Measuring Resilience in Marginalised Urban Communities

How can we best measure the resilience of marginalised urban communities?

These communities have to build their resilience in face of growing environmental shocks and stressors.  A first step will be measuring existing resilience strengths and weaknesses, but past approaches can take a narrow view of resilience or lack quantification.

A new paper reports pilot application of the RABIT (Resilience Benchmarking Assessment and Impact Toolkit) framework, which conceives resilience as nine attributes each with measurable markers.  The framework was used to measure resilience of Masiphumelele: a South African township of formal and informal housing regularly disrupted by flood, fire, storms and violence.

The measurement found resilience strengths in self-organisation and scale of external connections; but weaknesses in robustness and equality.  While the community is relatively good at the coping aspects of resilience such as response and recovery to shocks, it is poor at withstanding shocks and at transforming itself.

This measurement of resilience can then be used as the basis to plan future resilience interventions: feeding results back to key community stakeholders; prioritising resilience weaknesses and resilience-building actions; and then putting those actions into practice.

Rural Resilience Impact of ICTs-in-Agriculture

What impact do ICT-in-agriculture projects have on rural resilience?

To cope with short-term shocks (e.g. conflict, economic crisis) and long-term trends (e.g. climate change), rural areas in developing countries must become more resilient.  Yet we currently know very little about the impact that information and communication technologies (ICTs) can have on resilience-building.

To address this knowledge gap, we undertook a systematic literature review of 45 ICT4Ag cases from Africa and Asia.  We sought to understand both what the resilience impact of ICTs is, and why.

Measuring resilience using the RABIT (Resilience Assessment Benchmarking and Impact Toolkit) framework, current reported evidence suggests ICTs are strengthening rural resilience far more than weakening it.  But the impact is highly uneven.  Household resilience is built far more than community resilience, and there is a strong differential impact across different resilience attributes: equality in particular is reported as being undermined almost as much as enhanced.

In order to explain these outcomes, we developed a new conceptual model (as shown below) of the relationship between ICTs and resilience.  It highlights the importance of individual user motivations, complementary resources required to make ICT4Ag systems support resilience, and the role of wider systemic factors such as institutions and structural relations.

We make a series of recommendations for resilience policy and practice:

  • More equal focus on both household- and community-level resilience.
  • More attention to the resilience-weakening potential of ICTs.
  • Ensuring perceived utility of digital applications among rural users.
  • Encouraging use of more complex ICT4Ag systems.
  • Looking beyond the technology to make parallel, complementary changes in resource provision and development of rural institutions and social structures.

We also draw conclusions about the conceptualisation of resilience: the need for better incorporation of agency and power, and greater clarity on resilience system boundaries and indicators. Overall, for those seeking to strengthen rural resilience through use of ICTs, the paper – “Impact of ICTs-in-Agriculture on Rural Resilience in Developing Countries” – offers new frameworks, new evidence, new practical guidance and a research agenda.

Improving the Measurement of Resilience: Lessons from a RABIT Field Study

How can we measure resilience?

This is a perennial challenge for those working on resilience, and one we have faced in the field in implementing RABIT; the Resilience Assessment Benchmarking and Impact Toolkit.

Precursor challenges are first to define and conceptualise resilience.  With minor variations, definitions are often very similar to that used for RABIT: “the ability of a system to withstand, recover from and adapt to short-term shocks and longer-term change”.  But RABIT’s unique conceptualisation is to understand resilience as a set of foundational (robustness, self-organisation, learning) and enabling (redundancy, rapidity, scale, diversity, flexibility, equality) system attributes.  (For further details, see the journal paper, “Conceptualising the Link Between Information Systems and Resilience: A Developing Country Field Study”.)

To measure resilience, we identified three markers for each of the attributes, derived from prior literature and as shown in Table 1.

 Table 1. Resilience Attributes and Illustrative Markers

We then took this model into the field, applying it in an urban community in Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose.  We used the model to benchmark both the general resilience of the community and also its “e-resilience”; that is, the impact of digital technologies on wider resilience.

