Building Climate Change Adaptation knowledge and capacity by ‘halves’


Researcher-practitioner collaboration for climate change adaptation is both challenging and rewarding as actors from both ‘knowledge communities’ work to find a common language, shared expectations and build trust through interactions.

Four presentations in a session on “Global Examples for Researcher-Practitioner Collaboration” reported lessons from the field from both developed and developing country contexts with a surprising overlap of challenges.

Language is a key issue for collaboration explained Andrej Steiner from the Carpathian Development Institute of Slovakia saying that we need the ‘half’ people. “We need people who can speak and understand half the language of the scientists and half the language of the stakeholders,” explained Steiner.

Better understanding of language also links to developing shared expectations of what science products are useful for planning: many current climate products are found to be just too long, too detailed, and not specific enough to planners’ needs.  “The climatologists just become buried in the detail,” said Steiner.  A common problem seems that scientists are often too focussed on uncertainty.

Steiner explained how in his project the practitioners had to ask many times to get the scientific reports to be shorter, to focus more on issues relevant to them (i.e. impacts not causes) and to have some quantitative predictions.

“It is about learning to express concepts in different ways,” agreed Natalie Jean-Baptiste from UFZ, Germany reporting on a case in Tanzania, “and not expecting that there will just one grand solution but rather needing to embrace tradeoffs and multiple perspectives.”

Stephen Flood from Victoria University, New Zealand suggested one strategy to address the issues of language and expectations was to develop relationships between researchers, practitioners and stakeholders early in the project – beginning with the stakeholders identifying what was important for them which would then help shape the research agenda.  “The scientists reported that this strategy then influenced how they scoped their research question,” said Flood, “and overall they found that they ended up having very different sorts of conversations which then resulted in important cultural changes.”

Shared language is also complemented by shared data with much quantitative and qualitative information required for adaptation often spread across many civil and community groups. Partnerships between these groups can facilitate systematic data collection and analysis which helps a community to understand what has happened before and therefore better plan for the future, said Dymphna Javier, University of the Philippines.

While these sorts of interactions helped to build trust within the project team, presenters also indicated that differing agendas, institutional ‘turf wars’, and political tensions often led to conflict during the projects.

“The path to the interface is not straighforward,” said Jean-Baptist.  “There is some magic in the narrative and evidence and how they interact with the power dynamics of policies and politics. My solution is to work with those parties that are able to sustain an idea and sustain action”.

Written by Anne Leitch