New ways to communicate climate change and adaptation - is it time for something “loopy”?

We know that real change takes place when we learn by doing, and as development specialists we are all very good at telling people what to do. But as researchers and practitioners engaged in a shared learning process for change we still have a very long way to go.

Liz Carlile's picture
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19 October 2012
CCAFS, together with partners, is trying to develop new ways to communicate climate change adaptation. Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT)
Recent work was done by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS)International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the University of York to stimulate a new discussion in the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and the development of their new strategy to promote social learning within the CGIAR. A new working paper offers an overview of current theory and practice on climate change communication and social learning in the global South with a view of informing CCAFS strategy in this area.

“Scaling the practice not the policy” was a remark made by Manuel Flury of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, at a workshop held at International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Addis Ababa where a number of communication and social learning experts met to work with CCAFS on developing new approaches to communicating climate change and adaptation. I was struck by this comment and it rang a bell with me not because it is strikingly profound but because it is strikingly simple and pertinent. As development specialists we are very good at telling people what to do but as researchers and practitioners engaged in a shared learning process we have a very long way to go.

We know that real change takes place when we learn by doing – who cannot remember a time in their lives when they have had a “eureka” moment doing something that has connected theory to practice?  Shared, or social learning uses the knowledge and experience of each participant in the learning process – it is a looped (or iterative) process of sharing information, knowledge and experience and then applying that to an action. This in turn informs a new way of proceeding or of organising our systems based on that new experience and reflection, and, done well, can eventually lead us to fundamentally rethink the way we tackle challenges like climate change and food security. This approach was the focus of a discussion paper by IDS, IIED and the University of York presented at the conference and now shared here in this CCAFS working paper. 

Multiple loop learning for environmental or resource management (from: Armitage et al. 2008)

Learning from the local? Drawing on good practices for CCAFS’ community engagement

Communication initiatives for climate change and adaptation are many and varied. Our research showed that most of the communication initiatives are northern based and linear in style, delivering top-down information which is intended to inform people’s decision-making. Many of these are supply–driven, focusing on sharing information that organisations are producing rather than responding to the specific needs of communities. Initiatives more closely focussed on climate change adaptation are fewer but with some good examples emerging incorporating more learning-focused methodologies and with a stronger southern focus, particularly at local levels. This presents an opportunity to learn from and build upon the success of these initiatives, which are often small-scale and combine multiple approaches of engaging with communities. These more tailored approaches are better suited to the complex and uncertain reality of climate change – as well as the wide range of ways it will impact people depending on their age, gender, livelihood activity, and more.

CCAFS has recognised that their work with partners and communities on climate change and adaptation is less effective unless they combine knowledge from their scientific body of expertise with the essential knowledge and experience of communities facing the daily realities of a changing climate. In Addis we explored the implications of “looped” social learning approaches for an entity like the CGIAR and how they could incentivise new approaches.

Learning together and behaviour change takes time, it takes empathy and familiarity and relationship building. These are not project attributes that are supported in our current culture of donor requirements, incentive structures, value for money and efficiency demands. Accountability for delivery is important but if we are to scale the practice not just the policy we need to look at how we can find the space to really learn together.

CCAFS has decided to nurture a learning environment and encourage a community of practice to develop around social learning. It will be inviting people to participate in helping to develop its strategic thinking, try out some innovative ideas, and share knowledge and experience together. An innovation fund and a “Sandbox”  will provide the resources and a forum to help keep this moving. The CCAFS team will be looking to identify new partnerships as well as continuing to support valued relationships that can help them tease out a better way of working and one that speaks to a greater degree of social differentiation – across gender, culture, generation and more  I, for one,  am looking forward to getting loopy!

Read the CCAFS Working Paper no. 22 - Climate change communication and social learning - Review and strategy development for CCAFS by Blane Harvey, Jonathan Ensor, Liz Carlile, Ben Garside, Zachary Patterson and Lars Otto Naess

This blog was originally posted on the web site of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

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