Details of findings can, again, be found in the associated journal paper, but the focus here will be what we learned about the markers we had used to measure resilience.  We found a number of problems in practice:

  • There were overlaps: for example, multi-level networks and cross-level interactions under scale, and multi-level governance under robustness might have potential differences but they appeared in practice to be very similar.
  • There were gaps: for example, the markers for rapidity were narrowly conceived around resources and as a result, did not adequately reflect the need for a fast-acting detection-assessment-response sub-system.
  • There were some misallocations: for example, trust belonged with social networks rather than with leadership; and interdependency of system functions related to robustness rather than redundancy.
  • There were over-broad combinations: where rather different characteristics were combined into a single marker; often leading to only one of them being operationalised. For example, “resource access and (intra-/inter-level) partnerships” was only operationalised as “intra-level partnerships”.

Putting all these findings from the field study together, a revised set of markers was developed (see Table 2).  To operationalise them, it will be helpful to develop deductively a set of descriptors and indicators associated with each marker and inductively a set of respondent keywords/phrases associated with each marker.

We encourage others with interests in resilience to make use of this improved basis for measurement, and will be happy to discuss this process.

Table 2. Revised Resilience Markers


RABIT: A New Toolkit for Measuring Resilience

As the 21st century proceeds, countries – particularly developing countries – will face a growing series of short-term shocks (economic crises, climate events, violent attacks, health epidemics, etc) and long-term trends (climate change, migration, economic restructuring, new technologies, etc). In abstract terms, we know the solution: countries must become more resilient.

That is because resilience is defined as the ability of vulnerable systems – countries, regions, communities, value chains, organisations – to withstand, recover from, adapt to, and potentially transform amid change and uncertainty. Resilience will therefore play a crucial role in the achievement of development outcomes. It provides a holistic and long-term approach that is rising up the development agenda.

That is the theory. The challenge arises in practice: there are few credible guides that activists and researchers can follow which explain what resilience is, how to apply resilience metrics, and how to use those metrics to shape action. The University of Manchester has therefore developed RABIT: the Resilience Assessment Benchmarking and Impact Toolkit.

To understand resilience, RABIT identifies nine attributes – or sub-properties – of resilience. Three are primary foundations of resilience: robustness, self-organisation, learning. Six are secondary enablers of resilience: redundancy, rapidity, scale, diversity, flexibility, equality. The stronger these are in a community, the more resilient it will be[1].

Each attribute has a series of key markers: indicators that we can use to assess the strength or weakness of each attribute. These can be measured in two main ways:

  • Resilience benchmarking: at the pre-hoc stage of project design, resilience can be benchmarked to establish key areas for resilience-building action during an intervention.
  • Resilience impact assessment: RABIT can be used to assess the impact on resilience of interventions during or after their implementation, to draw lessons learned, and to inform future programming/strategising.

Data can be gathered by document review, focus group, interview, or survey. It is then subject to enumeration that enables a variety of different visualisations, as illustrated in Figure 1. These identify current resilience strengths to build on, and current resilience lacunae that need to be addressed.


Based on the visualisations illustrated in Figure 1 plus further analysis, RABIT then provides the basis for prioritising future interventions which will build resilience. A sample is shown in Table 1, with interventions identified; typically following a discussion of the visualisations with key stakeholders. An indication is provided of which stakeholders – in this case, community-level (C), municipality-level (M) and national-level (N) – will be involved.

RABIT Intervention Priority Table Example.png

Table 1. Sample priority actions to improve resilience

For full details of the Implementation Handbook showing how to use the RABIT toolkit plus case studies of RABIT’s application, see:

We are happy to answer questions about application of the framework, and to provide support to those seeking to implement RABIT:

[1] Our illustration will be at the level of individual communities but RABIT is applicable to all and any of the systems described from households to nations.

Urban Resilience: Testing a New Framework on Community Informatics

There are many approaches to understanding urban resilience and an ever-growing literature seeing resilience as catalyst or metaphor, or identifying components or categories or facilitators. But there is surprisingly little work that defines and conceptualises resilience in a systematic way.

Based on a synthesis of past work, we built a new and comprehensive model of resilience: defined as “the ability to withstand and recover from short-term shocks, and to adapt to long-term trends“ and understood as neither a structure nor a function of systems, but as a property of systems.

