Social learning to bridge climate change-development, research-practitioner worlds

Monday, May 28, 2012

Social learning that leads to changes in practice and behaviour may be one of the, if not the, most critical adaptive strategy for determining appropriate actions under dynamic and uncertain climate change. This was one of the conclusions of a workshop I recently attended in Addis Ababa. The workshop was held by the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) Program - a new Program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) (CGIAR is an enormously influential institution in the development world). The CCAFS Program has partnered with the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP) to overcome climate-related threats to agriculture and food security and to explore new ways of helping vulnerable rural communities adjust to global changes in climate. Workshop participants ranged from international policy influencers to non-governmental organizations working with farmers associations and households. All participants had an interest in identifying innovative climate change communications and social learning approaches and tools that could contribute to adaptive behaviours and practices, turning knowledge into action. 


What was particularly remarkable about this workshop was how this notable institution has begun to reflexively examine the aims and goals of its results-oriented research. Now with the need to integrate climate change into research at all scales, this workshop represented a critical point to reflect on both researcher and practitioner experience and to determine strategic ways of making long-term climate change impacts and responses relevant to the short-term needs of agricultural communities (some of which are the most vulnerable to projected climate impacts). A conclusion of the workshop was that social learning, ranging from engaged dialogue approaches to innovative ICT tools, among diverse stakeholders and across different scales of decision-making is critical for framing relevant climate research that integrates the shorter-term needs of agricultural producers. 


The nature and risks of climate change are complex and dynamic and we are only beginning to understand the ways humans and ecosystems will be affected and what types of knowledge, tools and networks will be required in order to adapt to and mitigate our influence on climate change. Recognizing this, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security offers an interesting test site for contributing analytical insights into linking climate change and development decision making and also effective social learning that changes the way results-oriented science is done. The goal? To increase relevance to socially differentiated audiences, integrate diverse knowledges and mobilize adaptive changes in agricultural practices and behaviours. An innovative, exciting and logical conclusion!