Local Leadership, ICTs, and Climate Change Adaptation

Leadership plays a crucial role within processes of change and transformation, particularly those associated with the impacts of climate change and variability.

In vulnerable developing contexts affected by more frequent and intense climatic events, local leaders are key in the adoption of innovation and learning, as well as in the capacity of vulnerable groups to self-organise and participate in processes that enable them to better withstand, recover and adapt in the face of increasing climatic uncertainty.

By having a direct understanding of the development needs, the stakeholders, the values and beliefs, and the socio-economic dynamics that characterize their communities, local leaders are in a unique position to catalyze processes of adjustment and change. They can be crucial to influence the views, attitudes and behavior of vulnerable groups towards climate change, motivating them to act, autonomously, in response to the challenges and the opportunities that emerge from climatic impacts. Thus, local leadership is essential in processes of adaptation and resilience building.

In turn, the notion of leadership is closely linked to effective communication. The rapid diffusion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in the global South is not only enabling new ways of accessing information and knowledge, but is also posing new opportunities to exercise local leadership, particularly in regards to climate change adaptation.

The increasing use of ICTs such as mobile phones, the Internet and community radio, is providing new channels through which the most vulnerable sectors of the population can be reached and be heard.  However, the role of local leaders remains vital to ensure that scientific research percolates to the micro level, and that there is a dialogue and a representation of local interests within wider processes of adaptation planning and implementation, among others.

So, what are the linkages between local leadership, ICTs and climate change adaptation?

ICTs can support local leadership towards enhanced adaptive capacities in a number of ways, including the following:

  • ICTs & Local Leadership to Mitigate Uncertainty

Uncertainty is one of the main constraints of effective decision-making during times of change and climatic shocks. Local leaders can play an important role mitigating the anxiety and the confusion generated by climatic uncertainty, thus enabling communities to take action. ICTs can contribute by enabling access to climatic information that is relevant to the local context, in formats and languages that allow broad dissemination and timely access. For example, early warning systems, weather forecasts, market prices, or information about the state of local transportation can be disseminated through mobile phones via voice or short message service (SMS) or through community radio, helping to reduce uncertainty and assess options at the local level. Updates and reports from local leaders on financial and credit options to undertake adaptation (e.g. crop diversification, infrastructure improvements, water management systems) can also help to boost the community’s morale and performance during climatic events.

  • ICTs & Local Leadership to Improve Climate Change Perceptions

Effective communication can be crucial to improve the attitudes of local actors towards change. Messages that respond to local priorities and information needs, mechanisms that allow for interaction and feedback from community-based actors, as well as information that originates in trusted sources, are among the key components of effective communication. ICTs such as Internet-based mapping applications, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) or radio programs can support the creation and dissemination of relevant content by local leaders, and improve the public’s perception about both the threats and the opportunities that may emerge from climate change manifestations. Broadly disseminated messages from local leaders (e.g. online distribution lists, Web page, Blogs, social networking sites) can help to reduce apathy in regards to the need to adapt to climate change, and can motivate local actors to self-organise towards common interests (e.g. protection of water sources, monitoring of hydro-meteorological variables).

  • ICTs & Local Leadership to Strengthen Social Networks

Social networks are at the core of a community’s ability to cope with change, and potentially transform. Local leaders are often recognized and trusted members of extended networks that can be crucial to provide support and disseminate information in the event of climatic events. Web 2.0 and new media applications such as Blogs, wikis or social media networks (e.g. Facebook) can provide useful mechanisms for local leaders to share their knowledge and experiences, and to engage in wider networks that could be provide additional support to local actors (e.g. know-how, traditional knowledge, volunteers), and that could be mobilized during processes of change.

  • ICTs & Local Leadership to Foster Learning

Learning –from both traditional and new sources- is a key attribute of resilient communities. Local leadership is crucial to gather existing knowledge and to learn from a wide range of adaptation experiences to better equip local communities to deal with climatic impacts. ICTs can motivate communities to explore new ways of doing things, and systematize traditional knowledge in support of inter-generational learning. Online learning tools can complement one-to-one and group training processes, particularly in remote areas. At the same time, a more continuous communication through mobile phones can strengthen local leader’s mentoring and exchange of experiences, as well as the monitoring of adaptation actions. The use of Internet-based applications in community telecentres and local radios can also support training in different skills (e.g. entrepreneurship, farm management, communication) that could contribute to strengthen local livelihoods, as well as the decision-making capacity of community-based actors.

Enhancing climate change adaptability is ultimately a social process that requires interaction and engagement by a broad set of stakeholders. Local leadership is an important catalyst within processes of change and transformation, such as those motivated by the impacts of climate change and variability.

Within those processes, ICTs can foster local leadership and contribute to enhance adaptability by helping to mitigate climatic uncertainty, to improve public perceptions and self-organisation, and to strengthen social networks and learning, among others. The use of ICT tools to access and share relevant information can help to improve the confidence and the technical advice provided by local leaders, thus contributing to the community’s ability to overcome climatic challenges and take advantage of potential opportunities.

Exercising local leadership within the context of climate change is about enabling transformation, generating willingness to take action, and fostering the local capacity to make informed decisions amidst uncertainty.  While face-to-face communication will remain at the core of local leadership and climate change awareness, particularly within rural contexts, and while many issues remain to be addressed in regards to use of ICTs to tackle local information asymmetries (e.g. lack of connectivity, literacy and technological skills, among others), emerging climate change adaptation experiences suggests their potential in support of local leadership and community empowerment.

Cultural Identity, Climate Change Resilience & ICTs

The underlying sense of ‘belonging’ and ‘connectedness’ to a social group can play a key role in the ability of vulnerable communities to cope with and recover from the impacts of climate change.

