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.

One thought on “ICTs, Institutional Functions and Climate Change Adaptation

  1. Angelica,

    Thanks for this informative piece. I would like to add that in Uganda and many developing countries, the role of development partners / donors is very significant (reflecting the principles under the UNFCCC like Common but differentiated responsibilities). In this way, there is increased duplication, competition and wastage. Yesterday I was attending a workshop in Kampala on mainstreaming climate change in local authorities, and I learnt how different donors (bilateral and INGOs) have ended up rewinding the wheel on baseline studies, mapping actors etc. I would therefore wish to point out that coordination of development partners / donors is essential for tangible results in adaption to climate change. There will of course be questions of whom they are answerable to, why they choose to work in this way

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