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Climate change "knowledge brokers" launch a manifesto that aims to get the right information where it's needed
Manifestos don’t come along every day. Successful ones can mark a turning point in the history of a cause or movement. By setting out a clear statement of principles and a convincing call for action they can galvanise support, and shift the debate. They can even spark a revolution
The Climate Knowledge Brokers Manifesto hopes to do just that. With the Paris COP21 talks around the corner, it couldn’t be more timely. So what’s in it and what difference will it make?
Three messages stand out most for me. First is the scale of the information challenge it sets out. Twenty years ago climate change was a niche topic, of interest mainly to scientists and activists. Nowadays, almost everyone is becoming a climate decision-maker in one way or another.
From government policy-makers and industry chiefs, to city planners, farmers, and everyday consumers, the Manifesto makes the point that more and more people are making decisions that will affect, or be affected by, climate change. To make those decisions wisely they will need access to relevant and trustworthy information.
Where will they get it from? Few are in the position to understand complex modelling data or have the time or skills to wade through dense research reports. There will be a huge need for knowledge brokers of various kinds who can interpret this kind of expert knowledge and help users make sense of it.
Second is the importance of tailoring. The Manifesto is peppered with quotes emphasising how a ‘one size fits all’ approach simply won’t work. To be useful, climate information needs to be directly relevant to the audience and individuals in question, downscaled to the right level, and presented in language and formats they can easily relate to. This means there’s a big job to be done in intelligent filtering, translation, and repackaging – all of them knowledge broker roles.
What does a government policy maker, for example, do to sift out what’s important for their country from the latest IPCC climate reports? How does a business owner or householder make smart choices on energy-efficient equipment without trustworthy advice on payback periods and reliability?
Where does a city planner go to find out how sea level rise or seasonal flooding will affect new housing settlements? Who is providing tailored information for small farmers to help them with crop choices in their specific valley or sub-region? The answer is that right now they struggle.
To fill these gaps, the Manifesto points to the need for a whole new generation of knowledge brokers, and talks of ‘chains’ of knowledge brokers working at different levels and in different ways.
Technology will play an important part in this, but it won’t all be about websites and smartphone apps. Journalists have a big role to play. So do extension workers, trade associations, chambers of commerce and many other existing and new players in the information market.
The third big message is that we’ll only crack this if we work together. This means adopting open data standards, constructing information systems so content can be easily shared, and creating peer networks to exchange learning on what’s working and what’s not, to avoid reinventing the wheel.
Collaboration is what the Manifesto is all about, and – to me – what makes it such a breath of fresh air.
What difference will the Manifesto make? I’m confident it will be welcomed by other information players, whether they think of themselves as ‘knowledge brokers’ or not. It offers an open invitation to engage and join forces. The Climate Knowledge Brokers Group has a lot to offer, but also a lot to learn, and the Manifesto helps signal this in a constructive and public way.
Probably more importantly, the intention is that by raising the flag for climate knowledge brokers, the importance of this role will be recognised and need to invest in it in a more coherent and strategic way will be understood – something that has been notably lacking up to now.
Funders take note: Without a joined up approach to climate knowledge, many of the other investments being made as part of global efforts to tackle climate change are likely to fail.
Will it bring forward the revolution in the climate information world that I’ve written about previously? Let’s hope it does provide this spark, because without it those policy makers, city planners, business owners, farmers and householders are going to be left in the dark.
Geoff Barnard is knowledge management strategy advisor for the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), and chair of the Climate Knowledge Brokers (CKB) steering group.
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