Decision making processes in African development and what that means for climate science: Insights from Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) Webinar

By Felix Donkor, Alice McClure and Claire Mathieson

Confronted with the increasing threat of short-term natural seasonal weather and climate events, coupled with the longer-term threats of growing climate change and related risks, decision makers around the globe are turning to climate science to supply information to guide their strategies, planning, and implementation. In line with this, efforts in the adaptation landscape are being focussed on enhancing the decision making processes by deepening understanding of climate variability and improving the design of decision support tools.

The Future Resilience for African CiTies and Lands (FRACTAL) project seeks to enhance scientific knowledge about regional climate responses to human activities and collaborate with policy makers to incorporate this scientific knowledge into climate-sensitive decisions at the city-region scale. The FRACTAL project hence adopts a transdisciplinary approach working with researchers, city government officials and other key decision makers in southern Africa.

At a recent webinar, Chris Jack from the Climate Systems Analysis Group (part of the FRACTAL team) described current approaches and developments, unpacked ideas around best practice, and outlined on-going challenges in climate science information. In particular, the following lessons (relevant to the science, impacts and adaptation communities) for were highlighted:

Spend a significant amount of time understanding the decision-making context. Within FRACTAL, heuristic systems models, extensive “learning labs”, dialogues, interviews and desktop analysis are part of a wide array of avenues employed to do this.

“Initial climate information can (tentatively) be used to start conversations. Within FRACTAL, Climate Risk Narratives are being explored as a conversation-starter approach Be aware of knowledge and power dynamics, and respect all knowledge types. During climate-related learning (conversation) processes, it might be necessary to use good climate facilitators.

Construct information, not data; articulate assumptions, limits and strengths (defensibility). In FRACTAL a variety of information sources (such as expert input and drawing on existing literature) are coupled with different means of communication (eg games, narratives). Practice humility: avoid providing information you cannot defend and do not avoid providing information you can defend.

Climate scientists should consider the complexity and uncertainty related with the physical and societal consequences of climate change (and the interplay of the two); successful application of adaptation efforts will demand the involvement of diverse groups of decision-makers and other consumers of climate information. One key issue confronting climate scientists is not a dearth of data but producing robust and defensible information for decision makers. In most cases, it is necessary to work with decision makers to decide what climate information is relevant and appropriate to their context.

Emergency managers, water resource managers, policy analysts, wildfire teams, farmers, and others already recognize that climate variability influences their sectors. They are increasingly concerned about the implications of climate change and interested in representing those risks in their management and decision-making strategies. This has increased collaborative engagement between climate information users and scientists which creates avenue for producing innovative solutions.