Acknowledging the linkages between cultural identity and climate change resilience is particularly relevant within vulnerable developing contexts given the richness of their traditional knowledge and cultural heritage, the need for innovative responses to the challenges posed by climate change, as well as the new opportunities provided by Information and Communities Technologies (ICTs) to access, assess and use information and knowledge.

The notion of cultural identity is linked to the way in which we relate to the customs, practices, languages and worldviews that define a group or territory. It involves the conservation of social memory, the generational transfer of indigenous knowledge, the ability of a community to self-organise around common interests and shared values, and the maintenance of social networks that are based on trust and solidarity, among others.

All of these factors are pivotal in the capacity of vulnerable communities to deal with change and uncertainty, and to build resilience in the face of climate change.

The rapid diffusion of ICTs such as mobile phones and the Internet, and the growing adoption of social networking sites (e.g. Facebook, MySpace), online communities and social media tools (e.g. Blogs, photo and video sharing, Wikis), have prompted new ways of creating, re-constructing, seeking, strengthening and challenging cultural identities.

The use of ICTs, including the exposure to and interaction with global or expanded networks, can change the way in which we see ourselves and interact with others, and thus influences cultural identities. On the one hand, the use and appropriation of ICT tools can contribute to strengthen cultural identity through the documentation and sharing of indigenous knowledge and traditions, the production of local content, the improved access to updated information for decision-making, the facilitation of self-organisation processes, and the consolidation of effective communication networks, among others. But on the other, the increased penetration of ICTs could undermine the cultural identity of marginalised rural communities by introducing new forms of exclusion, or by fostering homogenization, youth migration, or the adoption of external practices and values that weaken or even contradict traditional customs.

So, how could ICTs help to strengthen cultural identity & build resilience within vulnerable contexts affected by climate change?

Much as the impact of climatic disturbances, the linkages between cultural identity, resilience & ICTs are complex and multi-dimensional. A series of short documentary films produced by LifeMosaic provide very useful indications of the importance of cultural identity within processes of resilience building. A 22 minute video called “Resilience’ shows how indigenous communities can strengthen their resilience to climate change by building on key components of their cultural identity (traditional knowledge, customary law and local agricultural systems).

While the role of ICTs is not explicitly addressed in the video, it offers an opportunity to reflect on five key areas in which ICTs could contribute to resilience building while strengthening cultural identities:

(a) ICTs used to Archive and Disseminate Collective Memory

Maintaining and sharing a collective memory is an important component of cultural identity. By helping to record and disseminate local practices and traditional knowledge, ICT tools can contribute to the preservation of traditions and the inter-generational transference of cultural values.

(b) ICTs used to Produce, Access & Apply Relevant Knowledge

The ability to produce and disseminate local content, as well as to access information and knowledge that responds to local priorities contribute to strengthen cultural identity and decision-making processes in the face of climate change.  ICT tools can facilitate the production of local content in creative, user-friendly formats (e.g. photo-stories and audio blogs), as well as the translation of relevant scientific content into local languages, fostering the participation of communities in adaptation processes.

(c) ICTs used to Foster Diversity

Diversity is one of the main attributes of resilient systems, and also an important component of strong cultural identities. ICT tools –such as Web pages, online communities and radio programs- can be used to ‘give a voice’ to local diversity, by sharing the adaptation needs and experiences of diverse members of the community. ICTs can also facilitate the sharing of new and traditional adaptation practices between communities at the regional, national and global level, fostering dialogue, learning and tolerance between diverse groups.  ICTs can also be used in support of alternative adaptation practices that are linked to traditional customs (such as the diversification, protection and exchange of seeds).

(d) ICTs used to Strengthen Social Networks & Self-organisation

The use of mobile phones, text messages, e-mail and community radio can contribute to supplement and strengthen social networks, including the interaction and preservation of cultural links with migrant or geographically dispersed community members –who play a key role in mobilizing support and helping locals to cope with the effects of climatic disturbances. Tools such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Web-based mapping applications can contribute to the monitoring of local resources, facilitating the self-organisation of community members around the protection of water sources, forests and other common interests.

(e) ICTs used to Empower Youth

New generations play a pivotal role in the continuity, re-construction and renewal of cultural identities. ICT applications such as online training can help to strengthen the capacity and the confidence of local youths to adapt to the changing circumstances posed by climate change. ICTs tools can also provide access to relevant information about rights and responsibilities in the management of natural resources, fostering youth leadership and pro-active engagement in these processes.

Emerging research and experiences suggest that ICTs can play a supportive role within processes of climate change adaptation, including the strengthening of cultural identity as an important component of resilience building. The sense of ‘belonging’ and ‘connectedness’ that ICTs enable can contribute to reduce the anxiety and uncertainty associated with climate change impacts, as well as to improve the local responses through stronger networks, flexibility and self-organisation, among others.

While the global scope and openness of ICTs can make them valuable tools for communities to resist homogenizing trends and reconfirm their cultural identity (Diamandaki, 2003), issues of limited access, lack of relevant content, training and effective appropriation are among the challenges that still need to be addressed in order the benefit from their full potential.

ICTs: Enablers of Change within a Changing Climate

While the need to adapt is undeniable given the challenges posed by climate change and variability, the way in which we understand, approach and enable adaptive change should be given careful consideration, particularly within developing contexts.

Within vulnerable livelihood systems, adjusting and changing in the face of more frequent and intense climatic events is a process that requires much more than economic resources.

Adaptation involves the identification of innovative tools and approaches that foster social learning and flexibility, as well as strengthened institutions, broader participation and networking, heightened environmental awareness, processes of self-organisation and multi-stakeholder collaboration, and political will, among others. (*in the picture, a coffee producer using his mobile phone).

Thus, the design and implementation of climate change adaptation strategies provide an opportunity for developing countries to embrace change from a novel perspective; one that builds on the resourcefulness, the ingenuity and the wealth of traditional knowledge available within these contexts.

The increasing diffusion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) within developing environments can help to enable those novel perspectives towards enhanced adaptive capacities.

