ICTs and Rio+20: Bridging the ‘Design-Reality’ Gaps

One of the main challenges faced within international policy processes is that of striking a balance between traditional and novel approaches needed to address development challenges. Decision makers face the daunting task of acknowledging lessons learned (from both success and failure), while at the same time adopting innovative strategies needed to achieve sustainable growth amidst an uncertain future.

While the international landscape has witnessed significant changes since the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) that took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, one of the most important global transformations relates to information. The widespread use and rapid development of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as mobile phones, radio and the Internet, have added new challenges and opportunities to the way in which information and knowledge are created, managed, disseminated and shared, and thus, their role is gaining momentum within decision-making processes.

During the last decade, the developmental potential of ICTs has been increasingly acknowledged within international policy processes, mainly in regards to ‘traditional’ development issues such as governance and education. More recently, and thanks to the leadership of organisations such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), their role has also been acknowledged at high political levels in regards to environmental sustainability, climate change responses and ‘green growth’.

Emerging initiatives, research and advocacy at the intersection of ICTs, environmental sustainability, climate change and development are evidencing the need to acknowledge and integrate the role of these tools as part of international strategies and agreements, such as those that will be discussed at the Rio+20 Conference (20th-22nd June 2012, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil).

As a high level forum aimed at achieving ‘renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development’, and most of all, aimed at ‘gathering high-level political commitments towards new ways of addressing new and emerging challenges’ (UNCSD, 2012), Rio+20 will be an important forum to open new opportunities for innovation –including those opportunities supported and enabled by ICTs.

The explicit inclusion of ICTs in the ‘zero draft’ of “The Future We Want” outcome document of Rio+20 constitutes an important step into that direction. The draft document acknowledges the role of these technologies in accessing and sharing information, providing new mechanisms for citizen participation, people empowerment and accountability, and it also calls for greater efforts to achieve universal access to ICTs.

While the document is still in draft form, the acknowledgment of ICTs’ potential as part of Rio+20 outcomes would send a valuable high-level message to leverage and foster the adoption of more holistic and innovative approaches to sustainable growth with the help of these tools. It would serve as an important precedent towards the explicit inclusion of ICTs in future policy processes and agreements at the international and national levels, particularly in regards to the achievement of ‘green growth’ goals and climate change responses (for example, as part of the negotiations of the UN Climate Change Conference COP 18, to be held in Qatar later this year).

Experiences from the ICT for development (ICT4D) field can yield valuable lessons to be considered by policy and decision-makers involved in events such as Rio+20. A study of the failure risks for e-government projects conducted by Heeks in 2003 suggests that the underlying cause of project failure constitutes the oversize gaps between project design and on-the-ground reality. Similar ‘design-reality gaps’ can also be found between ICTs’ acknowledgement in international agreements, and the actual use of ICT tools as part of sustainable or ‘green’ practices in the field.

Thus, ensuring that ICTs’ inclusion in international agreements translates into improved sustainable development practices, including climate change mitigation, adaptation and monitoring responses, requires going well beyond political rhetoric.

Some of the key factors to be considered by decision makers involved in international agreements, in order to avoid or minimise the ‘design-reality gaps’ in regards to ICT implementation include:

  • Information Appropriateness: International agreements should to acknowledge the diversity of information needs and capacities that exists within and between developed and developing contexts. ICT-enabled information provision should be based on knowledge resources that are valued nationally and locally, and that can be appropriated and used within specific development contexts (e.g. through the provision of contents that respond to local priorities, delivered in appropriate formats and languages).
  • Stakeholder Diversity and Participation: International agreements should acknowledge the variety of stakeholders and institutions involved in national/regional policy design and implementation, as well as the ‘disconnect’ that often exists between them. Agreements should foster the adoption of ICT- based mechanisms aimed at facilitating participative decision-making and multi-stakeholder coordination towards the implementation of climate change responses and ’green’ initiatives.
  • Resource Allocation and Monitoring: International agreements should promote the implementation of bottom-up needs assessments aimed at identifying the resources needed to implement ICT initiatives in the field. This includes an assessment of the human, the technological and the physical resources required for ICT tools to be effectively accessed, appropriated and used at the local level, particularly within remote rural contexts. Agreements should include recommendations on the implementation of ICT-based resource monitoring and accountability mechanisms.
  • Ensuring ICT Policy Coherence: International agreements should recognise the importance of fostering the role of development in ICT policy, but also the role of ICT in development policy (Heeks et al, 2010). This implies opening new channels of dialogue and discussion between stakeholders from different sectors (e.g. environment, ICTs, agriculture, industry), and supporting the role of local leaders that have a clear and credible vision on the contribution that ICTs can make to sustainable development.

