ICTs, Creativity and Resourcefulness: Can ICTs enable Adaptive e-Ingenuity?

More than 10 years ago, before the debate over climate change was at the forefront of the international agenda, Thomas Homer-Dixon referred to Ingenuity as ideas applied to solve practical social and technical problems; a concept that goes beyond the development of new technologies or drought-resistant crops, and includes more efficient markets and better social arrangements (1).

Today, amidst growing evidence of a changing climate and its impact on vulnerable populations, ingenuity could be a key factor in the adaptive capacity of developing country communities affected by climatic variability and changing trends.

For the poor, whose livelihoods are largely dependent upon natural resources, responding and adapting to the unpredictability of dry or rainy seasons and their effect on water supply and food scarcity, among others, depends not only on their (limited) access to resources, but often on their inventiveness, resourcefulness and creative skills to cope with the challenges of daily life, within contexts characterised by marginalization and development constrains.

The increasing diffusion and adoption of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can help enable ingenuity and contribute towards climate change adaptation, as emerging evidence from the field is starting to suggest.

A project led by the Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN), a NGO based in Kenya, uses iPods as tools for marginalized communities to access content relevant to their livelihoods, particularly farming and husbandry techniques. Through podcasts that tailor the most pressing needs of rural farmers affected by climatic variations, ICTs are playing a key role in the distribution of information and best practices, including markets and market prices, appropriate seeds and crops, alternatives to costly fertilizers and pesticides, among others. The information disseminated is rooted in field experience from local practitioners and traditional knowledge that emerges from the community. Some of these podcasts can be viewed online.

At the same time, Maarifa Centres (Maarifa is the Swahili word for knowledge) are used at the community level to engage local stakeholders with the use of ICTs, while linking the information accessed to the priorities of local adaptation efforts to the effects of the changing climate, particularly food scarcity and water supply due to changing patterns in rain.

The adaptive efforts of the Kyuso community in Kenya, and the role of Maarifa Centres, can be seen in a video available online (7:02 minutes).

Young members of the community are trained to act as infomediaries, supporting communities to access relevant information and document best practices that are disseminated using the Internet, video clips, blogs and Web 2.0 tools. According to a recent article published on the project’s Web site, farmers will also be using a Web-based portal and SMS to share market information including prices of commodities and bidding online.

As initiatives such as this one continue to emerge in developing countries, it seems relevant to ask:

Could the use of ICTs within local adaptive strategies lead to increased ingenuity –i.e. to the emergence of new ideas to solve practical problems caused by the effects of climate change?

Early evidence suggests that ICTs could play an important role inspiring, sharing and helping to realize adaptive ideas, fostering community-based practical solutions to the challenges that arise from climate change impacts, and potentially benefiting from emerging opportunities (2).

But although evidence from the ICT4D field suggests the potential of these tools facilitating access to information, fostering knowledge sharing and strengthening social networks and productive processes (among others), further research and analysis is required in order to assess the full extent of their role, and of the challenges associated to it, within adaptive processes in the global South.

ICT-enabled ingenuity towards adaptive actions, or what could be referred to as ‘e-ingenuity’, is a concept that may deserve further attention, as evidence on the role of ICTs within the climate change field continues to emerge.

From new ICT uses and applications, to strengthened social networks and organizations that support local adaptive efforts, ingenuity could act as an enabler of effective responses to climate change-related hazards and variability, while building on the existing social capital, knowledge and experiences of local actors.

As the work conducted by ALIN reflects, the ICT for development field is in no shortage of inspiring projects and initiatives that defy the constraints posed by deeply rooted development challenges.

The task is now for the academic and practitioner communities to articulate efforts towards the systematization and analysis of emerging experiences from the field, including the ways in which developing country communities are adapting and solving the challenges posed by climate change in their daily lives: through creativity, resourcefulness, and increasingly, through the use of ICT tools.

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(1) Homer-Dixon, T. (2000) The Ingenuity Gap, Vintage, London.

(2) Ospina, A. V. & Heeks, R. (2010) Unveiling the Links between ICTs & Climate Change in Developing Countries: A Scoping Study. Centre for Development Informatics, Institute for development Policy and Planning (IDPM), University of Manchester, http://www.niccd.org/ScopingStudy.pdf

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The Potential of ICTs in Climate Change in 2.03 Minutes

When confronted with the question “What do ICTs have to do with climate change?” many ICT advocates tend to experience a familiar situation: a puzzled look starring into their eyes, a hint of disbelief, followed by a brief moment of silence… and the frantic search for simple words to convey a message that has nothing to do with cables and wires. A message based on the potential of these tools to help people, especially low-income populations, to better cope and adapt to the impacts of the changing climate.

And it is precisely in the field of climate change adaptation where a great part of ICTs’ potential and research needs, currently lie. This topic is particularly relevant for developing regions, where prevailing poverty and resource constraints limit the ability of communities to withstand and recover from the impacts of climate hazards such as floods, droughts, cyclones and hurricanes, among others.

A 2:03 minute video supported by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) provides an excellent example of how images are worth more than a thousand words, particularly when trying to convey the developmental potential of ICTs in the climate change field.

The video portrays the impact that information access has in strengthening local livelihoods and fostering the empowerment of fisherman in rural India.

Thanks to an initiative led by the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) to use access to information as the key to holistic rural development, fisherman can access online weather forecast, wave height and location of fish in local knowledge centres.

Content provided is tailored to the information needs of the local community, and is translated into the local language. This information allows fisherman not only to reduce the risk and uncertainty of weather conditions at sea, but also to increase their efficiency by learning the exact location of fish, thus lowering their use of fuel, time and costs.

The emergence of these experiences evidence the fact that new and traditional ICTs, including mobile phones, the Internet, community radio and participatory videos, have the potential to play a critical role in communities whose livelihoods depend on natural resources, and that are the hardest hit by changing weather patters and by the increased frequency and severity of climate-related events.

Given the fact that most of the available literature in the field of ICT and climate change has focused on their potential to reduce CO2 emissions and foster a low-carbon economy, thus reflecting the priorities of developed countries, further research needs to be conducted to better understand their role, potential and challenges within adaptation processes.

Based on this new research, including the documentation and dissemination of practical experiences from the field, responding to questions about the role of ICTs in climate change from a development perspective will be a much easier task.