The availability of information and knowledge is one of the most important conditions for the adaptation of vulnerable systems to the impacts of climate change. But not just any information and knowledge, but those that (a) respond to the local needs and priorities, (b) acknowledge and strengthen local knowledge and capacities, and (c) contribute to the empowerment of stakeholders -at the micro, meso and macro levels- to make informed decisions amidst multiple vulnerabilities and climatic stressors.

Within vulnerable contexts, the growing adoption of ICT tools such as mobile phones and the Internet, in combination with more traditional ones such as radio and printed media, could support more effective, transparent and inclusive processes of adaptive change.

What types of changes can ICTs enable, to contribute to climate change adaptation?

The following table reflects some areas in which the role of ICTs can contribute towards adaptive change:

Changes in Attitudes (perceptions and beliefs) towards Climate Change

A variety of Web 2.0 tools (e.g. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, among others) are being increasingly used to disseminate information and give visibility to local climate change experiences and issues, fostering discussions and debate among stakeholders from different sectors and regions, thus influencing attitudes and perceptions.

Changes in Knowledge about Climate Change

The use of ICTs in models and projections has contributed to improve the understanding of climate change trends, and has provided new tools for planning and preparedness. Applications using remote sensing, GIS, earth browsers such as Google Earth and Visual Earth, as well as Web-based clearing houses for disseminating information and foster broader communities of interest for environmental analysis, also contribute to an increasing body of knowledge in this field.

Changes in Public Awareness about Climate Change

USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network provides an agro-climatic monitoring system of real-time weather hazards (flooding, dryness and extreme hit) and food security for a number of developing countries, helping to increase public awareness on a variety of climate-related issues. At the same time, ICTs have helped to increase the visibility of political processes such as the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP17), which uses the Web, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Blogs to disseminate information and updates about the process and outcomes.

Changes in Skills & Capacities required in Climate Change Responses

Vietnamese villagers have been trained in the use of mobile phones to report the likelihood of localised flooding to the regional Hydro-Meteorological Center in Ho Chi Minh City. This training fostered local involvement in forecasting and early warning in vulnerable flood plains. The information that is fed back to locals via billboards and loudspeakers contributes to strengthen local preparedness. Radio broadcasts on relevant local issues –such as training on irrigation planning and crop diversification strategies- can also contribute to strengthen local skills and capacities.

Changes in Vulnerable Livelihoods’ Productivity to Cope with Climate  Impacts

Mobile phones are used in India as part of agro-advisory system called mKRISHI, allowing farmers to send queries to agricultural experts in their local languages and receive personalized advice, as well as to access information on market prices, harvesting times in relation to weather and fertilizers’ use, among others, allowing them to make informed decisions to improve their livelihood.

Changes in Partnerships & Collaboration to tackle Climate Change

The use of ICTs to capture, process and disseminate information has helped to highlight the transversal and multi-dimensional nature of climate change impacts (e.g. on ecosystems and natural habitats, scarce water resources, food security, new health threats and risks to human infrastructure and habitats, among others). The use of ICTs has facilitated the creation of partnerships and collaboration among different stakeholders through e-conferences, virtual meetings, online chats, e-mail exchange and other online mechanisms.

Changes in the Public’s Disposition to engage in Climate Change Actions

The emergence of online networks and communities of interest has played a key role in  the response to extreme events. Efforts of volunteer and technology communities such as Crisismappers and Ushahidi have allowed to connect SMS information with situational maps in times of crisis, enabling humanitarian response. High-resolution satellite imagery, Wikis, Google docs and other collaborative platforms used by growing communities of volunteers and technical experts have enabled new ways of collecting, analysing and visualizing data within vulnerable contexts (Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, 2011).

Changes in the Allocation of Adaptation Funds and Resources

The use of ICT applications, including those used as part of e-Government programs, can help to provide transparency in the identification of climate change priorities and the allocation and monitoring of funds. ICTs can facilitate information sharing through digital platforms where citizens can report incidents anonymously, trace the distribution and progress of adaptation funding, and learn about local environmental regulations and rights (SPIDER ICT4D, 2010).

While these examples of emerging experiences and research suggest a significant role of ICTs towards adaptation, the complexity of developing environments, where marginalization and inequality still prevail, pose the need to maintain a critical stand in regards to their role.

Experiences in the ICT for development field (ICT4D) have drawn important lessons about the potential and the risks involved in ICT interventions (e.g. low information quality and reliability, security issues, resource diversion, deepening of power differentials, among others), which constitute valuable inputs to future analysis of ICTs’ role within climate change adaptation processes.

Ultimately, adaptation thinking is opening an important window of opportunity for developing countries to design and implement novel approaches to change, and to overcome the challenges posed by climatic uncertainty with the help of ICT tools.

The Urban Face of Climate Change Resilience: ICT Perspectives

The complexity of urban contexts poses new challenges and opportunities to processes of resilience building. While increasing attention is being paid to the threats posed by climate change and variability to rural environments, urban marginalization poses equally important challenges that need to be examined from a ‘resilience lens’, fostering innovative responses towards urban change and transformation.

Large and growing cities in developing countries are facing increasing risks associated with water scarcity, flash floods, landslides and mudflows, which are intensified by climate change and variability. Within contexts such as urban slums, the impacts of climate stressors converge with increasing overcrowding, unregulated and unsafe housing, growing risks associated with solid and liquid waste, high levels of informality and lack of access to stable income sources, as well as social pressures due to limited access to services and deficient infrastructure, among others (Tanner et al. 2009, Romero-Lankao, 2011).These factors constrain their adaptive capacity, and heighten their exposure to climatic stresses.

Thus, the rapid processes of urbanisation taking place in the global South pose the need to rethink the way in which climate change adaptation and resilience are built within urban low-income settings, and identify new mechanisms and tools through which change and transformation can be enabled.