Avoiding or minimising the ‘design-reality gaps’ in this field requires building upon available experience (e.g. from the development, climate change and the ICT for development fields), while at the same time fostering innovation (e.g through new technological approaches to the green economy or to sustainable agricultural practices, or through ICT-enabled mitigation and adaptation responses). It implies finding a balance between current challenges and future threats, between emerging knowledge and traditional practices, between thinking ‘outside the box’ and drawing on lessons learned, and between utilising effectively available resources and identifying new ones. The ICT4D field has a rich body of knowledge and experiences that can serve as a solid basis to innovate and adopt sustainable development practices.

The outcomes of the Rio+20 conference will tell us more about how (and if) international processes are managing to bridge the ‘design-reality gaps’, and will certainly stimulate new discussions on the role that ICTs can play towards a sustainable future.

Advertisements

ICTs and Food Security: Connecting the Dots

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:

Sub-sector

Examples of

ICT POTENTIAL

Expected Impact on

FOOD SECURITY

AGRICULTURE 

  • Radio programs can be an effective tool in remote rural areas for the dissemination of knowledge and information on improved land management practices (e.g. improvement of soil fertility and structure).
  • Mobile phone text messages (SMS) can be sent to farmers in support of integrated nutrient management programmes (e.g. sending SMS reminders on when to apply fertilizers).
  • Internet-based applications (e.g. remote sensing, GIS, climate change models, data mapping) can be used in support of agricultural planning, helping farmers to allocate resources more effectively and reduce risks.
  • Participatory videos can allow communities to document their experiences using traditional and new seed varieties under changing climatic conditions, to share lessons learned and to foster appropriate crop selection (e.g. drought/floor or saline tolerant).
  • ICTs can help to raise awareness raising and create new capacities on improved land management practices, which can translate into production benefits (e.g. higher crop yields).
  • ICTs can facilitate continuous monitoring and support from experts in the implementation of agricultural practices, including precision farming.
  • ICTs can help to reduce uncertainties generated by climate change through relevant information that, if presented in appropriate formats and in adequate scales, can inform farmers’ decision-making.
  • ICTs can foster crop diversification by helping to document and share traditional knowledge and experiences with resilient seed varieties.

LIVESTOCK

  • Videoconferences with experts, held in community access centers (e.g. Telecentres) can facilitate the access to information, knowledge and technical advice without having to travel to other villages or towns. This includes video and e-mail-based consultations on improved feeding and nutrition practices, animal health control and grassland management practices under changing climatic conditions.
  • ICTs can facilitate access to expert technical advice to complement local knowledge and point livestock owners to alternative practices, contributing to animal productivity under situations of climate stress (e.g. providing advice on genetics and reproduction, grazing schedules or supplements for poor quality forages).

FISHERY

  • Internet and community radio can be used to create awareness and provide access to content on fisheries codes (e.g. code of conduct for responsible fisheries) and regulations, as well as information on aquaculture management in different climatic conditions (e.g. feeding practices, selection of stock).
  • ICTs can enable access to user-friendly (e.g. using local languages, images and sound) regulatory content (e.g. policies, rights and obligations) that can help inform decision making and management approaches, having an impact on fish productivity and sustainability.

AGROFORESTRY

  • Mobile technologies (e.g. smart phones and PDAs), Web 2.0 and social media applications (e.g. Facebook and Twitter) can be used to collect and disseminate information on the use of trees and shrubs in agricultural farming systems (e.g. sharing advantages of growing multipurpose trees, alternatives of plantation/crop combinations, the use of live fences and fodder banks in contexts affected by climatic variability).
  • ICTs can help to motivate stakeholders towards the adoption of agroforestry practices to increase farm incomes and diversify production. ICTs can also help to gather and mobilise stakeholders for local conservation actions.

