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:
Expected Impact on
The realisation of ICTs’ potential towards enhanced food security and resilience is linked to a series of factors that include:
- 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,
- 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),
- 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,
- 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”. http://www.fao.org/docrep/013/i1881e/i1881e00.pdf
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 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: http://www.niccd.org/ICTs_and_Climate_Change_in_Rural_Agric_Communities_Strategy_Brief.pdf
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.
As delegates from around the world are gathered in Durban, South Africa, for a new round of climate change negotiations (COP17), a growing community of researchers and practitioners working at the intersection of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), climate change and development, is strengthening its efforts to raise awareness on the potential of these tools and foster the engagement of decision makers in this field.
But positioning the role of ICTs within international climate change negotiations is a challenging task. Amidst an overwhelming range of climate change topics, pressing financial issues and a mounting list of urgent, immediate and long-term needs, the role of ICTs towards mitigation, adaptation and monitoring is often overlooked.
Despite the fact that information and knowledge are recognized as key components of mitigation and adaptation actions, discussions are still nascent on the role of widespread ICT tools (such as mobile phones, community radios, the Internet and social media, among others) within climate change strategies.
As previous international negotiations have demonstrated, environmental decision-makers remain unaware of the potential of these technologies, including the informational, productive and transformative role that they may play towards the achievement of mitigation, adaptation and monitoring goals, particularly within developing countries.
As COP17 unfolds, a newly formed Coalition on ICTs and Climate Change (1) is working actively to change this situation by raising awareness, showcasing innovative initiatives, mobilizing political will, and encouraging governments to include ICTs within their climate change policies. Thus, unlike previous events of this nature, COP17 has given more visibility to the role and potential of ICTs, and to the need for innovative strategies in the climate change field.
Two side meetings focused on ICTs, mitigation and adaptation, an ‘ICT Day’, a Digital Media Lounge showcasing experts and practitioners via tele-presence, and the launch of a ‘PoliWiki’, are among the events that members of the coalition on ICTs and climate change are implementing during COP17. While the official negotiations take place, ICT enthusiasts are blogging, tweeting, and engaging in face-to-face discussions on the role that these tools could play in response to the multiple vulnerabilities that climate change is contributing to exacerbate across the globe, particularly within developing environments (in the picture, participants interact remotely with experts at the Digital Media Lounge).
(In the picture, young delegates share their opinions at the Bloggers’ Loft during COP17). These constitute important efforts to change the perception of climate change actors and decision-makers about the role of ICTs towards climate change goals. One of the main challenges in this regard is to demonstrate that the potential of ICTs goes beyond the provision of relevant and timely climatic information (e.g. through Internet portals, platforms and databases, or early warning systems). ICTs can also play a role towards the implementation of national adaptation and mitigation strategies, towards the achievement of specific sectoral priorities, and towards the capacity of vulnerable communities to withstand, recover and potentially transform in the face of change and uncertainty (e-resilience).
A recent Strategy Brief on ICTs and Adaptation provides useful examples of the contribution of ICTs at the national, sectoral and community level, arguing that their potential must be harnessed and designed with a holistic, integrated view of climate change responses and vulnerabilities.
While the goal of positioning ICTs within climate change negotiations is a process that will require time and perseverance, the actions taken by the Coalition on ICTs and Climate Change at COP17 constitute positive steps towards a new international dialogue, renewed multi-stakeholder collaboration, and informed policy decisions that acknowledge the crucial role of these tools in the climate change field.
(1) Organizations in the coalition include the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), the UNFCCC Secretariat, the UN Global Compact, TechAmerica, as well as high-level representatives from the governments of Ghana, South Africa and Egypt.
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.
The underlying sense of ‘belonging’ and ‘connectedness’ to a social group can play a key role in the ability of vulnerable communities to cope with and recover from the impacts of climate change.
Acknowledging the linkages between cultural identity and climate change resilience is particularly relevant within vulnerable developing contexts given the richness of their traditional knowledge and cultural heritage, the need for innovative responses to the challenges posed by climate change, as well as the new opportunities provided by Information and Communities Technologies (ICTs) to access, assess and use information and knowledge.
The notion of cultural identity is linked to the way in which we relate to the customs, practices, languages and worldviews that define a group or territory. It involves the conservation of social memory, the generational transfer of indigenous knowledge, the ability of a community to self-organise around common interests and shared values, and the maintenance of social networks that are based on trust and solidarity, among others.