Tools such as Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have been diffusing rapidly among the urban poor, providing new livelihood opportunities and fostering entrepreneurship through PC/Internet related microenterprises, mobile phones and associated services and applications (UNCTAD, 2010). Studies suggest that ICTs have helped to improve the availability of information in the informal sector, to reduce transaction costs and improve job creation and access to markets, contributing to income generation (ibid). (In the picture, an informal vendor in Colombia diversifies her income by selling mobile minutes).

However, much less is known in terms of the linkages between ICTs and climate change resilience within urban contexts.

Could ICTs help to build Urban Resilience to the impacts of Climate Change and Variability?

The ability of the urban populations to withstand, recover and adapt to the impacts of climate change and variability depends on a myriad of factors. The following points illustrate some of the areas where ICT tools could help to enable urban resilience:

Urban Hazard Mapping & Community Involvement

  • Relevant local data that is collected, mapped and accessed with the support of ICT tools can inform decision-making processes and strengthen local governance. The use of ICTs such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in local hazard mapping and analysis can help to identify and illustrate evacuation routes as well as to locate housing, business and structures that are at risk of threats such as rises in water levels (Peirce et al, 2008). The availability of this information, in formats that are easily understood by all levels of stakeholders, could also motivate community members and local governments to engage in joint climate change responses.
  • ICT applications such as participatory videos, photo-diaries or the use of mobile phones for collective mapping/monitoring exercises, could be used to foster greater involvement of low-income urban dwellers in climate change and risk-reduction initiatives, involving them in decisions such as the best location for drinking water supplies in case of sudden salinization, or failures in drainage systems due to floods.
  • ICTs can be used to foster participative processes and multi-stakeholder discussions about issues that affect urban populations such as transportation and land use, as well as in the participative planning of climate-change initiatives that seek to reduce adaptive deficits.

Urban Risk Reduction & Public Awareness

  • Compelling mapping supported by ICTs can help to determine the different levels of vulnerability that exist within low-income urban settlements, allowing stakeholders to take appropriate measures towards risk reduction. New and traditional ICTs (e.g. mobile phones, community radios) can also be used as effective information and early-warning channels among populations settled in dangerous terrains.
  • Policy and research networks can be supported by social media tools to discuss and give visibility to climate-related agendas that respond to the needs and priorities of low-income urban populations.
  • ICTs can also play a role in efforts to raise public awareness on health-related problems that are intensified by climate change manifestations and variability, such as malaria and dengue, helping to disseminate measures to prevent or control the spread of the virus. ICT tools can also support public awareness and education campaigns on safe-housing construction, water storage and robust drainage systems, empowering the community to mitigate the impacts of climatic occurrences.

Urban Capacity-Building & Networking

  • Online training programs and access to broader networks of practitioners and experts to share lessons and resources could help to strengthen the institutional capacity of those involved in processes of urban planning and design.
  • ICT tools that allow spatial mapping can also strengthen the capacity of urban planners by providing more accurate representations of local realities, identify priorities, and design more inclusive development plans. Climate change models and projections supported by ICTs can help to identify the long-term implications of planning measures and land-use, contributing to the adoption of more sustainable strategies.
  • ICTs can also be used to enable communication and exchange between local governments, communities, grass-roots organisations and researchers working in urban development programmes, strengthening transparency, accountability and public support.
  • ICTs used in support of social networking can also improve the capacity of low-income urban communities to respond effectively in the case of climate-induced emergencies, as well as to access information about markets, employment opportunities and livelihood alternatives.

Amidst increasing climatic uncertainty, the challenges faced by low-income urban populations should be met through dynamic, flexible and innovative approaches that foster their capacity to engage, adapt and transform.

The use of ICT tools can contribute to such approaches by enabling new forms of accessing, mapping and sharing relevant information, strengthening individual and institutional capacities, fostering livelihood options and participatory decision-making, and helping to operationalise new partnerships and collaboration among the multiple stakeholders that play a role in adaptation and resilience building.

(*In the picture, informal housing with satellite dish)

———————————————————————

References

Peirce, N., Johnson, C., Peters, F. (2011) “Century of the City: No time to Lose”, The Rockefeller Foundation, New York.

Romero-Lankao, P. (2011) “Urban Responses to Climate Change in Latin America: Reasons, Challenges and Opportunities”, Architectural Design, May/June 2011, No 211, pp. 76-79.

Tanner, T., Mitchell, T., Polack, E., Guenther, B. (2009) “Urban Governance for Adaptation: Assessing Climate Change Resilience in Ten Asian Cities”, IDS Working Paper 315. UK.

UNCTAD, (2010). “ICTs, Entreprises and Poverty Alleviation”, Information Economy Report 2010

Water, Climate Change & ICTs: The Need for Innovative Policy Approaches

Among many vulnerabilities that are intensified by the effects of climate change, the availability and management of water resources constitute one of the most critical areas of concern. From the provision of basic services and sanitation, to irrigation and food production, ecosystems protection and hydropower generation, water resources are not only crucial for socio-economic development but also a fundamental dimension of climate change adaptation.

Water is also one of the principal means through which climate change manifests over the population and the environment (2010). Changes in precipitation patterns and seasonality, unpredictable periods of drought or floods and rising sea levels are only some of the water-related manifestations of a changing climate that is having particularly harsh impacts on marginalized and developing contexts.

The uncertain, transversal and multi-disciplinary nature of the challenges posed by climate change demands innovative responses, particularly in terms of policy strategies and decision-making processes that enable change and that foster the capacity of the most vulnerable to adapt to new conditions.

Acknowledging the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) -such as mobile phones, community
radios and the Internet- in the adoption of informed decisions and the coordination of efforts during climatic events, as well as their potential strengthening social networks, inclusiveness, and processes of learning and self-organisation, among others, could inspire new strategies and innovative policy approaches in the climate change field, especially in regards to the management of water resources.

