Plugging into the Climate Knowledge Grid

23-06-2015, Copenhagen, Denmark

“We are not far away from the climate talks in Paris and I’m frightened by the information overload that awaits people there. How will they cut through it all?”  

This question, posed by Geoff Barnard at the Open Session of the Climate Knowledge Brokers (CKB) Group workshop, cuts through to the raison d’etre of knowledge brokers. With so much climate information available, on a multitude of online platforms, how can end-users find what they need – when they need it? 

The CKB Group, a network of organisations and professionals focused on improving the quality and use of climate knowledge in decision-making, is trying to answer that question. Now in its fifth year, the Group has refined its thinking into the concept of a Climate Knowledge Grid. This will be a series of interconnected tools and techniques (such as the Climate Tagger) that help to show where climate information is available, so that the many users of climate information can find what they need. 

The Open Session, held at the energy-efficient UN City building in Copenhagen, was a chance to introduce the Grid and start gathering feedback – from the expert panel, the 50-plus participants in the room and the much larger audience watching via a live stream. But why, exactly, is this Climate Knowledge Grid needed?

One of the expert panellists, Jukka Ousukainen from CTCN, drew on his own experience to outline the challenges facing an important set of end-users: developing country government officers: “They need answers immediately, and about a range of different issues: new technologies, adaptation, climate strategy. But it’s so easy to get lost; if we just pour information out there, users can be flabbergasted.” 

Ari Huhtala from CDKN agreed that this is a major problem, adding that knowledge brokers need to package information and evidence in ways that captures end-users’ attention: “People want information relevant to them; if they are Kenyan decision-makers, they want to know about Kenya. How do we make information relevant to each user, and each user’s individual reality?” 

But it is not just government-level decision-makers who need to navigate their way through the ‘soup’ of climate information sources. Rob Cartridge, head of communications at Practical Action, asked a critical question about the Climate Knowledge Grid: will it reach down to other end-users, such as farmers in Bangladesh?  

Florian Bauer from REEEP explained that this is exactly why a grid approach is needed. There needs to be a network of diverse organisations to meet the different users, not one agency that tries to reach all the users. In fact, the CKB Group moved away from the idea of a one-stop shop for climate information in its early days; the varying information needs out there are too diverse for one website to meet them all. 

Indeed, websites may play less of a frontline role in the future, as the way people look for information changes. There is a new generation who are going to social media in the first instance, noted Ari Huhtala. Martin Hiller from REEEP agreed: “Many people use Twitter now [to get their information], not organisational home pages.” 

The discussion raised yet more issues for the CKB group to consider. Helena Molin Valdés from CCAC questioned the role that the media will play in knowledge brokering, while Geoff Barnard asked the panellists for their expert advice on how best to fund knowledge platforms. These issues and more will give the CKB Group plenty to chew on over the next two days of the workshop, and in the coming weeks. And as Martin Hiller noted, “action on climate change is like Formula One. You have to move fast”.  The countdown to Paris has started; Climate Knowledge Brokers, start your engines…

- Tim Woods
Tim Woods is a Project Manager at Green Ink, an international agency specialising in communicating science and development issues.