‘Having a Choice’ Amidst Climatic Uncertainty: Can ICTs Help?
Having a choice plays a critical role within processes of adjustment and change. It involves the assessment and judgement of different options, and the skills necessary to make a decision among alternatives that have a positive value. Thus, ‘having a choice’ has profound implications in the ability of individuals, communities and even nations to cope with and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
This notion is particularly relevant within developing contexts affected by more intense and frequent climatic events and uncertainty, and where ‘choices’ are limited by deeply rooted development challenges, resource and assets constraints.
Poverty, social and political marginalisation, geographical remoteness, high information costs, and even the loss of cultural memory and of the sense of ‘belonging’ to a given territory, are among the factors that shape people’s behavior, and that limit their ability to assess, judge and decide between different courses of action.
But the widespread diffusion and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as mobile phones, radio and Internet-based applications could be changing the way in which choices emerge and are implemented within vulnerable contexts affected by climate change.
Experiences from the field suggest that ICTs are facilitating access to new information and ways to share and create knowledge, thus broadening the resources (e.g. informational, economic and human) available within vulnerable environments, and helping to strengthen decision-making processes.
In Nepal, a mobile phone-based system is enabling farmers to communicate with agricultural traders and service providers in nearby markets, helping them to be better informed about current market prices, to compare prices, and to decide where to sell their products before undertaking long and often costly journeys.
Participatory videos are being used in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi and South Africa to enable communities to record local climatic impacts and adaptive practices. These videos have allowed marginalised communities to recuperate traditional knowledge, to actively engage in climate-related responses, to interact with different stakeholders, and to discuss and assess collectively different adaptive options relevant to their local priorities.
Other applications such as e-mail and Web 2.0 tools like Skype, Facebook or Wikis are helping to consolidate broad networks and communities of practice where adaptation lessons and options are shared and discussed among a wide variety of actors, including developing country communities that share similar climatic challenges.
Ultimately, these and other emerging experiences suggest that ICT tools can play an important role in the ability of vulnerable systems –at the individual, community or national level- to ‘have a choice’, and to strengthen their capacity to adjust and adapt to change.
While the dynamics of decision-making and choice are very complex, particularly within developing contexts affected by climate change, the potential of ICTs can be linked to three main roles:
- Enabling Choices, through a strengthened ‘informatics ecosystem’ of data, information knowledge, technology, and social processes. ICTs can enable choices by making actors aware of alternative courses of action (e.g. through information exchange in broader social networks), by supporting informed decision-making (e.g. considering the lessons learned by different communities shared through videos or social networking sites), and helping to improve local adaptation capacities.
- Exploring and Evaluating Choices, through increased access to information and knowledge resources with the help of both traditional (e.g. radio, television) and emerging technologies (e.g. mobile phones, Internet-based applications). This involves the role of ICTs facilitating access to information that is appropriate and relevant for the local audience/context, and that helps them to prioritize options and assess their implications.
- Enacting Choices, through access to a wider set of resources that contribute to strengthen local livelihoods (e.g. facilitating access to markets, commercialization opportunities, income diversification, online training, technical skills and expert’s advice to improve productivity), thus increasing the local capacity to implement change or to act upon the choices made. The role of ICTs towards enacting choices is also linked to enhanced access to adaptation resources (e.g. dissemination of available credit programs, government or donor adaptation initiatives, or opportunities for local partnerships).
Having a choice is a pivotal, yet often underrated component of climate change adaptation processes, particularly within vulnerable contexts. While the choices available within these contexts are often scarce and conditioned by a number of factors, the severity of climate change impacts is posing the need to re-think the way in which alternative courses of action can be created, fostered and implemented in order to reduce vulnerability.
The role of ICTs in the creation, management and dissemination of knowledge and information is shedding new light on their potential to influence people’s behaviour and ways of thinking, of learning, of making decisions, and of interacting with each other. Field experiences indicate that ICTs can be valuable tools to enable ‘choices’ amidst increasing climate change impacts and uncertainty, particularly for the most vulnerable populations.