The realisation of ICTs’ potential towards enhanced food security and resilience is linked to a series of factors that include:

  1. 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,
  2. 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),
  3. 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,
  4. 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

Knowledge Brokers, ICTs and Climate Change: Hybrid Approaches to Reach the Vulnerable

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

Cultural Identity, Climate Change Resilience & ICTs

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.

ICTs: Enablers of Change within a Changing Climate

While the need to adapt is undeniable given the challenges posed by climate change and variability, the way in which we understand, approach and enable adaptive change should be given careful consideration, particularly within developing contexts.

Within vulnerable livelihood systems, adjusting and changing in the face of more frequent and intense climatic events is a process that requires much more than economic resources.

Adaptation involves the identification of innovative tools and approaches that foster social learning and flexibility, as well as strengthened institutions, broader participation and networking, heightened environmental awareness, processes of self-organisation and multi-stakeholder collaboration, and political will, among others. (*in the picture, a coffee producer using his mobile phone).

Thus, the design and implementation of climate change adaptation strategies provide an opportunity for developing countries to embrace change from a novel perspective; one that builds on the resourcefulness, the ingenuity and the wealth of traditional knowledge available within these contexts.

The increasing diffusion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) within developing environments can help to enable those novel perspectives towards enhanced adaptive capacities.

The availability of information and knowledge is one of the most important conditions for the adaptation of vulnerable systems to the impacts of climate change. But not just any information and knowledge, but those that (a) respond to the local needs and priorities, (b) acknowledge and strengthen local knowledge and capacities, and (c) contribute to the empowerment of stakeholders -at the micro, meso and macro levels- to make informed decisions amidst multiple vulnerabilities and climatic stressors.

Within vulnerable contexts, the growing adoption of ICT tools such as mobile phones and the Internet, in combination with more traditional ones such as radio and printed media, could support more effective, transparent and inclusive processes of adaptive change.

What types of changes can ICTs enable, to contribute to climate change adaptation?

The following table reflects some areas in which the role of ICTs can contribute towards adaptive change:

Changes in Attitudes (perceptions and beliefs) towards Climate Change

A variety of Web 2.0 tools (e.g. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, among others) are being increasingly used to disseminate information and give visibility to local climate change experiences and issues, fostering discussions and debate among stakeholders from different sectors and regions, thus influencing attitudes and perceptions.

Changes in Knowledge about Climate Change

The use of ICTs in models and projections has contributed to improve the understanding of climate change trends, and has provided new tools for planning and preparedness. Applications using remote sensing, GIS, earth browsers such as Google Earth and Visual Earth, as well as Web-based clearing houses for disseminating information and foster broader communities of interest for environmental analysis, also contribute to an increasing body of knowledge in this field.

Changes in Public Awareness about Climate Change

USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network provides an agro-climatic monitoring system of real-time weather hazards (flooding, dryness and extreme hit) and food security for a number of developing countries, helping to increase public awareness on a variety of climate-related issues. At the same time, ICTs have helped to increase the visibility of political processes such as the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP17), which uses the Web, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Blogs to disseminate information and updates about the process and outcomes.

Changes in Skills & Capacities required in Climate Change Responses

Vietnamese villagers have been trained in the use of mobile phones to report the likelihood of localised flooding to the regional Hydro-Meteorological Center in Ho Chi Minh City. This training fostered local involvement in forecasting and early warning in vulnerable flood plains. The information that is fed back to locals via billboards and loudspeakers contributes to strengthen local preparedness. Radio broadcasts on relevant local issues –such as training on irrigation planning and crop diversification strategies- can also contribute to strengthen local skills and capacities.

Changes in Vulnerable Livelihoods’ Productivity to Cope with Climate  Impacts

Mobile phones are used in India as part of agro-advisory system called mKRISHI, allowing farmers to send queries to agricultural experts in their local languages and receive personalized advice, as well as to access information on market prices, harvesting times in relation to weather and fertilizers’ use, among others, allowing them to make informed decisions to improve their livelihood.

