Partner Sought for ICTs and Climate Change Resilience Pilot Test

Manchester’s Centre for Development Informatics is looking for a partner organisation to help pilot a new tool that will assess the impact of ICT projects on the climate change resilience of low-income communities.

Resilience is increasingly understood to be an essential capacity of communities if they are to survive and thrive amid the environmental and other shocks likely to arise during the 21st century.  It provides a holistic, long-term and community-centred approach that is rising up the development agenda.

But we have so far lacked robust tools for baseline measurements of resilience, or for assessment of the impact on resilience of interventions such as ICT projects.

Developed from a combination of systems thinking and fieldwork in the global South, RABIT – the Resilience Assessment Benchmarking and Impact Tool (see sample scorecard below) – is now ready to move to full field testing.  This will likely involve some training/capacity-building plus use of the tool to assess and then guide an ICT project, towards the end of 2013/start of 2014.

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Only seedcorn funding has been provided by the University of Manchester, so we are particularly interested to hear from organisations with an ongoing commitment to resilience-building and an ability to scale results.  If successful, the pilot could form the basis for a longer-term bid for action research funding.

We are asking for expressions of interest by Friday 1st November 2013.  The expression can be brief:

  • Name and URL for organisation
  • Place of resilience within ongoing organisational agenda/strategy
  • Potential ICT project that could be used for RABIT pilot

You are of course welcome to contact us with any questions.

If you are not in a position to partner on pilot testing but are still interested in results from the project, do let us know.

A copy of this call is available at: http://www.cdi.manchester.ac.uk/research/resilience.htm

Richard Heeks & Angelica V Ospina

niccd.project@gmail.com; www.niccd.org

NICCD is the Nexus for ICTs, Climate Change and Development project, funded by Canada’s IDRC and managed by the Centre for Development Informatics at the University of Manchester.  CDI is the largest academic grouping researching ICTs and socio-economic development.  It is a joint venture between the University’s School of Environment, Education and Development, and the Manchester Business School.

ICTs and Farmers’ Decision-Making: New Tools for Climate Change Adaptation?

The way in which decisions are taken plays a key role within climate change adaptation.

Access to relevant information, the skills required to apply that information into local practices, the availability of traditional knowledge and experience, the perception of risk, the sense of social identity and the existence of social networks and institutions that can either advise, enable or constrain actions, are just some of the factors that play a role in adaptive decision-making processes.

The complexity of such processes is exacerbated within contexts characterized by increasing climatic uncertainty, more frequent and intense seasonality, limited access to information, poverty and resource constrains. And it is within these contexts that Developing country farmers are facing tough decisions that can either hinder or strengthen their ability to cope and adapt to the challenges posed by the changing climate.

Experiences from the field suggest that “environment related information ranks high in the needs of rural populations in developing countries” (Karanasios, 2011, Panchard et al., 2007), and that the increasing diffusion of technologies such as mobile phones provides a potentially powerful platform for the dissemination of relevant information.

But the availability of information is not enough to foster processes of adaptation and change.

Could Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as cell phones, the Internet and related applications help to strengthen farmers’ decision making and to adapt more effectively to the impacts of climate change?

A recent report titled “Decisions Made by Farmers that Relate to Climate Change” (Hogan et al., 2011) explores the factors that play a role in adaptive decision making, and provides a good basis to reflect on the potential of ICT tools -and innovative approaches- within farmer’s adaptive decisions.

Based on the findings of the report, the following areas of ICT potential in decision-making can be identified:

  • ICTs helping Farmers Transition from Short-term to Long-term Planning

By facilitating the production and access to climate models and projections, ICTs can contribute to the identification of future and emerging risks and opportunities associated with climate change. Local decision-making can be informed by alternative scenarios, and the diversification of livelihoods, farming practices, or skill sets required to deal with change can be considered as part of long-term planning.

  • ICTs helping to Bridge the Gap between Researchers, Advisers and Farmers

By making climate change-related information more accessible and relevant to the local actors (e.g. through Web-based materials designed in the local language and addressing local priorities, or through text messages with simple, strategic content delivered to farmers’ cell phones) ICTs can contribute to improve the information and knowledge sharing between key stakeholders.