Our model of resilience sees it consist of three foundational attributes or sub-properties: self-organisation that allows a re-arrangement of functions; robustness to withstand external stressors; and capacity for learning via feedback. Facilitating these are a set of enabling attributes: redundancy, rapidity, scale, diversity, flexibility, and equality.

Resilience Attributes Block Model

An initial application of the model analysed ways in which community informatics – the use of digital technology within urban districts – could strengthen and weaken community resilience.  Analysing attribute by attribute provided a systematic means to assess current evidence: geographic information systems that help planning of physical defences; use of social media to build local organising networks; application of online groups to support Learning and Action Alliances; etc on the plus side. But also creating external dependencies that can undermine local autonomy, and exacerbating inequalities within urban communities.

This current work provides only a general proof-of-concept, showing that this new urban resilience model is viable and applicable to urban development issues. Further work is being undertaken to roll it out in practice as part of RABIT (the Resilience Assessment Benchmarking and Impact Tookit), but we hope the model already offers an integrated and standardised approach to urban resilience.

For more details, the paper “Analysing Urban Community Informatics from a Resilience Perspective” published in the Journal of Community Informatics is available via open access at:

Partner Sought for ICTs and Climate Change Resilience Pilot Test

Manchester’s Centre for Development Informatics is looking for a partner organisation to help pilot a new tool that will assess the impact of ICT projects on the climate change resilience of low-income communities.

Resilience is increasingly understood to be an essential capacity of communities if they are to survive and thrive amid the environmental and other shocks likely to arise during the 21st century. It provides a holistic, long-term and community-centred approach that is rising up the development agenda.

But we have so far lacked robust tools for baseline measurements of resilience, or for assessment of the impact on resilience of interventions such as ICT projects.

Developed from a combination of systems thinking and fieldwork in the global South, RABIT – the Resilience Assessment Benchmarking and Impact Tool (see sample scorecard below) – is now ready to move to full field testing. This will likely involve some training/capacity-building plus use of the tool to assess and then guide an ICT project, towards the end of 2013/start of 2014.


Only seedcorn funding has been provided by the University of Manchester, so we are particularly interested to hear from organisations with an ongoing commitment to resilience-building and an ability to scale results. If successful, the pilot could form the basis for a longer-term bid for action research funding.

We are asking for expressions of interest by Friday 1st November 2013. The expression can be brief:

  • Name and URL for organisation
  • Place of resilience within ongoing organisational agenda/strategy
  • Potential ICT project that could be used for RABIT pilot

You are of course welcome to contact us with any questions.

If you are not in a position to partner on pilot testing but are still interested in results from the project, do let us know.

A copy of this call is available at:

Richard Heeks & Angelica V Ospina

NICCD is the Nexus for ICTs, Climate Change and Development project, funded by Canada’s IDRC and managed by the Centre for Development Informatics at the University of Manchester. CDI is the largest academic grouping researching ICTs and socio-economic development. It is a joint venture between the University’s School of Environment, Education and Development, and the Manchester Business School.

The Outcome of Rio+20: An ICT Perspective on ‘The Future We Want’

As enablers of an increasingly interconnected world, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) constitute valuable tools in processes of transformation and change. Deeply embedded into the socio-economic fabric of both developed and developing countries, the role of ICTs is gaining momentum as part of sustainable development, environmental and climate change strategies.

Acknowledging their ubiquitous role in our society, from the way in which we communicate, network and interact, to the way in which we learn, play, conduct business or access government services, among others, ICTs are a key part of the ‘present we have’.

But how about ‘The Future We Want’?

‘The Future We Want’ was the motto of the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development that took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 2012. While the conference addressed a broad range of issues, including the role of a green economy towards sustainable development and poverty reduction and the improvement of international coordination, the role of ICTs was recognised in a number of ways.