Changes in Partnerships & Collaboration to tackle Climate Change

The use of ICTs to capture, process and disseminate information has helped to highlight the transversal and multi-dimensional nature of climate change impacts (e.g. on ecosystems and natural habitats, scarce water resources, food security, new health threats and risks to human infrastructure and habitats, among others). The use of ICTs has facilitated the creation of partnerships and collaboration among different stakeholders through e-conferences, virtual meetings, online chats, e-mail exchange and other online mechanisms.

Changes in the Public’s Disposition to engage in Climate Change Actions

The emergence of online networks and communities of interest has played a key role in  the response to extreme events. Efforts of volunteer and technology communities such as Crisismappers and Ushahidi have allowed to connect SMS information with situational maps in times of crisis, enabling humanitarian response. High-resolution satellite imagery, Wikis, Google docs and other collaborative platforms used by growing communities of volunteers and technical experts have enabled new ways of collecting, analysing and visualizing data within vulnerable contexts (Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, 2011).

Changes in the Allocation of Adaptation Funds and Resources

The use of ICT applications, including those used as part of e-Government programs, can help to provide transparency in the identification of climate change priorities and the allocation and monitoring of funds. ICTs can facilitate information sharing through digital platforms where citizens can report incidents anonymously, trace the distribution and progress of adaptation funding, and learn about local environmental regulations and rights (SPIDER ICT4D, 2010).

While these examples of emerging experiences and research suggest a significant role of ICTs towards adaptation, the complexity of developing environments, where marginalization and inequality still prevail, pose the need to maintain a critical stand in regards to their role.

Experiences in the ICT for development field (ICT4D) have drawn important lessons about the potential and the risks involved in ICT interventions (e.g. low information quality and reliability, security issues, resource diversion, deepening of power differentials, among others), which constitute valuable inputs to future analysis of ICTs’ role within climate change adaptation processes.

Ultimately, adaptation thinking is opening an important window of opportunity for developing countries to design and implement novel approaches to change, and to overcome the challenges posed by climatic uncertainty with the help of ICT tools.

The Urban Face of Climate Change Resilience: ICT Perspectives

The complexity of urban contexts poses new challenges and opportunities to processes of resilience building. While increasing attention is being paid to the threats posed by climate change and variability to rural environments, urban marginalization poses equally important challenges that need to be examined from a ‘resilience lens’, fostering innovative responses towards urban change and transformation.

Large and growing cities in developing countries are facing increasing risks associated with water scarcity, flash floods, landslides and mudflows, which are intensified by climate change and variability. Within contexts such as urban slums, the impacts of climate stressors converge with increasing overcrowding, unregulated and unsafe housing, growing risks associated with solid and liquid waste, high levels of informality and lack of access to stable income sources, as well as social pressures due to limited access to services and deficient infrastructure, among others (Tanner et al. 2009, Romero-Lankao, 2011).These factors constrain their adaptive capacity, and heighten their exposure to climatic stresses.

Thus, the rapid processes of urbanisation taking place in the global South pose the need to rethink the way in which climate change adaptation and resilience are built within urban low-income settings, and identify new mechanisms and tools through which change and transformation can be enabled.

Tools such as Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have been diffusing rapidly among the urban poor, providing new livelihood opportunities and fostering entrepreneurship through PC/Internet related microenterprises, mobile phones and associated services and applications (UNCTAD, 2010). Studies suggest that ICTs have helped to improve the availability of information in the informal sector, to reduce transaction costs and improve job creation and access to markets, contributing to income generation (ibid). (In the picture, an informal vendor in Colombia diversifies her income by selling mobile minutes).

However, much less is known in terms of the linkages between ICTs and climate change resilience within urban contexts.

Could ICTs help to build Urban Resilience to the impacts of Climate Change and Variability?

