in particular participatory downscaling and early warning–early action. These tools aim to:
- support face-to-face dialogue between the providers and users of climate information;
- contextualise and enhance knowledge of available scientific information within local understandings of weather and climate information and impacts; and
- develop a system through which information from large-scale projections can be translated to support risk-management decisions at community, district and national levels.
- Users of climate information are often presented with data that is, in its present form at least, not useful for their decision-making needs. Seasonal forecasts, for example, often concentrate on rainfall totals rather than information of importance for crop production and food security such as the start, end and length of the rainy season, as well as the intensity of rainfall within the season. This difference primarily results from problems of climate models accurately translating into atmospheric conditions on a daily time scale.
Participatory downscaling aims to support communities to translate national and regional climate
and weather information into a range of outcomes at the local level useful for both short and
long-term decision making. In addition, the approach aims to develop a shared understanding of the
uncertainties of climate and weather information and the impact of these uncertainties on
humanitarian and community risk management decision making. The approach follows a simple event
a sample of years is selected when significant weather events – droughts or floods – impacted on the community;
for each event one or two non-climate events of cultural, political or economic importance are selected to provide a mental trigger of the year of the weather event in question. For example, in the year of a flood there may have been a major football tournament or an election (non-climatic mental triggers are used to ensure participants are all focused on the same year in question, in order not to bias the discussion on the climatic conditions);
using the non-climate events as triggers, participants are asked to discuss whether the location in which they were in a given year experienced a wet, dry, or average rainy season and whether they experienced the weather-related hazard of interest;
• the national and regional records of the rains and weather-related hazard are then revealed to the participants and the range of experiences collated for years which were similar in terms of rainfall at a national and regional level;
• the seasonal rainfall forecast is then revealed for each year; and
• a group discussion is held about the range of local-level humanitarian implications for the same national event, and how participants might be able to appropriately employ future national seasonal forecasts to consider potential impacts at the local level.
The approach helps to build community capacity for translating regional and national information into an understanding of local outcomes, which can in turn enhance resilience through fostering better-informed and increasingly adaptive decision making.
Early warning–early action provides users with accessible climate information relevant to their
specific risk management needs as well as an opportunity to clarify uncertainties directly with
scientists. It also builds capacity for the use of climate information through a scenario game,
which helps to ensure that the exchange goes beyond mere dialogue to facilitate appropriate
application and thus enhanced resilience to weather and climate-related hazards.
Early warning–early action takes the form of a workshop which involves 1) a series of modules focused on understanding relevant areas of climate information tailored to inform the specific decision-making process of government planners and community decision makers, and 2) a scenario game which is focused on the appropriate application of that learning. Initially, the users are divided into small groups of five people, with each group visiting a series of ‘expert tables’ for 20 minutes each. At each table, a scientist presents a particular piece of climate science learning or a risk management tool and explains what it can and cannot do, and how it could be relevant for users. Once the groups have visited each of the tables, the scientists then move between each of the user groups to learn what they understood from the modules and to clarify any points of uncertainty or confusion.
In the early warning-early action scenario game:
- participants are divided into mixed scientist–user groups of six to ten people;
- they are presented with a series of forecasts over different time periods relevant to the decision-making process which the exercise is seeking to support (for flood early warning, for example, forecasts may be given for 10 days, 48 hours, 24 hours and three hours), and participants have to individually think up and write down what they consider the most appropriate action given the forecast time frame and information provided;
- participants take turns to act as the decision maker, who is tasked with deciding between the series of possible preparedness actions proposed by the other participants; and
- the other participants then get the opportunity to challenge the decision maker and engage in a discussion on their preferred actions.
Figure 2: Players in the early warning-early action game
The exchanges in Kenya and Senegal show that these tools can help support strengthened dialogue between climate scientists and humanitarian and development agencies and their community partners. These dialogues are also truly two-way in the sense that they influence the activities of scientists as well as users. For example, the climate information needs of the affected communities in Senegal have fed back into the future direction of research by climate scientists from the National Meteorological Agency of Senegal undertaking fellowships within the UK Department for International Development–Met Office Climate Science Research Partnership.
