Knowledge Brokers, ICTs and Climate Change: Hybrid Approaches to Reach the Vulnerable

One of the most pressing challenges posed by climate change is that of  ‘reaching out’ to those that are most vulnerable to its effects.  There are many misconceptions about what ‘reaching out’ implies, as in practice it requires much more than making climate change information and knowledge publicly available through Internet-based tools such as Web portals and online databases.

While the proliferation of these tools suggests an increasing awareness of the need to narrow the information and knowledge gaps that exist in the field, it also evidences two important aspects that need to be considered in the planning and implementation of climate change initiatives:

First, the need for a more holistic understanding of the information cycle, including the creation, acquisition, assimilation, management, dissemination and ultimately the USE of climate change information, particularly within vulnerable contexts. Beyond the provision of climate change information, its necessary to consider if/how  the information is being integrated -or not- into decision-making processes at the local, regional or national levels.

Second, the need to identify, adapt and adopt innovative approaches for the effective delivery and the local appropriation of climate change messages, and most importantly, for the translation of information and knowledge -both new and traditional- into climate change practice.

Within vulnerable communities, one of the most effective mechanisms to disseminate climate-related information among broader audiences is based on the role of knowledge brokers or human infomediaries (e.g. local agents such as agricultural extension officers, trained youth, or local leaders, among others).

Their brokerage or knowledge intermediation role involves bringing people together, identifying local needs and transferring information and knowledge more effectively. It is an active process that involves exchanges between people. Thus, knowledge brokers play a crucial role in the development of climate change strategies, in the adoption of adaptation and mitigation practices, and in fostering processes of local change and innovation.

The increasing availability of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) (such as mobile phones, community radios and Internet based tools) is posing new opportunities to strengthen the role of knowledge brokers in the climate change field, while enabling ‘hybrid’ approaches to the creation, delivery, appropriation and use of information and knowledge within vulnerable communities that are at the forefront of climate change impacts.

ICTs can support the role of climate change knowledge brokers in many ways, including:

  • By helping knowledge brokers to raise awareness on both generic and context-specific climate change issues (e.g. through radio programmes, Internet portals, community videos that illustrate local climatic impacts, or helping to access and analyse experiences from other communities that are available in the Internet).
  • By helping knowledge brokers to engage diverse stakeholders in the design of climate change strategies and local adaptation actions (e.g. using mobile phones, SMS, social media, or community radio messages to disseminate local initiatives, announce and invite remote communities to participate in training sessions or meetings).
  • By supporting knowledge brokers in the identification of local priorities, climate change vulnerabilities and viable responses (e.g. using remote sensing and GIS technologies to map local risks and analyse future climate change projections in order to undertake appropriate adaptation measures).
  • By widening the set of informational and human resources that knowledge brokers can access in order to research or verify information, and solve queries from local actors (e.g. using telecentres to contact researchers, experts, or other knowledge brokers that can help to solve questions or share best practices in regards to the effects of climate change on local livelihoods, or using Internet or mobile-based tools to solve questions related to the impacts of climate change on local crops, fertilization practices or water management).
  • By helping knowledge brokers to share and discuss lessons learned (e.g. complementing field visits and practical demonstrations with online training modules, radio talks and participatory videos, in order to illustrate and reinforce the points made through user-friendly image and sound based resources- particularly relevant among populations with low-literacy rates).
  • By complementing the efforts of knowledge brokers towards local empowerment and capacity building through training in the use of ICT tools (e.g. Internet and e-mail use to access relevant information, or to participate in online training programmes).

Experiences from the climate change field suggest that hybrid approaches that combine traditional knowledge brokering and the use of ICT tools can help to reach more effectively communities that are at the forefront of climate change impacts.

The effectiveness of such ‘hybrid’ approaches requires the consideration of several key factors:

  • Providing content that is locally appropriate and relevant (e.g. based on local needs and vulnerabilities), presented in user-friendly formats and non-technical language.
  • Fostering the creation and sharing of information that is not limited to climate change projections and forecasts, but that includes mechanisms to take action or guidance on how to use the information provided (e.g. availability of credit programs, local stakeholders groups, associations and other support mechanisms for climate change actions).
  • Going beyond the provision of access to new resources (e.g. through online portals or databases), to building local capacities to interpret, analyse and use those resources within local climate change strategies.
  • Promoting inclusiveness in the delivery of climate change information, by considering ways in which both new and traditional knowledge can be accessed and used by the most marginalised, and often excluded members of the community (e.g. women, elders, children).
  • Building trust and credibility on a continuous basis, including the local analysis and discussion of climate change information –i.e. of its local repercussions, challenges and opportunities- among a varied set of stakeholders.
  • Ensuring the presence of two-way information flows, considering that ‘reaching out’ is about providing new information and knowledge as much as it is about receiving and learning from locally-based, traditional information sources.

Local knowledge brokers are key enablers of transformation and change within vulnerable contexts. They help to ensure a ‘last mile’ approach in the delivery of climate change information and knowledge, and contribute to develop local capacities to use and adapt new and traditional resources. Their role is particularly relevant within developing country communities given the complexity of climatic impacts, the importance of trust, personal interaction and oral traditions, the diversity of climate change audiences, as well as the prevalence of multiple constraints to access and analyse climate related information.

While the rapid diffusion of ICT tools is enabling new approaches to the delivery, appropriation and use of climate change information and knowledge, the role of human infomediaries or knowledge brokers is irreplaceable, and it should be considered as a key component of holistic approaches in the climate change field.


More information about ICTs and the role of knowledge infomediaries is available at: