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Knowledge for Transformative Action Towards a Resilient Future

On the 10th November 2021, the Resilience Hub at COP26 hosted a side event to showcase three major, global initiatives that seek to ensure that action to enhance adaptation and resilience stem from a foundation of research, knowledge and learning: the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), the Resilience Knowledge Coalition and the Adaptation Research Alliance (ARA).

Written by: Corina Angheloiu
GRP Value addition: Convening diverse voices Shared learning Theme: Climate change

Shehnaaz Moosa, Director, CDKN, opened the session by setting the scene for this conversation about ways of generating and using local knowledge on adaptation and resilience to ensure they contribute to efforts to scale climate action. She welcomed the audience on behalf of the three networks and lauded the high-level launch of the Adaptation Research Alliance at COP26, which is now convening over 100 organisations with more than half from the Global South. Shehnaaz introduced a digibook on the Voices from the Frontline initiative, which launched during COP26 and weaves 50 stories and hundreds of contributors into a series of lessons learnt from Covid-19 about achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at community level.

Learning from three knowledge brokering initiatives

Following this introduction, representatives from each of the three initiatives introduced their background, aims, and activities. Shuchi Vora, Coordinator of the Resilience Knowledge Coalition, introduced the Resilience Knowledge Coalition. Chronic stressors such as climate change and shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic are creating a melting pot of risks for communities on the frontline. Shuchi highlighted that the coalition aims to fill the gap that exists between the various knowledge brokering initiatives through synthesis and amplification of the collective knowledge, evidence and best practices. She stressed the need to create a whole that is larger than the sum of the different interventions and actions and highlighted this as core to  the coalition’s purpose. 

As a network of networks with over 450 members, the coalition aims to support translating knowledge into use through its three functions – Collaborate, Connect and Apply. It has seeded activities such as the Global South Talent Pool and Catalytic Grants. It has facilitated putting knowledge into use as the Cross-cutting Champions on Knowledge at the Resilience Hub. It has created a curated knowledge management system called the Resilience Platform that is being dynamically linked to multiple other platforms on climate adaptation and resilience such as WeAdapt, PreventionWeb, and others. The coalition is a Transformational Knowledge partner for the Race to Resilience initiatives, providing vital support on the Race to Resilience Metrics Framework through knowledge brokering, capacity exchange and amplification of existing MEL knowledge.  The coalition also provides incubation, matchmaking and deal-brokering services for scaling innovative resilience solutions through an array of tools and events such as the Investor Forum held here at the Resilience Hub last week. Shuchi reflected on the value of a learning by doing approach, the importance of spotlighting expertise from the Global South, as well as the need to focus on connecting activities already underway, rather than duplicating efforts.  

Lisa McNamara, Knowledge and Networks Lead, Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), introduced CDKN’s approach to tailoring knowledge in response to needs, to supporting locally owned processes through peer learning and collaboration, and to working with climate leaders and champions. CDKN works between the local and the national scales through country leads who scope programmes in response to specific needs, such as work currently being done in partnership with the Ethiopian government to mainstream gender and social inclusion into climate action. Lisa shared key reflections drawn from CDKN’s 12 years of experience, which include the need for local knowledge brokering to be locally led and  sustained over time, rather than seen as a one-off event. Alongside this, there is a need to harness creativity in communicating climate issues and bringing local knowledge to global arenas and ensuring it is amplified. A recent example of this is the Voices from the Frontline initiative, which brings together 50 stories and hundreds of contributors into a series of lessons learnt from Covid-19.

Jesse DeMaria-Kinney, Head of Adaptation Research Alliance (ARA), introduced ARA’s mission, which was formally launched during COP26. Now including over 100 organisations, ARA responds to the need to ensure research is produced with and for policy makers and communities on the frontline of climate change. At the heart of the ARA lies the need for innovative collaborations between disparate actors, from the global and national levels down to local and community initiatives, to ensure research and knowledge on adaptation influences action on the ground. This is why the ARA seeks to support action-oriented approaches for learning by doing, and builds on transdisciplinary approaches that put vulnerable communities front and centre in processes of adaptation. Jesse added that taken together, the three initiatives demonstrate that one of the key needs to respond to adaptation challenges is collaboration to develop systemic solutions, rather than competition. 

Mobilising knowledge as a climate justice issue

“We have coping mechanisms, but we’re losing our childhoods because of these crises that we’re not responsible for.” Sohanur Rahman, Youthnet for Climate Justice

Sharing the same storm, but not the same boat. The panelists reflected on the different ways in which communities at the frontline are already adapting to climate change. While these are examples of resilience, there is a need to centre climate justice. Mobilising knowledge is one critical aspect of this, as the knowledge held by local and Indigenous communities needs to be elevated into policy and decision-making processes. This is put into practice through initiatives such as the Catalytic Grants and Voices from the Frontline, which have been supporting two way feedback between demystifying expert knowledge and amplifying grassroots evidence and voices – for example, through translating frontline stories in multiple languages. 

Big data won’t turn the tide, stories will. The panelists agreed on the need for the research community to move away from a belief that big data and quantitative research will lead to effective interventions on the ground. Professor Saleemul Huq, Director of ICCCAD, shared his reflections on the effectiveness of stories to reach both hearts and minds and the ways in which storytelling can be seen as a powerful means of knowledge exchange, in communicating disaster responses. 

First adapters, not victims. Learning from communities at the frontline of climate change needs to recognise they are the first adapters, rather than portray them as stereotypical victims. There is a key need to shift perceptions and bring these learnings in the science and policy communities, as valuing the experiential knowledge that people and communities hold can unlock insights for transformative adaptation and resilience. 

Incentive structures for an action-oriented approach to research. Evolving research processes beyond traditional science will require rethinking what academic success looks like, for example through moving beyond publication metrics towards monitoring the value add to frontline communities and policy makers. A learning by doing approach also needs to recognise and align the different timelines of stakeholders involved in the knowledge to action chain.

As the importance of adaptation and resilience is increasingly recognised, there is a need for systemic change in the research system. The Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), the Resilience Knowledge Coalition and the Adaptation Research Alliance (ARA) present an opportunity to be more than the sum of our parts.

Learn more and join the knowledge brokering initiatives

You can find the Voices from the Frontline Digibook here: voices.cdkn.org
For more information on how to join the three knowledge brokering initiatives, follow these links: 

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