In the Rio+20 outcome document, the role of ICTs is explicitly mentioned in regards to five key areas of action towards the achievement of sustainable development:

a) ICTs and Multi-stakeholder Engagement

  • Article 44 of the outcome document recognises the role of ICTs facilitating the flow of information between governments and the public, enabling public engagement in sustainable development. The document calls for governments to “work toward improved access to ICT, especially broad-band network and services, and bridge the digital divide, recognizing the contribution of international cooperation in this regard”.

b) ICTs, Knowledge Exchange and Capacity Building

  • Article 65 of the outcome document acknowledges the potential of ICTs to promote knowledge exchange, technical cooperation and capacity building for sustainable development. The article emphasizes the role of these tools in fostering experiences and knowledge sharing in different areas of sustainable development in an “open and transparent manner”.

c) ICTs, Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture

  • With the aim of improving agricultural productivity and sustainability, Article 114 of the outcome document calls for government action to improve access to “information, technical knowledge and know-how, including through new ICTs that empower farmers, fishers and foresters to choose among diverse methods of achieving sustainable agricultural production”. 

d) ICTs and Energy Efficiency

  • Article 128 of the outcome document recognizes the need to improve energy efficiency and the role of energy-efficient technologies in addressing sustainable development and climate change goals, including energy efficiency measures in urban planning, buildings, and transportation, and in the production of goods and services. These constitute areas in which ICTs have proven potential to reduce emissions through ‘smart’ applications (e.g. smart motor systems, smart logistics, smart buildings and smart grids).

e) ICTs and Youth Education

  • Recognising the importance of youth education and of ensuring that education systems provide the tools to pursue sustainable development, Article 230 of the outcome document calls for a more effective use of ICTs to enhance learning outcomes.

The document also acknowledges the role of ICTs in indirect ways by stressing the need to support initiatives such as the Global Environmental Outlook process led by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the Agricultural Market Information System hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), as well as the need to develop comprehensive hazard and risk assessments and reliable geospatial information, among others.

In addition to their inclusion into the final outcome document, several key international stakeholders organized ICT side events during the Rio+20 process, aimed at raising awareness on concrete ICT applications, benefits and challenges to address sustainable development, environmental and climate change goals (*see list of ICT-related side events).

Why is this important?

The increasing diffusion of ICT applications, from interactive Web portals, text messages (SMS), community radio, mobile phone-based monitoring systems, community mapping or social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook, among others, is offering new mechanisms for empowerment, engagement and multi-stakeholder participation in the processes of change and transformation that surround us.

Emergent experiences, particularly from developing countries, suggest the potential of ICTs in face of the challenges posed by pervasive poverty, environmental degradation and climate change impacts.

However, for ICTs to be truly transformative, there needs to be a solid basis of awareness and a better understanding of their role in the achievement of sustainable development goals, particularly among policy and decision makers. This includes the potential and risks involved in the use of ICTs within specific development settings, as well as the enabling environment required for the implementation of ICT solutions in the field (e.g. regulations, standards, financial, institutional and human resources etc).

The recognition of ICTs in the Rio+20 process -as the focus of several preparatory meetings, side events and discussions, and as part of ‘The Future We Want’ outcome document- constitutes an important step to raise the awareness of policy makers on the value of including ICTs as part of sustainable development processes and strategies, and to foster multi-stakeholder dialogue and collaboration in this field.

Where do we go from here?

Further work will be required towards the development of policy instruments of governance and management (e.g. legal norms such as laws, decrees and enforcement actions, licensing, planning and funding regulations) that help create an enabling environment where ICTs can effectively contribute to the achievement of sustainable development objectives, including those related to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

At the same time, as acknowledged by the ITU in their input to Rio+20, efforts will need to be made towards the identification of concrete targets and a specific ‘roadmap’ for the utilisation of ICTs as part of sustainable development strategies, as well as to mobilise the financial and human resources required to implement ICT strategies towards ‘greener’ and more resilient societies at the international, national and local levels.

While the recognition of ICTs’ role in key areas of sustainable development (i.e. multi-stakeholder engagement, knowledge exchange and capacity building, food security and sustainable agriculture, energy efficiency and education) contributes to awareness raising and future collaboration in this field, many other areas of potential, resources and specific targets of action remain to be defined.

Rio+20 evidenced that much more needs to be done for ICTs to help bridge the gap between the ‘present we have’ and ‘the future we want’, to translate political intentions into ICT practice, and to broaden the understanding of these tools to encompass their informational, productive AND transformative potential.


