Co-production and understanding climate information needs at the Sixth International Conference on Climate Services

Over the last 30+ years, climate services have been developed and improved to help foster better decision-making within a number of key sectors (such as agriculture, water and health), however the process of developing these climate services has not been easy. Climate services provide climate information to help individuals and organizations make climate smart decisions, for example a seasonal forecast developed by a national meteorological agency. In many cases, the connections between climate information actors and providers are weak or non-existent. Even in cases in which these connections do exist, climate information providers often do not fully understand the contexts in which decisions are being made.  As a result, information is provided in a format that prospective users find difficult to understand and/or incorporate into decision-making.

In an effort to interrogate “action” within climate services, the Sixth International Conference on Climate Services (ICCS6)was held in Pune, India from 10 to 14 February 2020. The conference focused on collaborating and sharing knowledge on ways to translate climate information into actionable climate services, ethics and the latest advances in climate research. Although the majority of participants regional focus was on Asia, within health, disaster risk reduction and agriculture sectors, a large number of globally diverse case studies were presented. While it could be expected that most delegates at ICCS would be focused on shorter term weather information, the majority of participants at ICCS6 found long term climate change information as most relevant to their work.

At this years conference, a number of developments in climate science were presented, including the significant improvements to our understanding of climate dynamics that have been made under the Future Climate For Africa Programme (FCFA). In this regard, it is not surprising that the majority of the participants expected the most significant gains in climate services to be from improved downscaled information about long term climate change and understanding the drivers of extreme events.

Understanding climate information needs

The disconnect between the climate information providers and actors was a key point of discussion during a session facilitated by FCFA entitled Understanding User Needs. There is a deep rooted context in which climate information is used on the ground and the more scientific climate service systems are often competing with the traditional knowledge systems. Where traditional knowledge systems are being used, there appears to be a stronger understanding of the climate information and a better connection between the “service provider” and the “user”. The discussion followed the importance of integrating traditional knowledge in climate services and effectively engaging and communicating with actors. Similar to other sessions on this topic, the key points brought up were the importance of mutual learning and building capacity on both sides. A similar sentiment was expressed at the joint FCFA-WISER session on applying co-production principles into practice in weather and climate services.

Anna Steynor introduces the 10 principles of good co-production


Co-production in climate services

The joint FCFA-WISER session covered an overview of the 10 principles of good co-production from the recently published manual for co-production in weather and climate services. A “clinic” style interactive session explored a number of interesting issues and recommendations from both veterans and newcomers to the co-production space. The importance of facilitation emerged as a key component of effective co-production, and a facilitator who understands the cultures, hierarchy, and languages is invaluable. It was agreed that co-production needs to shift away from being product oriented to focussing more on community and systemic change. In some cases, this may require changes in the measures of success as defined by the funders as there can be a priority for high volumes of outputs over actual change, although this seems to be changing slowly. The lack of focus on peer reviewed publications can sometimes disincentivise academics from being part of the process, especially those outside of the social science disciplines.

The discussion points from this session were then carried forward into a plenary talk on the final morning where FCFA presented four of the major challenges still facing North-South co-production.  These challenges were namely; power imbalances between Northern and Southern partners, a lack of flexibility in projects, the time taken to build trust amongst partners and being aware of the damage that can be caused by extractive engagements. Her talk drew strongly on the learning from the development of the WISER /FCFA co-production manual and was well received by the conference participants, generating a lot of interest in the co-production manual.

On final reflection, if the climate services community is serious about further developing climate services, then we need to ensure that the products being developed are appropriate within the “user” context and are communicated effectively. In many cases, using a co-production approach can help to improve climate services, especially from the perspective of the people using it.

This article was written by Julio Araujo (SouthSouthNorth) and Anna Steynor (CSAG).