The ability of the urban populations to withstand, recover and adapt to the impacts of climate change and variability depends on a myriad of factors. The following points illustrate some of the areas where ICT tools could help to enable urban resilience:

Urban Hazard Mapping & Community Involvement

  • Relevant local data that is collected, mapped and accessed with the support of ICT tools can inform decision-making processes and strengthen local governance. The use of ICTs such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in local hazard mapping and analysis can help to identify and illustrate evacuation routes as well as to locate housing, business and structures that are at risk of threats such as rises in water levels (Peirce et al, 2008). The availability of this information, in formats that are easily understood by all levels of stakeholders, could also motivate community members and local governments to engage in joint climate change responses.
  • ICT applications such as participatory videos, photo-diaries or the use of mobile phones for collective mapping/monitoring exercises, could be used to foster greater involvement of low-income urban dwellers in climate change and risk-reduction initiatives, involving them in decisions such as the best location for drinking water supplies in case of sudden salinization, or failures in drainage systems due to floods.
  • ICTs can be used to foster participative processes and multi-stakeholder discussions about issues that affect urban populations such as transportation and land use, as well as in the participative planning of climate-change initiatives that seek to reduce adaptive deficits.

Urban Risk Reduction & Public Awareness

  • Compelling mapping supported by ICTs can help to determine the different levels of vulnerability that exist within low-income urban settlements, allowing stakeholders to take appropriate measures towards risk reduction. New and traditional ICTs (e.g. mobile phones, community radios) can also be used as effective information and early-warning channels among populations settled in dangerous terrains.
  • Policy and research networks can be supported by social media tools to discuss and give visibility to climate-related agendas that respond to the needs and priorities of low-income urban populations.
  • ICTs can also play a role in efforts to raise public awareness on health-related problems that are intensified by climate change manifestations and variability, such as malaria and dengue, helping to disseminate measures to prevent or control the spread of the virus. ICT tools can also support public awareness and education campaigns on safe-housing construction, water storage and robust drainage systems, empowering the community to mitigate the impacts of climatic occurrences.

Urban Capacity-Building & Networking

  • Online training programs and access to broader networks of practitioners and experts to share lessons and resources could help to strengthen the institutional capacity of those involved in processes of urban planning and design.
  • ICT tools that allow spatial mapping can also strengthen the capacity of urban planners by providing more accurate representations of local realities, identify priorities, and design more inclusive development plans. Climate change models and projections supported by ICTs can help to identify the long-term implications of planning measures and land-use, contributing to the adoption of more sustainable strategies.
  • ICTs can also be used to enable communication and exchange between local governments, communities, grass-roots organisations and researchers working in urban development programmes, strengthening transparency, accountability and public support.
  • ICTs used in support of social networking can also improve the capacity of low-income urban communities to respond effectively in the case of climate-induced emergencies, as well as to access information about markets, employment opportunities and livelihood alternatives.

Amidst increasing climatic uncertainty, the challenges faced by low-income urban populations should be met through dynamic, flexible and innovative approaches that foster their capacity to engage, adapt and transform.

The use of ICT tools can contribute to such approaches by enabling new forms of accessing, mapping and sharing relevant information, strengthening individual and institutional capacities, fostering livelihood options and participatory decision-making, and helping to operationalise new partnerships and collaboration among the multiple stakeholders that play a role in adaptation and resilience building.

(*In the picture, informal housing with satellite dish)

———————————————————————

References

Peirce, N., Johnson, C., Peters, F. (2011) “Century of the City: No time to Lose”, The Rockefeller Foundation, New York.

Romero-Lankao, P. (2011) “Urban Responses to Climate Change in Latin America: Reasons, Challenges and Opportunities”, Architectural Design, May/June 2011, No 211, pp. 76-79.

Tanner, T., Mitchell, T., Polack, E., Guenther, B. (2009) “Urban Governance for Adaptation: Assessing Climate Change Resilience in Ten Asian Cities”, IDS Working Paper 315. UK.

UNCTAD, (2010). “ICTs, Entreprises and Poverty Alleviation”, Information Economy Report 2010

Water, Climate Change & ICTs: The Need for Innovative Policy Approaches

Among many vulnerabilities that are intensified by the effects of climate change, the availability and management of water resources constitute one of the most critical areas of concern. From the provision of basic services and sanitation, to irrigation and food production, ecosystems protection and hydropower generation, water resources are not only crucial for socio-economic development but also a fundamental dimension of climate change adaptation.

Water is also one of the principal means through which climate change manifests over the population and the environment (2010). Changes in precipitation patterns and seasonality, unpredictable periods of drought or floods and rising sea levels are only some of the water-related manifestations of a changing climate that is having particularly harsh impacts on marginalized and developing contexts.