*ICT Side Events and Preparatory Meetings, Rio+20:

-The United Nations Group on the Information Society (UNGIS) organised a side event during Rio+20 titled ICTs, the Foundation of Our Sustainable Future”. The event was focused on specific ICT applications and services that can assist in the transition towards a green economy, and in discussing the enabling environment needed to facilitate the uptake of ICT applications.

-The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Ministry of Communications of Brazil organized a side event titled Broadband and ICTs for Smart, Inclusive and Sustainable Societies. Participants explored the opportunities and benefits offered by broadband and ICTs in the context of sustainable development, as well as the challenges and solutions for the application of broadband-enabled innovation.

-The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) were also involved in the preparatory process of Rio+20, hosting a side event on “The Future We Want with ICT and Innovation”, held during an Intersessional meeting, march 2012) to highlight the role of information communication technologies (ICTs) in achieving a sustainable future.

ICTs and Rio+20: Bridging the ‘Design-Reality’ Gaps

One of the main challenges faced within international policy processes is that of striking a balance between traditional and novel approaches needed to address development challenges. Decision-makers face the daunting task of acknowledging lessons learned (from both success and failure), while at the same time adopting innovative strategies needed to achieve sustainable growth amidst an uncertain future.

While the international landscape has witnessed significant changes since the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) that took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, one of the most important global transformations relates to information. The widespread use and rapid development of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as mobile phones, radio and the Internet, have added new challenges and opportunities to the way in which information and knowledge are created, managed, disseminated and shared, and thus, their role is gaining momentum within decision-making processes.

During the last decade, the developmental potential of ICTs has been increasingly acknowledged within international policy processes, mainly in regards to ‘traditional’ development issues such as governance and education. More recently, and thanks to the leadership of organisations such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), their role has also been acknowledged at high political levels in regards to environmental sustainability, climate change responses and ‘green growth’.

Emerging initiatives, research and advocacy at the intersection of ICTs, environmental sustainability, climate change and development are evidencing the need to acknowledge and integrate the role of these tools as part of international strategies and agreements, such as those that will be discussed at the Rio+20 Conference (20th-22nd June 2012, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil).

As a high level forum aimed at achieving ‘renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development’, and most of all, aimed at ‘gathering high-level political commitments towards new ways of addressing new and emerging challenges’ (UNCSD, 2012), Rio+20 will be an important forum to open new opportunities for innovation –including those opportunities supported and enabled by ICTs.

The explicit inclusion of ICTs in the ‘zero draft’ of “The Future We Want” outcome document of Rio+20 constitutes an important step into that direction. The draft document acknowledges the role of these technologies in accessing and sharing information, providing new mechanisms for citizen participation, people empowerment and accountability, and it also calls for greater efforts to achieve universal access to ICTs.

While the document is still in draft form, the acknowledgment of ICTs’ potential as part of Rio+20 outcomes would send a valuable high-level message to leverage and foster the adoption of more holistic and innovative approaches to sustainable growth with the help of these tools. It would serve as an important precedent towards the explicit inclusion of ICTs in future policy processes and agreements at the international and national levels, particularly in regards to the achievement of ‘green growth’ goals and climate change responses (for example, as part of the negotiations of the UN Climate Change Conference COP 18, to be held in Qatar later this year).

Experiences from the ICT for development (ICT4D) field can yield valuable lessons to be considered by policy and decision-makers involved in events such as Rio+20. A study of the failure risks for e-government projects conducted by Heeks in 2003 suggests that the underlying cause of project failure constitutes the oversize gaps between project design and on-the-ground reality. Similar ‘design-reality gaps’ can also be found between ICTs’ acknowledgement in international agreements, and the actual use of ICT tools as part of sustainable or ‘green’ practices in the field.

Thus, ensuring that ICTs’ inclusion in international agreements translates into improved sustainable development practices, including climate change mitigation, adaptation and monitoring responses, requires going well beyond political rhetoric.

