• Thursday, September 18, 2014

Knowledge is Power: Measuring knowledge to assess adaptive capacity

Saleemul Huq and Casey Williams

Climate change and its effects – swollen seas, stronger storms, saltier soil – have already disrupted thousands of lives across Bangladesh. Preventing widespread and lasting damage remains a top priority, but significant changes to the country's climate and geography may be inevitable. Our ability to adapt to those changes – to ready ourselves for the darkest possibilities and respond to the deadliest catastrophes – will determine whether or not we can protect the health, dignity and prosperity of Bangladesh and its people in the coming decades.

When it comes to adapting to climate change, knowledge is power. If we understand how climate change will affect our communities, we can anticipate its effects, draw up plans to deal with it, and feel confident in our ability to carry those plans out. To be sure, things like money and technology are necessary weapons in the fight against climate change. But those things are worth very little if we don't know what dangers our money will need to dispatch or what problems our technology will have to solve. Knowledge lets us predict change. And when we can predict change, we can channel our energy, time, and resources into ensuring that that change makes our lives better, not worse.

Climate change is a complex and varied process, and many factors determine how well communities can adapt to its effects. Some of these factors, like geographic location and climatological vulnerability, are nearly impossible to alter. Others, like access to resources and technology, can be improved, but only with much effort. Knowledge, however, is something we have considerable control over. Even when we can't swell our funding or invent new technologies, we can help people learn, give them access to information, and work with them to find opportunities to learn for themselves.

But what exactly is “knowledge”? In our view, knowledge is not the possession of raw facts and unfiltered data; rather, it's the ability to use information to solve specific problems. Knowledge is only powerful when we know how to apply it. And, in order to apply knowledge, we need to understand what effects our actions are likely to have, and we need to feel confident in our own ability to do good work. We think that, if a person or group has a comprehensive understanding of climate change and adaption, they'll not only have the know-how needed to adapt, but they'll also have confidence in their ability to do so.

Since knowledge is so important for adaptation, we think there should be some way to measure it. So, we're designing a study to assess a person's knowledge of climate change and adaptation. We're developing a questionnaire and interview guide to gather information about six factors: (1) a respondent's access to information related to climate change, (2) their knowledge of basic climate change facts, (3) climate change's relevance to their lives, (4) their opportunities for studying adaptation, (5) their opportunities for learning by doing, and (6) they're ability to share their knowledge.

With that information, we'll give people a “knowledge score” on a scale from least comprehensive to most comprehensive. Using that measurement as an indicator, we hope to get a rough idea of a person's ability to adapt – their “adaptive capacity.”  And, once we can compare knowledge scores across people and groups, we can figure out how to fill gaps in knowledge, share information between groups, and identify people who can serve as models and mentors for others. Doing so will allow us to build each other's adaptive capacity.

Climate change adaptation involves a huge range of activities, and knowledge doesn't give people everything they need to adapt. But improving people's understanding of climate change may help them focus on long-term solutions; invest in adaptation technologies; become more willing to learn about adaptation; innovate new solutions; and, in general, adopt a more proactive approach to dealing with climate change. Knowledge will not only help people anticipate change, but it will also give them the information and confidence needed to confront it.

Knowledge can be a slippery and elusive thing. Measuring it is difficult, and putting too much stock in a single “knowledge score” as an indicator of adaptive capacity would be unwise. But we believe that having even a rough measurement can help us better assess adaptive capacity, identify areas for future research, and give us a better sense of the projects and interventions that might help people in Bangladesh deal swiftly and effectively with the effects of climate change.


The writers are Director and Visiting Researcher, respectively at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University, Bangladesh. Saleemul.huq@iied.org

Published: 12:01 am Sunday, August 31, 2014

Last modified: 12:53 am Sunday, August 31, 2014

TAGS: Power Damage knowledge saltier soil significant

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