As we advance towards a new round of climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa, as part of the 17th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 17), the linkages between water, climate change and ICTs could provide a window of opportunity for climate policy making ‘outside the box’.

But how to link Water, Climate Change, and ICTs from a Policy Perspective?

The results of a Regional Policy Dialog on Water and Climate Change conducted in 2010 by a number of institutions and organisations in Latin America and the Caribbean, suggest a number of priority areas for policy action in developing regions that can be linked to the potential of ICTs:

  • ICTs & Strengthened Water Governance 

ICT tools can be used to strengthen the capacity of the institutions that govern water use at the national and international levels, improving the management and monitoring of climate related data among different sectors, as well as the access to and dissemination of information for consensus-building (e.g. watershed boundary agreements, international conventions, local laws and regulations, roles and responsibilities of different organisations and institutions involved in water management).

  • ICTs & Articulated Water Management

ICT applications such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and mapping tools can help to link and prioritize local environmental and social needs with quantities/qualities of water resources required for different uses (e.g. irrigation, consumption, etc). At the same time, ICTs (e.g. e-mail, networking tools, distribution lists, wikis) can foster a more effective coordination of efforts between the institutions that are responsible for the management of water resources in different sectors, and those working in land resources development and planning.

  • ICTs & Inclusive Water Security Planning

ICTs such as Web 2.0 tools (e.g. blogs, wikis or social media sites) could be used in support of participatory processes in the management of water resources. Plans for drought prevention and water security could be designed, discussed and monitored collaboratively, with the support of ICTs, by community members, civil society organisations and local authorities.  Tools such as community videos, radio programs and audio blogs could be used to document local/traditional experiences in water management and adaptation, and foster the inclusion of marginalized sectors in these processes.

  • ICTS & Equitable Water Adaptation

ICT tools can support processes of mapping, documenting and disseminating information on the key risks and vulnerabilities present in both rural and urban contexts (e.g. mapping settlements in high-risk areas), facilitating the identification of linkages between the quality/quantity of water resources available, and other developmental conditions that are necessary for adaptation. At the same time, ICTs such as the Internet can help to broaden the access to information and resources on water management programs and sustainable practices through user friendly formats (e.g. videos, digital drawings, photo-stories, podcasts), as well as to awareness raising and capacity-building opportunities (e.g. e-learning).

  • ICTs & User-friendly Hydro-climate Information Systems

ICTs can play an enabling role in the generation and dissemination of locally relevant climate information that can be used by different stakeholders in decision-making processes. Tools such as the Internet, mobile phones and community radios can be used in support of awareness raising campaigns that foster climate change knowledge and preparedness/prevention, and that can be localized (translated and adapted) to respond to local priorities.

In sum, promoting a climate-resilient management of water resources requires, among others, the adoption of innovative policy approaches that enable change by acknowledging the potential of new tools, such as ICTs, to strengthen critical areas of climate change vulnerability. Creative responses supported by ICTs on key issues such as water governance, water management, water adaptation and information systems, are an emerging priority to face the challenges posed by climatic uncertainty, particularly in Developing countries.

The upcoming COP17 meeting provides a window of opportunity to think outside the climate ‘policy-box’ by considering how to take advantage of available ICT tools to foster flexibility, creativity, learning and inclusiveness as key attributes of resilient systems to climate change.

——————————————————————————–

CONAGUA, IDB, et al. (2010), “Regional Policy Dialog in Latin America and the Caribbean: Challenges and Opportunities for Water-Based Adaptation to Climate Change”. Available online: http://idbdocs.iadb.org/wsdocs/getdocument.aspx?docnum=35806970

Volunteer Communities & ICTs: New Approaches to Building Climate Change Resilience

Dealing with change requires the capacity to self-organise, while embracing novelty and experimentation.

When the need for change and transformation is exacerbated by external disturbances, such as those related to climate change, the ability to plan, learn and develop creative solutions become key attributes of resilient systems.

At the same time, the high rates of adoption of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are enabling novel ways of community organisation, and the re-arrangement of processes and functions through innovative mechanisms for online collaborative planning, learning and problem solving in the face of climatic impacts.

With the increasing diffusion of social media or Web 2.0 tools (such as Twitter, Facebook, video and photo-sharing sites, wikis and blogs, among others)  processes of self-organisation, volunteerism and citizen engagement are helping to re-define the way in which disaster risk preparedness and response are implemented.

Communities of practice from around the world have a new set of tools at their disposal for real-time online collaboration, content creation, information sharing, and networking towards common development objectives.

2010 report by the World Bank and the GFDRR suggests that a growing networks of experts are volunteering their skills in times of crisis (such as flooding or earthquakes) towards imagery processing, mapping and geolocated posts, among others, that are shared via social media, contributing to immediate response and early recovery efforts.

Initiatives such as the International Network of Crisis Mappers, OpenStreetMap (OSM), Ushahidi, Crisis Commons and Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK), are testimony of the wide reach and potential of these tools, especially within developing contexts.

But beyond supporting crisis response and recovery, could Volunteer Technology Communities (VTC) contribute to build climate change resilience?

Early evidence of their role suggest their potential towards self-organization, enhanced diversity, flexibility and learning, which are important components of a system’s ability to withstand, recover and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Areas of potential of Volunteer Technology Communities towards climate change resilience include:

  •   Borderless Community Action

Web 2.0 tools are facilitating the emergence of a new wave of ‘borderless community action’ by networks of experts and practitioners that collaborate, both virtually and face to face, towards identifying and solving pressing problems to vulnerable populations.

  •  Awareness and Information Sharing

Virtual networking and exchange can help to raise awareness on local priorities and foster a culture of information sharing and collaboration around climate change topics. Dynamic information sharing and discussions through Web 2.0 tools can also foster problem-solving skills.

