Lessons for effective communication of climate information in sub-Saharan Africa
Climate change is already taking its toll on the African continent. It has never been more crucial that robust scientific information relating to the inevitable and escalating climate shocks reach beyond the scientific community and into the realm of policy makers, development and aid organisations, and communities on the ground.
The findings of a five-year climate programme in sub-Saharan Africa give valuable lessons on how to achieve this, so that governments and development-related sectors can build effective climate responses into their policy making and development projects.
Relationship-building through in-person engagements with multiple stakeholders over a period of time is central to this, along with packaging the information into appropriate and accessible formats for different audiences. The processes used for sharing that information is also key to its uptake.
In 2015, Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) began a series of processes which brought together scientists and related experts from sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, and the United Kingdom through climate-focused research projects across four geographical regions: East Africa, West Africa, Southern Africa, and urban areas across sub-Saharan Africa.
The approach throughout was an intentional departure from older models of informing governments on the science of climate change, where researchers may arrive at information-sharing engagements with pre-determined solutions and recommendations for how countries should respond to climate impacts.
This inclusive co-production approach to creating new climate information is important for the mobilising of that information once it has been generated, FCFA researchers say.
From the start, FCFA’s cross-disciplinary and multi-national teams worked with various spheres of governments, implementing institutions, researchers, development agencies, and communities to jointly identify needs, find solutions, and generate useful climate information that they can then integrate into their planning in the context of climate change.
This involved using a series of in-person workshops and information exchanges to co-design research projects that spoke directly to the development and climate needs on the ground, as identified by those best placed to identify the gaps in information.
Now that the core research of the four-year programme will be coming to a close, a review of the effectiveness of these novel co-production processes and the various formats used to share the climate information generated, gives some important lessons for how to communicate climate information effectively in future.
The various research outputs from the project have been packaged in different ways, to help with effective communication and information uptake. These include, amongst others, creating an integrated database for policy makers, climate modelling and simulations, visual storytelling, policy briefs and other printed and online materials, and flood mapping.
One novel approach was to use a facilitated process, working with a troupe of Senegalese actors. This allowed climate researchers to share climate information to an audience of farmers and other key players in the agricultural sector in Senegal, where peanut and cereal production is expected to be hit hard by the warming and drying conditions in the Sahel.
Another important output is the Climate Risk Narratives , which uses stories to lay out some plausible, although not definite, futures for the different sub-Saharan regions. These narratives show the climate projections for the different regions, and how they intertwine with local contexts, impacts, and vulnerabilities.
FCFA research fellow Julio Araujo and colleagues recently compiled a review of FCFA’s work, published in A Critical Reflection on Learning from the FCFA Programme, which outlines some of these findings.
‘The review gives important insights into how best to communicate medium- to long-term climate information beyond the scientific community, so that the targeted users can understand and integrate this into their work in various sectors, and across scales,’ explains Araujo.
Packing the information in different and accessible ways is important, if non-scientists are able to understand and use it. However, the relationship-building and trust that developed between researchers and various stakeholders, which happened as a result of the long-term engagements throughout FCFA, are crucial for mobilising that information beyond the sphere of research and academia, says Araujo. This should be taken into consideration for climate related project design in future.
Communicating climate information to various audiences, whether it is decision-makers or other users, is complex, and needs to be packaged appropriately for the various audiences. Importantly, though, the processes of sharing that information are key to the information being taken up by different users. The study gives examples to demonstrate the importance of employing co-production processes for information sharing, and draws out lessons from the successes of the project that can inform similar programmes in future.