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.