  •   Effective Resource Allocation

Solutions that are developed collectively and that are widely shared in almost-real time (e.g. community mapping) can contribute to a more efficient, effective and transparent allocation of resources (from humanitarian aid in times of crisis, to long-term adaptation funds), as well as to inform decision-making processes at the local level.

  •   Multi-sectoral Partnerships

Responding to the need of engaging a diverse set of actors as part of climate change strategies, VTC can foster new multi-sectoral partnerships and cross-level information sharing practices, which play a key role in disaster response and adaptation.

  •   Flexibility

Virtual communities of practice in climate change-related fields (e.g. mitigation, disaster preparedness and response, monitoring and adaptation) can provide greater flexibility in the response to an external disturbance, by allowing access to a wider set of (human and economic) resources and expertise.

  •   Rapid Response

As suggested in the WB/GFDRR report, the bottom-up/decentralized structure of these communities allows for more rapid responses, as community members interact online, develop and share solutions without the bureaucracy of other types of organisations.

The increasing role of these communities in the response to climate change-related events reminds us of the importance of volunteerism, self-organisation, and ultimately, of community engagement towards more resilient and adaptable systems.

This is an area in which the supportive role of ICTs, and specifically of Web 2.0 tools, will likely continue to increase: enabling more effective collaboration and sharing, strengthening networks, empowering local actors through access to new information and skills, and supporting novel mechanisms of participation that enhance resilience at the local, national and international levels.

Overcoming Barriers to Climate Change Adaptation: Innovative Strategies Using ICTs

Effective communication is essential in overcoming barriers, particularly those encountered during processes of adaptation and change.

When faced with the many uncertainties posed by climate change impacts, the capacity to access, use and disseminate relevant information becomes crucial for vulnerable communities in order to better cope with and adjust to new climatic conditions -and to their social, economic and political repercussions.

In a recent paper, Moser and Ekstrom (2010) present a framework to identify barriers that may impede the process of adaptation to climate change, including a set of obstacles that can be encountered during the phases of understanding, planning and managing adaptation.

The authors found that “communication and information –about the problem, solutions and their implications- are perpetually needed aspects of the adaptation process” (p. 22029).

However, the availability, access to, and dissemination of information and knowledge remain among the most challenging aspects within adaptation processes, particularly in developing regions.

The lack of useful information (i.e. written in an appropriate, non-technical language, responding to local needs and priorities) about alternative livelihood options, rights and entitlements, new agricultural methods, credit programs or relief efforts, among others, can constrain adaptive actions -or even lead to maladaptation- within marginalised communities affected by climate change impacts.

Within this context, innovative strategies supported by Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as mobile phones, community radios, or the Internet and related applications, could help to overcome some of the barriers that arise throughout climate change adaptation processes.

How?

The potential of ICTs can be identified in regards to 4 key crosscutting issues, which according to Moser and Ekstrom (2010), often become barriers to adaptation processes:

  • Leadership:

By helping to disseminate information rapidly among extended networks, ICT tools can help local leaders in the initiation of adaptation processes, as well as to sustain momentum over time. The use of Web 2.0 tools –such as Blogs, Facebook, twitter and other social media applications- can help to give visibility, share lessons and gain support –at the local, national and international levels- to adaptation processes and local leaders.

  • Resource Availability:

By facilitating access to new sources of technical and scientific information about climate change, capacity-building opportunities (e.g. online courses) and broader networks of practitioners, experts and skills (e.g. virtual online communities, videoconferences), ICTs can expand the resource-base that can be accessed throughout the adaptation process.

  • Effective Communication:

By contributing to systematize and disseminate relevant climate change information (e.g. through Web portals or community radio programs), as well as traditional and new knowledge about climate change-related impacts and potential responses, ICTs can contribute to raise awareness and to engage actors from the government, the private and the civil society sectors in collaborative responses.

  • Values and Beliefs:

By helping to record and share local practices and beliefs (e.g. within and between communities, through mobile telephony, community-videos or social media applications) ICTs can improve our understanding of the ways in which local communities perceive and interpret climate change. They can also help to identify information needs and priorities -often linked to traditional values and beliefs- that need to be considered as part of adaptation strategies.

Overcoming the multiple barriers that can emerge during processes of adaptation and change is a complex and multidimensional process, particularly when facing the uncertainty that characterizes climate change.

But despite the complexity and uniqueness of climate change adaptation within a given context, the importance of information and communication is undeniable.

The potential –and risks– of ICTs in overcoming adaptation barriers is a topic that requires further exploration, particularly through empirical cases that shed light on their role informing decision-making processes, fostering resourcefulness and creativity, empowering youth as adaptation leaders, and facilitating capacity building and collaborative actions among the actors involved in adaptive actions.

———————————————————————————–

References:

Moser, S. and Ekstrom, J (2010). “A Framework to Diagnose Barriers to Climate Change Adaptation”, edited by Roger E. Kasperson, Clark University, Worcester, MA. PNAS, Vol. 107, no. 51. p. 22026-22031.

ICTs and Farmers’ Decision-Making: New Tools for Climate Change Adaptation?

The way in which decisions are taken plays a key role within climate change adaptation.

Access to relevant information, the skills required to apply that information into local practices, the availability of traditional knowledge and experience, the perception of risk, the sense of social identity and the existence of social networks and institutions that can either advise, enable or constrain actions, are just some of the factors that play a role in adaptive decision-making processes.

The complexity of such processes is exacerbated within contexts characterized by increasing climatic uncertainty, more frequent and intense seasonality, limited access to information, poverty and resource constrains. And it is within these contexts that Developing country farmers are facing tough decisions that can either hinder or strengthen their ability to cope and adapt to the challenges posed by the changing climate.

Experiences from the field suggest that “environment related information ranks high in the needs of rural populations in developing countries” (Karanasios, 2011, Panchard et al., 2007), and that the increasing diffusion of technologies such as mobile phones provides a potentially powerful platform for the dissemination of relevant information.