Some of the key factors to be considered by decision makers involved in international agreements, in order to avoid or minimise the ‘design-reality gaps’ in regards to ICT implementation include:

  • Information Appropriateness: International agreements should to acknowledge the diversity of information needs and capacities that exists within and between developed and developing contexts. ICT-enabled information provision should be based on knowledge resources that are valued nationally and locally, and that can be appropriated and used within specific development contexts (e.g. through the provision of contents that respond to local priorities, delivered in appropriate formats and languages).
  • Stakeholder Diversity and Participation: International agreements should acknowledge the variety of stakeholders and institutions involved in national/regional policy design and implementation, as well as the ‘disconnect’ that often exists between them. Agreements should foster the adoption of ICT- based mechanisms aimed at facilitating participative decision-making and multi-stakeholder coordination towards the implementation of climate change responses and ’green’ initiatives.
  • Resource Allocation and Monitoring: International agreements should promote the implementation of bottom-up needs assessments aimed at identifying the resources needed to implement ICT initiatives in the field. This includes an assessment of the human, the technological and the physical resources required for ICT tools to be effectively accessed, appropriated and used at the local level, particularly within remote rural contexts. Agreements should include recommendations on the implementation of ICT-based resource monitoring and accountability mechanisms.
  • Ensuring ICT Policy Coherence: International agreements should recognise the importance of fostering the role of development in ICT policy, but also the role of ICT in development policy (Heeks et al, 2010). This implies opening new channels of dialogue and discussion between stakeholders from different sectors (e.g. environment, ICTs, agriculture, industry), and supporting the role of local leaders that have a clear and credible vision on the contribution that ICTs can make to sustainable development.

Avoiding or minimising the ‘design-reality gaps’ in this field requires building upon available experience (e.g. from the development, climate change and the ICT for development fields), while at the same time fostering innovation (e.g through new technological approaches to the green economy or to sustainable agricultural practices, or through ICT-enabled mitigation and adaptation responses). It implies finding a balance between current challenges and future threats, between emerging knowledge and traditional practices, between thinking ‘outside the box’ and drawing on lessons learned, and between utilising effectively available resources and identifying new ones. The ICT4D field has a rich body of knowledge and experiences that can serve as a solid basis to innovate and adopt sustainable development practices.

The outcomes of the Rio+20 conference will tell us more about how (and if) international processes are managing to bridge the ‘design-reality gaps’, and will certainly stimulate new discussions on the role that ICTs can play towards a sustainable future.

ICTs and Food Security: Connecting the Dots

Climate change impacts are posing the need to redefine the way in which we understand and approach development challenges. Ensuring food security amidst a changing climate is at the top of developing countries agendas. But most importantly and palpably, is a matter of survival for the millions of farmers, fishers, herders and foresters whose livelihoods are highly vulnerable to the occurrence of extreme events, changing temperatures and unpredictable seasonality, among other stressors.

Within resource-dependant contexts affected by more frequent and intense climatic manifestations, redefining the approach to food security involves embracing the notions of change and transformation. This includes the adoption of ‘climate-smart’ practices (1), the use of emerging tools and technologies, and in some cases, the return to ancestral or indigenous customs to better prepare for, withstand and recover from climatic impacts.

Above all, it involves identifying new ways of solving problems, of making decisions, of accessing and processing information, and of applying knowledge to agricultural practices in order to achieve more resilient production systems.

Emerging experiences from the field suggest that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are playing an increasing role as enablers of change and transformation within vulnerable contexts. Mobile phones, radio, Internet-based applications and social media are being integrated as part of strategies to adapt to, mitigate, and monitor climate change, especially within agricultural communities.

 How can we ‘connect the dots’ between ICTs, food security and resilience?

These connections are illustrated through examples in the following table:


Examples of


Expected Impact on



  • Radio programs can be an effective tool in remote rural areas for the dissemination of knowledge and information on improved land management practices (e.g. improvement of soil fertility and structure).
  • Mobile phone text messages (SMS) can be sent to farmers in support of integrated nutrient management programmes (e.g. sending SMS reminders on when to apply fertilizers).
  • Internet-based applications (e.g. remote sensing, GIS, climate change models, data mapping) can be used in support of agricultural planning, helping farmers to allocate resources more effectively and reduce risks.
  • Participatory videos can allow communities to document their experiences using traditional and new seed varieties under changing climatic conditions, to share lessons learned and to foster appropriate crop selection (e.g. drought/floor or saline tolerant).
  • ICTs can help to raise awareness raising and create new capacities on improved land management practices, which can translate into production benefits (e.g. higher crop yields).
  • ICTs can facilitate continuous monitoring and support from experts in the implementation of agricultural practices, including precision farming.
  • ICTs can help to reduce uncertainties generated by climate change through relevant information that, if presented in appropriate formats and in adequate scales, can inform farmers’ decision-making.
  • ICTs can foster crop diversification by helping to document and share traditional knowledge and experiences with resilient seed varieties.


  • Videoconferences with experts, held in community access centers (e.g. Telecentres) can facilitate the access to information, knowledge and technical advice without having to travel to other villages or towns. This includes video and e-mail-based consultations on improved feeding and nutrition practices, animal health control and grassland management practices under changing climatic conditions.
  • ICTs can facilitate access to expert technical advice to complement local knowledge and point livestock owners to alternative practices, contributing to animal productivity under situations of climate stress (e.g. providing advice on genetics and reproduction, grazing schedules or supplements for poor quality forages).


  • Internet and community radio can be used to create awareness and provide access to content on fisheries codes (e.g. code of conduct for responsible fisheries) and regulations, as well as information on aquaculture management in different climatic conditions (e.g. feeding practices, selection of stock).
  • ICTs can enable access to user-friendly (e.g. using local languages, images and sound) regulatory content (e.g. policies, rights and obligations) that can help inform decision making and management approaches, having an impact on fish productivity and sustainability.


  • Mobile technologies (e.g. smart phones and PDAs), Web 2.0 and social media applications (e.g. Facebook and Twitter) can be used to collect and disseminate information on the use of trees and shrubs in agricultural farming systems (e.g. sharing advantages of growing multipurpose trees, alternatives of plantation/crop combinations, the use of live fences and fodder banks in contexts affected by climatic variability).
  • ICTs can help to motivate stakeholders towards the adoption of agroforestry practices to increase farm incomes and diversify production. ICTs can also help to gather and mobilise stakeholders for local conservation actions.

The realisation of ICTs’ potential towards enhanced food security and resilience is linked to a series of factors that include:

  1. acknowledging the role of ‘knowledge infomediaries’ or facilitators (e.g. extension workers, local trained professionals and youth) who can bridge the divide between scientific knowledge and technical climate change data, and their practical application in the field,
  2. building capacity of local stakeholders to benefit from the full potential of ICT tools (e.g. identifying and interpreting relevant information, establishing contact with broader agricultural networks and experts, exchanging technical information with local and external peers),
  3. raising awareness among policy makers on the importance of integrating ICT tools into climate change strategies, as well as into broader poverty reduction programmes that tackle the multiple stressors that threaten food and nutrition security at the local level,
  4. tackling issues of access and connectivity in remote rural areas, in order to ensure that developing country farmers, fishers, herders and foresters have access to a diverse range of ICTs services.

There is an important body of traditional knowledge and emerging adaptation and mitigation experiences that developing country communities can share and disseminate with the help of ICT tools. But making information available is not enough.

The main challenge for ICTs in regards to food security goes beyond the provision of information. It lays in ensuring that the knowledge and information that are made available actually reach the appropriate stakeholders, that they are appropriated by local audiences, and most importantly, that agricultural producers are able to apply it or act upon it in order to strengthen their livelihoods.

Ultimately, ICT-enabled information and knowledge should contribute to inform the decision-making processes of local actors, to strengthen their capacity to deal with uncertainty, and to build new bridges of collaboration and exchange towards more resilient, food-secure agricultural systems.



(1) FAO (2011) defines climate-smart agriculture as “agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes GHGs (mitigation), and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals”.

ICTs, Institutional Functions and Climate Change Adaptation

Institutions play a crucial role in the ability of vulnerable systems to cope with and adjust to change and uncertainty. They can either enable or constrain access to resources, markets, regulations, information, finance, and technologies, among others, which are key to overcome the challenges and benefit from the potential opportunities posed by climate change.

Thus, institutions are key determinants of the way in which adaptation processes take place.

Within vulnerable communities, the role of institutions such as local government agencies, farming associations and cooperatives, research organisations, schools and NGOs, contributes to shape adaptive capacities and actions. But in addition to the increasing impacts of climate change, developing country institutions are facing a rapidly changing communication landscape, where the widespread diffusion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as mobile phones, Internet, radio and social media, is redefining the way in which information and knowledge are created, managed, disseminated and exchanged.