For these researchers, the exchange has underlined the importance of strengthening understanding of the performance – not just the onset and level but the timing and dry periods – of the rains. In Senegal this information is particularly important as women farmers plant for themselves after planting for men, and thus really need to know about dry periods and the cessation of the rains to ensure they plant appropriate crops.
But while fostering dialogue holds value in and of itself, it is important to consider the impact of these approaches on adaptation and community resilience. This issue is currently at the fore of donor and aid agency considerations against a backdrop of austerity and accountability.
The exchanges have had tangible benefits in terms of enabling climate information to better support specific decision-making contexts. In Senegal for example, they have created a space for the community to devise innovative ways to disseminate climate information, using tools from forecast blackboards to climate radio roadshows.
The exchanges are also showing strong signs of sustainability. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed in July 2011 between the national meteorological agency of Senegal and the Senegalese Red Cross. This agreement has facilitated the transmission of flood early warning information at 72, 24 and three hours, as well as seasonal forecasts, to designated community leaders in Kaffrine via Red Cross volunteers.
A similar MoU between the Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) and Christian Aid and its project partners, providing seasonal, monthly and weekly forecasts to farmers groups in Mbeere, was signed in February 2012, and KMD has expressed a strong interest in scaling up the process in Kenya.
Yet lasting impact in terms of adaptation and behaviour change will take longer to assess. This will require evaluations to measure impact on community livelihoods and capacities against the baseline assessments conducted within the exchanges. However, the exchange in Kenya has already provided an important example of climate change adaptation arising from the capacities developed within the exchange. Communities have been able to access forecast information through new sources such as SMS messages and meetings in local languages. In part as a result of this, in October–D ecember 2011, based on a seasonal forecast projecting an early start to the rains, farmers in Mbeere either planted early maturing crop varieties or deployed agricultural techniques that could withstand early cessation of the rains.
In Senegal, early actions triggered in response to flood alerts have included various safety and asset protection activities such as not going out to the fields, using sand to protect houses from flooding, and covering up conductive fixtures and devices. Further livelihoods impacts resulting from the application of weather and climate information in Senegal will emerge from an evaluation to be conducted later this year. Yet it is clear that the examples provided here already empirically demonstrate how dialogue between scientists and users can build capacity for adaptation, leading to enhanced community resilience in the face of climate variability and change.
HFP (2011) Talking Science, Talking Sense, available at http://www.humanitarianfutures.org/content/talking-science-talking-sense
HFP (2012) A Farmer’s Forecast, available at http://vimeo.com/39827406
PetLab and Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Center, Early Warning-Early Action game resources, available at http://petlab.parsons.edu/redCrossSite/rulesBTS.html
1 In an effort to address users’ demands to bring together relevant sources of
scientific learning, we talk about climate information and knowledge as relating to variability and
change in the atmosphere right from second-by-second to 30 year time frames.
2 See Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery and World Bank (2011) Vulnerability, Risk and Adaptation to Climate Change: Senegal (Washington, DC, The World Bank Group). It should be noted, however, that inadequate rainfall across much of the Sahel in 2011 has led to the current food insecurity risks across the region.
3 For videos of the exchanges see (Senegal) HFP (2011) Talking Science, Talking Sense, available at http://www.humanitarianfutures.org/content/talking-science-talking-sense and (Kenya) HFP (2012) A Farmer’s Forecast, available at http://vimeo.com/39827406
4 The Senegal Red Cross employed the Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment tool, a tool for assessing the vulnerabilities of communities and their capacities to respond to natural hazards. In Kenya, CCSMKE and Christian Aid development their own baseline assessment tool.
5 The participatory downscaling methodology was developed by Dominic Kniveton of the University of Sussex, UK.
6 The early warning-early action methodology has been developed by Arame Tall in collaboration Pablo Suarez of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre and PETLab based at Parsons The New School for Design, New York, USA. Its development was funded by a grant from Africa Climate Change Fellowship Programme funded by START, DfID, and the IDRC.
7 For a more detailed overview, rules, and downloadable content of the game see http://petlab.parsons.edu/redCrossSite/rulesBTS.html.