But the availability of information is not enough to foster processes of adaptation and change.

Could Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as cell phones, the Internet and related applications help to strengthen farmers’ decision making and to adapt more effectively to the impacts of climate change?

A recent report titled “Decisions Made by Farmers that Relate to Climate Change” (Hogan et al., 2011) explores the factors that play a role in adaptive decision making, and provides a good basis to reflect on the potential of ICT tools -and innovative approaches- within farmer’s adaptive decisions.

Based on the findings of the report, the following areas of ICT potential in decision-making can be identified:

  • ICTs helping Farmers Transition from Short-term to Long-term Planning

By facilitating the production and access to climate models and projections, ICTs can contribute to the identification of future and emerging risks and opportunities associated with climate change. Local decision-making can be informed by alternative scenarios, and the diversification of livelihoods, farming practices, or skill sets required to deal with change can be considered as part of long-term planning.

  • ICTs helping to Bridge the Gap between Researchers, Advisers and Farmers

By making climate change-related information more accessible and relevant to the local actors (e.g. through Web-based materials designed in the local language and addressing local priorities, or through text messages with simple, strategic content delivered to farmers’ cell phones) ICTs can contribute to improve the information and knowledge sharing between key stakeholders.

  • ICTs helping to Strengthen the Links between Scientific and Traditional Knowledge

By providing a platform to document and share both scientific and traditional knowledge through blogs, audio-files or community videos, among others, ICTs can help to strengthen adaptive practices, learning and social identity.

  • ICTs helping to Foster Inclusion and Connectedness

By enhancing participation, monitoring and exchange between community members and broader networks, the use of ICTs can help to ‘give a voice’ to groups and individuals that could be, otherwise, excluded. The use of tools such as mobile phones and the Internet can contribute to community-based environmental monitoring, while ICT-capacity building can strengthen local-empowerment and the ability to self-organise in response to external climatic disturbances.

In sum, providing relevant information for long-term planning, building on multi-level and multi-sectorial synergies, linking both new and traditional knowledge, and facilitating more inclusive processes, are some of the areas in which ICT tools can contribute to local decision-making, helping vulnerable groups -such as farmers- to adapt more effectively to the impacts of climate change.

Further research on these emerging areas could help inform the design and implementation of public policies and innovative adaptation strategies within developing environments.

The Role of Trust in Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience: Can ICTs help?

Amidst the magnitude and uncertainty that characterizes the climate change field, trust is a topic that is often overlooked, despite being one of the cornerstones of resilience building and adaptive capacity.

Trust is an essential element of effective communication, networking and self-organisation, and thus is indispensable in efforts to withstand and recover from the effects of climate change-related manifestations, being acute shocks or slow-changing trends. It’s an equally important basis for vulnerable communities to be able to adapt, and potentially change, in face of the -largely unknown- impact of climatic occurrences.

Associated with the belief, reliability, expectations and perceptions between people and the institutions within which they operate or interact, trust often acts as an underlying cause of action or inaction, constituting an important factor in decision-making processes.

With the rapid diffusion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as mobile phones and the Internet, the unprecedented speed at which information is produced and shared is posing a new set of possibilities -and challenges- to communication management and trust building, both essential to the development of resilience and adaptation to the changing climate.

Adaptation experiences suggest that vulnerable communities are more prone to act upon information that they can ‘trust’, a complex concept that could be linked to factors such as the source of the information -and the local perception of it-, the language used to convey the message, the role and credibility of ‘infomediaries’ or local facilitators that help disseminate the information, the use of local appropriation mechanisms and community involvement, among others.

Climate change Adaptation Strategies and National Programmes of Action are increasingly called to foster trust-building processes by engaging local actors and gaining a better understanding of local needs and priorities. Thus, trust building in the climate change field involves finding new collaborative spaces where the interests of all stakeholders can be heard, and both scientific and traditional knowledge can be shared and built upon towards more effective adaptive practices, and potentially, transformation.

The widespread diffusion of ICTs -such as mobile phones, Internet access and even community radios– within Developing country environments could be opening up new opportunities to use these tools in support of trust-building processes, a necessary step towards change and transformation.

So, how can ICTs help to build trust within climate change resilience and adaptation processes?

Research at the intersection of ICTs, climate change and development suggests the following aspects in regards to the supportive role of ICT tools towards trust:

  • Multi-level Communication: ICTs can facilitate communication and trust-building between and across actors at the micro (e.g. community members), meso (e.g. NGOs) and macro levels (e.g. policy makers), fostering participation in the design of adaptation -and mitigation- strategies, as well as accountability and monitoring during their implementation.
  • Network Strengthening: The role of social networks is key within processes of adaptation to climate change and resilience building. Trust is at the core of networks functioning. The use of ICTs such as mobile phones can help to enhance communication and the bonds of trust within and among networks, which can in turn contribute to the effectiveness of community networks’ support and the access to resources.
  • Self-organisation: The ability to self-organize is a key attribute of resilient systems, and involves processes of collaboration that require trust among stakeholders and institutions. By facilitating access to information and resources through both point-to-multipoint and point-to-point exchange, ICTs can be important contributors to self-organisation and to the coordination of both preventive and reactive joint efforts in face of climatic events. They can help climate change actors to verify or double-check facts if the information source is not entirely trusted, diversifying their potential responses to the occurrence of climatic events. Additionally, ICTs can play a role towards trust by enabling the assessment of options and trade-offs involved in decision-making.
  • Appropriation and Infomediaries: The role of actors that ‘translate’ or ‘mediate’ the technical and scientific information to suit the needs of the local context, is vital for the appropriation of information. Tools such as the Internet, GIS or mobile phones can support and strengthen the role of agricultural extension workers, deepening the relationships of trust that they have established with local producers affected by climate change manifestations by offering them a broader set of options and information, for example, on crop diversification or plague management, including more immediate response to their queries.
  • Transparency and Fluency: Online platforms that provide new channels for citizens to voice their views and concerns, and that allow an interaction with decision makers, are an example of ICTs potential towards transparency and information fluency, which is an important factor in the local perception, expectations and ‘trust’ on local, regional and national institutions.