All of these factors are pivotal in the capacity of vulnerable communities to deal with change and uncertainty, and to build resilience in the face of climate change.
The rapid diffusion of ICTs such as mobile phones and the Internet, and the growing adoption of social networking sites (e.g. Facebook, MySpace), online communities and social media tools (e.g. Blogs, photo and video sharing, Wikis), have prompted new ways of creating, re-constructing, seeking, strengthening and challenging cultural identities.
The use of ICTs, including the exposure to and interaction with global or expanded networks, can change the way in which we see ourselves and interact with others, and thus influences cultural identities. On the one hand, the use and appropriation of ICT tools can contribute to strengthen cultural identity through the documentation and sharing of indigenous knowledge and traditions, the production of local content, the improved access to updated information for decision-making, the facilitation of self-organisation processes, and the consolidation of effective communication networks, among others. But on the other, the increased penetration of ICTs could undermine the cultural identity of marginalised rural communities by introducing new forms of exclusion, or by fostering homogenization, youth migration, or the adoption of external practices and values that weaken or even contradict traditional customs.
So, how could ICTs help to strengthen cultural identity & build resilience within vulnerable contexts affected by climate change?
Much as the impact of climatic disturbances, the linkages between cultural identity, resilience & ICTs are complex and multi-dimensional. A series of short documentary films produced by LifeMosaic provide very useful indications of the importance of cultural identity within processes of resilience building. A 22 minute video called “Resilience’’ shows how indigenous communities can strengthen their resilience to climate change by building on key components of their cultural identity (traditional knowledge, customary law and local agricultural systems).
While the role of ICTs is not explicitly addressed in the video, it offers an opportunity to reflect on five key areas in which ICTs could contribute to resilience building while strengthening cultural identities:
(a) ICTs used to Archive and Disseminate Collective Memory
Maintaining and sharing a collective memory is an important component of cultural identity. By helping to record and disseminate local practices and traditional knowledge, ICT tools can contribute to the preservation of traditions and the inter-generational transference of cultural values.
(b) ICTs used to Produce, Access & Apply Relevant Knowledge
The ability to produce and disseminate local content, as well as to access information and knowledge that responds to local priorities contribute to strengthen cultural identity and decision-making processes in the face of climate change. ICT tools can facilitate the production of local content in creative, user-friendly formats (e.g. photo-stories and audio blogs), as well as the translation of relevant scientific content into local languages, fostering the participation of communities in adaptation processes.
(c) ICTs used to Foster Diversity
Diversity is one of the main attributes of resilient systems, and also an important component of strong cultural identities. ICT tools –such as Web pages, online communities and radio programs- can be used to ‘give a voice’ to local diversity, by sharing the adaptation needs and experiences of diverse members of the community. ICTs can also facilitate the sharing of new and traditional adaptation practices between communities at the regional, national and global level, fostering dialogue, learning and tolerance between diverse groups. ICTs can also be used in support of alternative adaptation practices that are linked to traditional customs (such as the diversification, protection and exchange of seeds).
(d) ICTs used to Strengthen Social Networks & Self-organisation
The use of mobile phones, text messages, e-mail and community radio can contribute to supplement and strengthen social networks, including the interaction and preservation of cultural links with migrant or geographically dispersed community members –who play a key role in mobilizing support and helping locals to cope with the effects of climatic disturbances. Tools such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Web-based mapping applications can contribute to the monitoring of local resources, facilitating the self-organisation of community members around the protection of water sources, forests and other common interests.
(e) ICTs used to Empower Youth
New generations play a pivotal role in the continuity, re-construction and renewal of cultural identities. ICT applications such as online training can help to strengthen the capacity and the confidence of local youths to adapt to the changing circumstances posed by climate change. ICTs tools can also provide access to relevant information about rights and responsibilities in the management of natural resources, fostering youth leadership and pro-active engagement in these processes.
Emerging research and experiences suggest that ICTs can play a supportive role within processes of climate change adaptation, including the strengthening of cultural identity as an important component of resilience building. The sense of ‘belonging’ and ‘connectedness’ that ICTs enable can contribute to reduce the anxiety and uncertainty associated with climate change impacts, as well as to improve the local responses through stronger networks, flexibility and self-organisation, among others.
While the global scope and openness of ICTs can make them valuable tools for communities to resist homogenizing trends and reconfirm their cultural identity (Diamandaki, 2003), issues of limited access, lack of relevant content, training and effective appropriation are among the challenges that still need to be addressed in order the benefit from their full potential.