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Moving from climate knowledge to climate action


Society has entered a critical stage in its response to the climate crisis. Climate change is causing widespread losses and damages, with the most vulnerable people and places worst affected. Adaptation is key to avoid escalating impacts. Despite the scale and urgency of the climate crisis, however, the gap is widening between the adaptation measures needed and what is actually happening on the ground. This reality is underscored by the UN’s 2022 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  

Much knowledge already exists to help tackle the climate crisis, but social and political factors are hindering efforts to effectively act on that knowledge. Closing the gap between knowing and doing is essential to drive inclusive, evidence-based adaptation. Climate knowledge brokers can help.  

What is a climate knowledge broker? 

These intermediaries connect the producers and users of knowledge to facilitate the use of knowledge and accelerate climate action. Their role is becoming increasingly important. 

Effective knowledge brokers do not treat knowledge as an object to be passed from one person to another. Rather, they understand that knowledge is always mediated by world views, values, power and culture. Therefore, effective knowledge brokers cultivate relationships, trust and connection. They create inclusive spaces. They understand the politics and power of knowledge, history and marginalization, and they work toward system-wide change so that climate action happens in an inclusive and sustainable way. 

Learning how to broker climate knowledge for inclusive action 

The Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) is a global and entirely Southern-led network of climate knowledge brokers dedicated to mobilizing knowledge, capacity and Southern leadership to improve the well-being of people most affected by climate change. Since 2018, IDRC has supported CDKN through a partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, and as part of IDRC’s commitment to knowledge sharing and climate action. Part of this effort has included support for learning about effective approaches to climate knowledge brokering. 

CDKN and IDRC co-authors have recently shared their reflections on this topic in a peer-reviewed paper and a brief.  

Key insights include the need to recognize that there are many different sources of knowledge, that change requires more than sharing knowledge in reports and briefs and that outcomes from knowledge brokering are difficult to predict. 

Many sources of knowledge in addition to science  

Knowledge coming from local practice, experience, Indigenous cultures or scientific research can factor into adaptation decision-making and action. The work of the knowledge broker is to create inclusive, safe spaces where all stakeholders can recognize and learn from the holders of many different types of knowledge.  

The South Asia Institute of Advanced Studies demonstrated the value of mobilizing different types of knowledge to address water scarcity in Dhulikhel, a small hill town about 30 km from Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. In this context, limited localized scientific data, such as historical data on rainfall, temperature and land-use patterns, was used as a reason to delay decision-making on addressing environmental issues. The institute gathered evidence from multiple knowledge systems through interviews, observation and the review of archival records — and opened the door to revive and pilot local, workable solutions to urban water challenges as a crucial complement to large-scale physical infrastructure measures.  

Through a series of participatory dialogues called Pani Chautari (loosely translated as “water forum”), these efforts helped create a more robust decision-making process for the local community to govern water. The process also helped address water-related conflicts in the region.  

A group of people meeting outside with mountains in the background
Review and reflection meeting in Dhulikhel, Nepal, as part of Pani Chautari

“The Pani Chautari process has provided a space for co-learning and sharing, thereby enhancing the knowledge and capacity of the local community to value and take charge of their water resources. Convening multiple sources of knowledge, coupled with well-constructed and moderated dialogues, has broadened stakeholders’ view of issues and possible solutions,” CDKN explained in a 2022 case study

Knowledge alone isn’t enough 

There is often an assumption that knowledge brokers only need to work with knowledge. In reality, knowledge is just one component of any decision-making process. To facilitate action and change, the knowledge broker must understand governance and institutional contexts that are riddled with societal rules, fragmentation, politics and power asymmetries, as well as people’s values, aspirations for the future and world views.  

For example, CDKN’s efforts helped to develop a common understanding of the main hazards affecting Namibia’s Omusati region and identify opportunities to increase resilience and wellbeing, among other achievements. CDKN colleagues from the University of Namibia used multiple strategies, tools and approaches to contribute to the integration of climate and gender issues in policy and practice across sectors from the national to the local level. They showed that reports and other knowledge products are just one ingredient for evidence to inform decisions and practices, and that creating strong relationships with diverse governmental and non-governmental partners was crucial to their success.  

Reflecting on the success and impact of the project in a case study, Martha Naanda, from the United Nations Development Programme, explained that the project, “didn’t do something new, nor was it the only one producing research. It’s how the information was packaged, in terms of language and style, [and] the way it was integrated and presented [that made the difference].”  

Embrace uncertainty about outcomes  

Facilitating social change requires time, and the precise amount of time cannot be predicted at the start of a project. Even the outcomes themselves cannot be fully predicted at that point. As actors begin to claim their agency and take action during a knowledge-brokering process, all participants, including donors and knowledge brokers, need to accept that they will lose control of the outcome. However, the outcome is likely to be more sustainable and inclusive. 

Growing the field of climate knowledge brokering 

A key lesson learned through these experiences is that there is a need to grow the number of organizations and individuals with the skills and capabilities to be knowledge brokers, especially in the Global South.  

“The next step had to be to strengthen capacities of more and more people to engage in climate action, and this effort is what we are busy with now," said Lucia Scodanibbio, who leads CDKN's learning work.  

In 2022, the Canada-Netherlands partnership to support CDKN was scaled up and investments in climate knowledge brokering increased significantly through the Step Change initiative. Seven projects, in addition to CDKN, will use knowledge brokering methods on the African continent to accelerate locally led adaptation. These investments will also grow the number of individuals and organizations with the skills to be effective climate knowledge brokers. 

CDKN’s knowledge-brokering expertise is also being deployed to support and drive impact in several other IDRC-supported initiatives.  

For example, in the Gender Equality in a Low Carbon World initiative, grantees are being supported by CDKN to take an intersectional approach to gender equality and social inclusion, develop impact pathways, synthesize and communicate their research for a range of targeted audiences, and share their work at global fora such as the UN Climate Change Conferences.  

Similarly, in the Climate Adaptation and Resilience (CLARE) initiative, which is co-funded with the United Kingdom's Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, research teams have been encouraged to include knowledge-brokering organizations within their partnerships. CLARE has also set up a central hub to support research teams in their efforts to conduct research for impact, which will include coaching on effective approaches to climate knowledge brokering. The hub will also offer opportunities to leverage additional knowledge-brokering support that will help bring together research teams and their findings with emerging demands from knowledge users. 

As the need for urgent climate action ramps up in the years to come, IDRC and its donor partners will meet the challenge by continuing to invest in knowledge sharing that drives evidence-based climate action.  

Contributor: Georgina Cundill-Kemp, senior program specialist, IDRC