While at the onset of extreme events we are quick to recognize the importance of communication, we often fail to acknowledge the pivotal role of trust towards adaptation and resilience, as well as the potential of innovative tools such as ICTs to help fostering trust, strengthening networks and collaboration.

But as important as discussing the potential of ICTs towards trust building in adaptive processes, is discussing the risks associated with their use.

Ensuring the quality, accuracy and relevance of the information is key to avoid maladaptive practices and poor decision-making, which could potentially lead to deepen existent vulnerabilities and inequalities. Issues of power and differential access to information also need to be addressed when considering the potential of these tools towards trust building, network strengthening and participatory processes –including those related to climate change.

Ultimately, ICTs could play an important supportive role helping to build and strengthen trust within vulnerable communities affected by climate change impacts, as well as in National Adaptation Plans and Programmes of Action seeking to build long-term climate change resilience with a multi-stakeholder, participatory base.

ICTs and the Climate Change ‘Unknowns’: Tackling Uncertainty

Determining the repercussions of the changing climate is a field of great unknowns. While the impacts of climatic variations and seasonal changes on the most vulnerable populations are expected to increase and be manifest in more vulnerable ecosystems and natural habitats, the exact magnitude and impact of climate change effects remain, for the most part, open questions.

Such uncertainty is a key contributor to climate change vulnerability, particularly among developing country populations that lack the resources, including access to information and knowledge, to properly prepare for and cope with its impacts.

But, how can vulnerable contexts prepare for the ‘unknowns’ posed by climate change? And should the quest for ‘certainty’ be the focus of our attention?

The rapid diffusion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) within developing country environments, the hardest hit by climate change-related manifestations, is starting to shed new light on these issues.

A recent article by Reuters identified 10 climate change adaptation technologies that will become crucial to cope and adapt to the effects of the changing climate over the next century.

The bullet points found bellow link these 10 aspects with the potential of ICTs within the climate change field, highlighting some of the ways in which they can help vulnerable populations to better prepare for and cope with the effects of climatic uncertainty.

  • Innovations around Infectious Diseases: Extreme weather events and changing climatic patterns associated with climate change have been linked to the spread of vector-borne (i.e. malaria and dengue) and water-borne diseases. Within this context, ICTs such as mobile phones, community radio and the Internet have the potential to enable information sharing, awareness raising and capacity building on key health threats, enabling effective prevention and response.
  • Flood Safeguards: Climatic changes such as increased and erratic patterns of precipitation negatively affect the capacity of flood and drainage systems, built environment, energy and transportation, among others. ICT applications such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can facilitate the monitoring and provision of relevant environmental information to relevant stakeholders, including decision-making processes for the adaptation of human habitats.
  • Weather Forecasting Technologies: ICTs play a key role in the implementation of innovative weather forecasting technologies, including the integration of community monitoring. The use of mobile phones and SMS for reporting on locally-relevant indicators (e.g. likelihood of floods) can contribute to greater accuracy and more precise flood warnings to communities. Based on this information, authorities could design and put in action more appropriate strategies, and farmers could better prepare for evacuations, protect their livestock and better plan local irrigation systems, among others.

  • Insurance Tools: Access to new and more diversified sources of information and knowledge through tools such as the Internet or the mobile phone can facilitate the access to insurance mechanisms, and to information about national programs/assistance available to support vulnerable populations.
  • More Resilient Crops: In the face of higher temperatures, more variable crop seasons and decreasing productivity, ICTs have the potential to enhance food security by strengthening agricultural production systems through information about pest and disease control, planting dates, seed varieties, irrigation applications, and early warning systems, as well as improving market access, among others.
  • Supercomputing: According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the use of ICT-equipped sensors (telemetry), aerial photography, satellite imagery, grid technology, global positioning by satellite (GPS) (e.g. for tracking slow, long-term movement of glaciers) and computer modeling of the  earth’s atmosphere, among others, play a key role in climate change monitoring. New technologies continue to be developed, holding great potential for real-time, more accurate information key to strengthen decision-making processes.
  • Water Purification, Water Recycling and Efficient Irrigation Systems: ICTs can contribute to the improvement of water resource management techniques, monitoring of water resources, capacity building and awareness rising. Broadly diffused applications such as mobile phones can serve as tools to disseminate information on low-cost methods for desalination, using gray water and harvesting rainwater for every day uses, as well as for capacity building on new irrigation mechanisms, among others.
  • Sensors: In addition to the role that sensors play in monitoring climate change by helping to capture more accurate data, research indicates that they also constitute promising technologies for improving energy efficiency. Sensors can be used in several environmental applications, such as control of temperature, heating and lighting.

This short identification of areas of potential does not suggest that ICTs can eliminate climatic uncertainty, but it does suggest their potential to help vulnerable populations to strengthen their capacity to withstand and recover from shocks and changing climatic trends.

By contributing to building resilience and strengthening adaptive capacity, ICTs have the potential to tackle climate change uncertainty not only by providing access to information and knowledge, but also by fostering networking, personal empowerment and participation, facilitating self-organisation, access to diverse resources and learning, among others, which ultimately contribute to better preparedness and response, including the possibility of transformation in the face of the unknown.

The need to reduce uncertainty should not substitute efforts to foster creativity and flexibility, which lie at the core of resilient responses to the ongoing challenges posed by climate change.

—————————————————–

*Further examples on the linkages between ICTs, climate change and vulnerability dimensions can be found at: http://www.niccd.org/ScopingStudy.pdf