How can ICTs help to strengthen the role of institutions within climate change adaptation processes?

The National Adaptive Capacity Framework (NAC) developed by the World Resources Institute (WRI) provides a useful basis to explore this question. The framework identifies a set of key institutional functions (i.e. assessment, prioritisation, coordination, information management, and climate risk reduction) that countries will need to perform in order to adapt effectively to the impacts of climate change. While other frameworks focus mainly on the availability of assets as indicators of adaptive capacity, NAC’s main contribution resides in identifying concrete institutional functions to be undertaken and assessed throughout the adaptation process.

The set of functions proposed by the NAC can be used to identify ICT’s potential to strengthen the role of institutions towards the achievement of adaptation goals, as illustrated in Table 1.

Institutional Functions Towards Climate Change Adaptation



Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) Potential

1. Assessments to Inform Decision-Making

ICTs can support institutions in the process of assessing available information (e.g. regarding vulnerability, climatic impacts, adaptive practices) in order to inform decision-making processes. Tools such as Internet-based platforms, mobile phones, radio and e-mail can enable open consultation processes to assess vulnerabilities, identify priorities and adaptation practices, and systematise information gathered at the local level. ICT-enabled models and projections can help institutions to identify and assess current and future climatic risks.

2. Prioritisation of Adaptation Actions

ICTs such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), remote sensing and aerial photography can help institutions to identify key issues, areas, sectors or populations that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, in order to prioritise adaptation actions. The use of the Internet, Web 2.0 and social media tools (e.g. blogs, Facebook, Twitter) can support institutional efforts to engage a wide set of stakeholders in the identification of climate change related priorities, and to make the process more transparent.

3. Coordination of Efforts at Multiple Levels

ICTs can play a key role in the articulation of adaptation efforts among institutions at various levels. The use of e-mail, mobile phones, online forums, discussion lists, wikis, and videoconferences, among others, can facilitate information and knowledge sharing, fostering horizontal coordination (e.g. among government agencies), vertical coordination (e.g. among Ministries and local institutions) and inter-sectoral coordination (e.g. among markets and local associations).

4. Information Management

ICT tools can support institutions in the process of gathering, systematizing, analysing and disseminating climate change information. The Internet and online training programs can contribute to build institutional capacities and to access relevant information in the adaptation field, strengthening institutional decision-making processes. Widely spread mobile telephony can help institutions to collect and monitor data on local resources (e.g. water levels, deforestation, pests and crop quality problems), while tools such as radio and participative videos can contribute to the delivery of non-technical information in user-friendly formats and local languages. Web 2.0 tools, including blogs and social media sites, provide new channels for the creation and dissemination of information and experiences among a broader set of users.

5. Climate Risk Reduction

ICTs such as remote sensing and GPS can support institutions in the identification of risks and development priorities within vulnerable areas (including at-risk infrastructure and natural resources). ICT-enabled climate change models and projections can help institutions to identify current and future risks, and engage a wide range of stakeholders in the participatory assessment of adaptation options (e.g. through online consultation processes, online surveys, synchronic and asynchronous interactions). Institutions can also use Internet based applications and participatory videos to document and draw upon traditional knowledge, integrating indigenous practices in the design of climate risk reduction strategies.

Table 1. Linkages between ICTs and Institutional Functions Towards Climate Change Adaptation.*Adapted from WRI (2009), ‘The National Adaptive Capacity Framework’, World Resources Institute, Washington DC.

The role of institutions is one of the most critical components of adaptation processes, particularly within developing contexts. As this (non-exhaustive) table of examples suggests, ICTs have the potential to strengthen the role of institutions towards climate change adaptation through interventions focused on institutional assessments, prioritisation of actions, coordination of efforts, information management and risk reduction.  The realisation of these institutional functions -or their absence- (e.g. the lack of vulnerability assessments or the lack of institutional coordination) can either enable or constraint the implementation of adaptation actions at the national, the sectoral or the community level.

As experiences at the intersection of the climate change, ICTs and development fields continue to emerge, further research will be required on the use of these tools to strengthen the capacity of institutions in the adaptation field, particularly within vulnerable contexts.