The uncertain, transversal and multi-disciplinary nature of the challenges posed by climate change demands innovative responses, particularly in terms of policy strategies and decision-making processes that enable change and that foster the capacity of the most vulnerable to adapt to new conditions.

Acknowledging the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) -such as mobile phones, community
radios and the Internet- in the adoption of informed decisions and the coordination of efforts during climatic events, as well as their potential strengthening social networks, inclusiveness, and processes of learning and self-organisation, among others, could inspire new strategies and innovative policy approaches in the climate change field, especially in regards to the management of water resources.

As we advance towards a new round of climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa, as part of the 17th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 17), the linkages between water, climate change and ICTs could provide a window of opportunity for climate policy making ‘outside the box’.

But how to link Water, Climate Change, and ICTs from a Policy Perspective?

The results of a Regional Policy Dialog on Water and Climate Change conducted in 2010 by a number of institutions and organisations in Latin America and the Caribbean, suggest a number of priority areas for policy action in developing regions that can be linked to the potential of ICTs:

  • ICTs & Strengthened Water Governance 

ICT tools can be used to strengthen the capacity of the institutions that govern water use at the national and international levels, improving the management and monitoring of climate related data among different sectors, as well as the access to and dissemination of information for consensus-building (e.g. watershed boundary agreements, international conventions, local laws and regulations, roles and responsibilities of different organisations and institutions involved in water management).

  • ICTs & Articulated Water Management

ICT applications such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and mapping tools can help to link and prioritize local environmental and social needs with quantities/qualities of water resources required for different uses (e.g. irrigation, consumption, etc). At the same time, ICTs (e.g. e-mail, networking tools, distribution lists, wikis) can foster a more effective coordination of efforts between the institutions that are responsible for the management of water resources in different sectors, and those working in land resources development and planning.

  • ICTs & Inclusive Water Security Planning

ICTs such as Web 2.0 tools (e.g. blogs, wikis or social media sites) could be used in support of participatory processes in the management of water resources. Plans for drought prevention and water security could be designed, discussed and monitored collaboratively, with the support of ICTs, by community members, civil society organisations and local authorities.  Tools such as community videos, radio programs and audio blogs could be used to document local/traditional experiences in water management and adaptation, and foster the inclusion of marginalized sectors in these processes.

  • ICTS & Equitable Water Adaptation

ICT tools can support processes of mapping, documenting and disseminating information on the key risks and vulnerabilities present in both rural and urban contexts (e.g. mapping settlements in high-risk areas), facilitating the identification of linkages between the quality/quantity of water resources available, and other developmental conditions that are necessary for adaptation. At the same time, ICTs such as the Internet can help to broaden the access to information and resources on water management programs and sustainable practices through user friendly formats (e.g. videos, digital drawings, photo-stories, podcasts), as well as to awareness raising and capacity-building opportunities (e.g. e-learning).

  • ICTs & User-friendly Hydro-climate Information Systems

ICTs can play an enabling role in the generation and dissemination of locally relevant climate information that can be used by different stakeholders in decision-making processes. Tools such as the Internet, mobile phones and community radios can be used in support of awareness raising campaigns that foster climate change knowledge and preparedness/prevention, and that can be localized (translated and adapted) to respond to local priorities.

In sum, promoting a climate-resilient management of water resources requires, among others, the adoption of innovative policy approaches that enable change by acknowledging the potential of new tools, such as ICTs, to strengthen critical areas of climate change vulnerability. Creative responses supported by ICTs on key issues such as water governance, water management, water adaptation and information systems, are an emerging priority to face the challenges posed by climatic uncertainty, particularly in Developing countries.

The upcoming COP17 meeting provides a window of opportunity to think outside the climate ‘policy-box’ by considering how to take advantage of available ICT tools to foster flexibility, creativity, learning and inclusiveness as key attributes of resilient systems to climate change.

——————————————————————————–

CONAGUA, IDB, et al. (2010), “Regional Policy Dialog in Latin America and the Caribbean: Challenges and Opportunities for Water-Based Adaptation to Climate Change”. Available online: http://idbdocs.iadb.org/wsdocs/getdocument.aspx?docnum=35806970