  • ICTs helping to Strengthen the Links between Scientific and Traditional Knowledge

By providing a platform to document and share both scientific and traditional knowledge through blogs, audio-files or community videos, among others, ICTs can help to strengthen adaptive practices, learning and social identity.

  • ICTs helping to Foster Inclusion and Connectedness

By enhancing participation, monitoring and exchange between community members and broader networks, the use of ICTs can help to ‘give a voice’ to groups and individuals that could be, otherwise, excluded. The use of tools such as mobile phones and the Internet can contribute to community-based environmental monitoring, while ICT-capacity building can strengthen local-empowerment and the ability to self-organise in response to external climatic disturbances.

In sum, providing relevant information for long-term planning, building on multi-level and multi-sectorial synergies, linking both new and traditional knowledge, and facilitating more inclusive processes, are some of the areas in which ICT tools can contribute to local decision-making, helping vulnerable groups -such as farmers- to adapt more effectively to the impacts of climate change.

Further research on these emerging areas could help inform the design and implementation of public policies and innovative adaptation strategies within developing environments.

The Role of Trust in Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience: Can ICTs help?

Amidst the magnitude and uncertainty that characterizes the climate change field, trust is a topic that is often overlooked, despite being one of the cornerstones of resilience building and adaptive capacity.

Trust is an essential element of effective communication, networking and self-organisation, and thus is indispensable in efforts to withstand and recover from the effects of climate change-related manifestations, being acute shocks or slow-changing trends. It’s an equally important basis for vulnerable communities to be able to adapt, and potentially change, in face of the -largely unknown- impact of climatic occurrences.

Associated with the belief, reliability, expectations and perceptions between people and the institutions within which they operate or interact, trust often acts as an underlying cause of action or inaction, constituting an important factor in decision-making processes.

With the rapid diffusion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as mobile phones and the Internet, the unprecedented speed at which information is produced and shared is posing a new set of possibilities -and challenges- to communication management and trust building, both essential to the development of resilience and adaptation to the changing climate.

Adaptation experiences suggest that vulnerable communities are more prone to act upon information that they can ‘trust’, a complex concept that could be linked to factors such as the source of the information -and the local perception of it-, the language used to convey the message, the role and credibility of ‘infomediaries’ or local facilitators that help disseminate the information, the use of local appropriation mechanisms and community involvement, among others.

Climate change Adaptation Strategies and National Programmes of Action are increasingly called to foster trust-building processes by engaging local actors and gaining a better understanding of local needs and priorities. Thus, trust building in the climate change field involves finding new collaborative spaces where the interests of all stakeholders can be heard, and both scientific and traditional knowledge can be shared and built upon towards more effective adaptive practices, and potentially, transformation.

The widespread diffusion of ICTs -such as mobile phones, Internet access and even community radios– within Developing country environments could be opening up new opportunities to use these tools in support of trust-building processes, a necessary step towards change and transformation.

So, how can ICTs help to build trust within climate change resilience and adaptation processes?

Research at the intersection of ICTs, climate change and development suggests the following aspects in regards to the supportive role of ICT tools towards trust:

  • Multi-level Communication: ICTs can facilitate communication and trust-building between and across actors at the micro (e.g. community members), meso (e.g. NGOs) and macro levels (e.g. policy makers), fostering participation in the design of adaptation -and mitigation- strategies, as well as accountability and monitoring during their implementation.
  • Network Strengthening: The role of social networks is key within processes of adaptation to climate change and resilience building. Trust is at the core of networks functioning. The use of ICTs such as mobile phones can help to enhance communication and the bonds of trust within and among networks, which can in turn contribute to the effectiveness of community networks’ support and the access to resources.
  • Self-organisation: The ability to self-organize is a key attribute of resilient systems, and involves processes of collaboration that require trust among stakeholders and institutions. By facilitating access to information and resources through both point-to-multipoint and point-to-point exchange, ICTs can be important contributors to self-organisation and to the coordination of both preventive and reactive joint efforts in face of climatic events. They can help climate change actors to verify or double-check facts if the information source is not entirely trusted, diversifying their potential responses to the occurrence of climatic events. Additionally, ICTs can play a role towards trust by enabling the assessment of options and trade-offs involved in decision-making.
  • Appropriation and Infomediaries: The role of actors that ‘translate’ or ‘mediate’ the technical and scientific information to suit the needs of the local context, is vital for the appropriation of information. Tools such as the Internet, GIS or mobile phones can support and strengthen the role of agricultural extension workers, deepening the relationships of trust that they have established with local producers affected by climate change manifestations by offering them a broader set of options and information, for example, on crop diversification or plague management, including more immediate response to their queries.
  • Transparency and Fluency: Online platforms that provide new channels for citizens to voice their views and concerns, and that allow an interaction with decision makers, are an example of ICTs potential towards transparency and information fluency, which is an important factor in the local perception, expectations and ‘trust’ on local, regional and national institutions.

While at the onset of extreme events we are quick to recognize the importance of communication, we often fail to acknowledge the pivotal role of trust towards adaptation and resilience, as well as the potential of innovative tools such as ICTs to help fostering trust, strengthening networks and collaboration.

But as important as discussing the potential of ICTs towards trust building in adaptive processes, is discussing the risks associated with their use.

Ensuring the quality, accuracy and relevance of the information is key to avoid maladaptive practices and poor decision-making, which could potentially lead to deepen existent vulnerabilities and inequalities. Issues of power and differential access to information also need to be addressed when considering the potential of these tools towards trust building, network strengthening and participatory processes –including those related to climate change.

Ultimately, ICTs could play an important supportive role helping to build and strengthen trust within vulnerable communities affected by climate change impacts, as well as in National Adaptation Plans and Programmes of Action seeking to build long-term climate change resilience with a multi-stakeholder, participatory base.

ICTs within a Changing Climate: On their Transformative Potential

According to the latest Information Economy Report prepared by UNCTAD, over the past few years “the penetration rate of mobile phones in the world’s least developed countries (LDCs) has surged from 2 to 25 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants”, and is expected that by 2010 the total number of mobile subscriptions will reach 5 billion.

But this is hardly a story about numbers and statistics. Beyond the rapid diffusion of these tools within developing contexts, the report emphasizes the transformational potential of mobile telephony in the lives of the most vulnerable populations, who are precisely the hardest hit by the impacts of climate change, and are at the forefront of its unpredictable, yet often devastating effects.

According to the report, by enabling access to relevant information on markets and prices that are relevant to local producers, helping to reduce travel –often hazardous in rural areas- and waiting times, strengthen social networks and knowledge exchange, among other, mobile phones are being increasingly recognized as valuable tools in the fight against poverty.

But what about the role of these technologies towards climate change mitigation, monitoring and adaptation?

Evidence on these linkages is starting to emerge, suggesting that the role of ICTs towards poverty reduction and the strengthening of local livelihoods is closely connected to their potential in enabling developing country communities to better withstand, recover from, and adapt to the changing conditions posed by climate change –what can, overall, be termed ‘resilience’.

There is still much to learn about the role and potential of ICTs in the climate change field, including their effects in strengthening -or weakening- local responses and strategies to climate change-related effects. However, these technologies are integral to processes of experimentation, discovery and innovation, which are, in turn, essential components of learning and key to enable more effective mitigation measures, monitoring, and local adaptive capacities within vulnerable environments.

As the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP16) takes place in Mexico, is important to remember that the role of ICTs within the climate change field is not a story about numbers and statistics, but a story about tools with the potential of transforming lives and empowering the most vulnerable to better prepare for, withstand, recover and adapt to the changing climatic conditions.

It’s about understanding that billions of connections to mobile devices worldwide represent an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen local livelihoods, and build the resilience of the poorest to the challenges and the uncertainty posed by climate change.

It’s about the potential of ICTs to transform lives, and be themselves transformed into valuable development tools amidst a changing climate.