Mairi Dupar, Global Public Affairs Coordinator of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) describes how the CDKN team works as climate knowledge brokers to ‘translate’ climate science for different audiences.
The Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) is an alliance of Southern and Northern organisations that helps developing countries to design and deliver climate-compatible development. Thanks to the recent projects to promote the findings of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), CDKN has gained great insights on the role that climate knowledge brokers can play in contributing to policy and public dialogue.This article describes what we did to translate the IPCC’s deeply technical scientific findings for policy and popular audiences, and the response we received.
The AR5 was released in stages in 2013-2014, made up of reports on the physical science of climate change; impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; climate change mitigation; and a final synthesis report. CDKN ran a wide-ranging outreach programme to bring the AR5 findings to developing country governments and other stakeholders, so that the latest state-of-art climate science could be better incorporated into their decision-making. CDKN’s knowledge management team produced a range of guides and communications toolkits based on the AR5 and organised policy dialogue events with IPCC authors, young scientist meetings and trainings for journalists.
CDKN produced four regional summaries of the AR5 science, in a colourful and appealing format: ‘The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report: What’s in it for Africa?’ ‘…What’s in it for South Asia’ ‘….What’s in it for Latin America’ and ‘…What’s in it for Small Island Developing States’. No wonder these have been popular, the original AR5 runs to well over 5,000 pages and each of these region-specific guides is just 24 to 28 pages! Often policy-makers want to access country- and region-specific information quickly, however the IPCCs summaries are tucked away in the long chapters of the reports, which CDKN has pulled out and made more available.
CDKN also launched an online toolkit, which contains slide packs, free infographics and image resources for communicators to use in disseminating the AR5 content. Our guides to the AR5 are quite short, and the slide packs ‘boil down’ the essential messages even more and present them largely in graphical format. The microsite is our most popular resource ever on cdkn.org, with 14,000 visits to date and still counting!
Of online users who registered for the free graphics, 69% are from developing countries; using them for university education (17%); internal organisational capacity building (28%); external awareness raising including policy-makers (32%), publications (13%) and journalism (10%).
In person, CDKN reached more than 1,200 high-level decision-makers from government, businesses, international and donor agencies and civil society in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan and at the SIDS Summit in Samoa with the key messages of the AR5. These outreach events, undertaken in partnership with the IPCC itself and with leading ministries in the host country governments, brought IPCC authors in direct conversation with policy-makers and business leaders. Following up on these events, governments asked us to organise similar outreach events for the Caribbean region (which we did in collaboration with the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre) and we reached city-level audiences in Pakistan and India through follow-up events in 2015.
CDKN also organised training of journalists in the target East African and South Asian countries: we trained journalists on the key messages of the AR5 before they put questions to scientists and politicians at press conferences the following day. All told, CDKN and partners trained around 100 developing country journalists in total on the key findings of the AR5. We also held very lively young scientists events in local universities in Africa and Asia, reaching hundreds of students.
To see how CDKN’s work of crafting, tailoring and distributing our communications-friendly summaries made a difference, CDKN’s Vera Scholz interviewed participants and trainees at the events and again some months later. Most of them said they were planning to share (or already had shared) the materials with their students, visitors to their office or co-workers; for example:
- An NGO worker described the materials as his “armour” to contribute to plans, and forums on how to mitigate the effects of climate change.
- One ministry representative in Rwanda said they would use the material for community sensitisation programmes.
- One academic in Rwanda said they would use it to prepare the national UNFCCC delegation of Uganda for climate talks.
- One of the participants reportedly used his new knowledge to build a stakeholder engagement platform for taking forward the investment plans proposed under Future Proofing cities at the corporation and district level at Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India.
- Most of those with research backgrounds said they would use the material for proposal writing and their research
Interviewees emphasised the value of easy-to-use summaries of the climate science. Almost all of those originally surveyed said they would refer to climate change more frequently in their future work.
Participants from events also identified barriers. Among these was a lack of expertise or reluctance of journalistic editors to pay attention to issues which they perceived to be ‘Western NGO’ issues. One way around for some was to not frame their articles as climate change-related but to exploit social and economic angles and to integrate climate change ‘through the back door’ in order to get approval from their editors.
Summarizing, we are confident to say that the role of the knowledge broker is very much needed – even as knowledge brokers walk a fine line to promote the ‘accessibility’ of the science while maintaining its core accuracy and integrity. We also conclude that the role of the knowledge broker as a neutral convenor, creating a platform for dialogue among parties, is critical. CDKN successfully works as an intermediary between policy-makers and communicators, a kind of ‘matchmaker’ between these professional communities.
Finally, we cannot fail to recognise that in the communications-rich world where we live, not only is there an increasing sea of climate information through which knowledge brokers such as CDKN may help information-seekers to navigate, but there is an overall universe of information in which we compete to draw attention to the importance of climate change in development, among readers’ and viewers’ multiple other priorities.