Understanding Needs, Meeting Demands: A user-oriented analysis of online knowledge brokering platforms for climate change and development

Submitted by Michael Rastall | published 5th Nov 2013 | last updated 13th Jan 2020

As more stakeholders take steps toward operationalizing climate compatible development (CCD), the demand for information and knowledge related to the concept is growing. But the landscape of information and knowledge sought is vast and fragmented, and the array of suppliers and users correspondingly diverse, making the gaps between research, policy and practice challenging to manage.

Knowledge brokers and knowledge brokering play an important role in managing these gaps. Knowledge brokering is broadly understood as a set of intermediary activities that link knowledge production and use. It can range from making information more accessible and understandable to helping different actors develop a shared understanding of an issue that allows for the co-production of knowledge. The Internet has expanded the range of possibilities for knowledge brokering, offering greater reach, more access and new technologies for storing, filtering and translating knowledge into new formats. The recent proliferation of online climate knowledge brokering (CKB) platforms speaks to the potential of information and communications technology-enabled knowledge brokering, as understanding and addressing the challenge of climate change across different scales brings together multiple sources and forms of knowledge. 

Yet online CKB platforms run the risk of being supply-driven, established and managed with the assumption that making more knowledge available online will result in evidence-based policy and practice supporting CCD. Platforms are not necessarily designed with a thorough understanding of the range of user needs, priorities and preferences. This can result in services that are not fit for their purpose, gaps in information and knowledge provision, duplication of efforts and an overall misuse of resources. Moreover, most efforts at addressing the misalignment between knowledge supply and demand tend to focus on adjusting or expanding the supply. Unless knowledge brokers develop a clear understanding of what constitutes demand, these efforts will fall short of expectations.

This paper examines the current state of alignment between CKB platforms and the information-seeking and knowledge-sharing behaviour of users of online climate change information. It reviews the case for knowledge brokering and how brokering activities are put into practice online for climate change and development. The paper then outlines the results of research undertaken to understand how CKB platform users assess, access and apply knowledge. This research includes interviews and surveys with over 200 online climate change information users to understand their needs, preferences and behaviours. The research also involved in-depth case studies of four CKB platforms: AfricaAdapt, Climate Finance Options, Climate Change Policy & Practice and the Eldis Climate Change Resource Guide. The paper highlights key findings and recommendations regarding user behaviours and preferences, potential areas for innovation in online knowledge brokering and the need for taking CKB beyond its online functions.

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Suggested Citation

Hammil, A., Harvey, B., Echeverria, D., 2013. Understanding Needs, Meeting Demands: A user-oriented analysis of online knowledge brokering platforms of climate change and development. International Institute for Sustainable Development.