Learned lessons on key considerations for communicating climate risk

Submitted by Sukaina Bharwani | published 25th Mar 2011 | last updated 10th Jan 2020

Learned lessons from developing climate risk communication strategies and implementing them on the ground have helped us to realize that the process of communicating risk needs to account for the following key considerations to reach successful outcomes:

Two-way dialogue

Risk communication tools, methods, and guidance materials, have to evolve through a two-way participatory dialogue between the communicators (e.g. scientists, trainers, project implementers, government agencies, etc.) and the receivers (e.g. community members, household heads, school children, groups at risk, government regulators, etc.). Workshops and learning sessions are key elements of this two-way dialogue that encourages learning and exchange of knowledge. This process of social learning will promote the development of strategies that are relevant (in the context of the receiver) and effective.

Knowing the local context

In order to effectively communicate climate risk, it is important to know first the local context and local perceptions on climate risk (of both exposure groups and decision-makers). To develop risk communication strategies that will be embraced by the receivers (e.g. vulnerable groups, government regulators), these strategies have to be reflective of the social and cultural norms under which the receivers operate. The strategies need also to consider the other risks (non-climate risks) faced by the exposure/vulnerable groups and how these risk inform decision-making.

Understanding the local know-how on climate risk

Relevant risk communication strategies need to be informed by assessments that determine the baseline status of stakeholder knowledge on climate risk. It is key to understand the local perceptions on climate risk, the sources of knowledge within the communities, and the strengths and gaps of knowledge on climate variability and change, and the risks to the exposure groups. Knowledge assessment at community level can be conducted through household surveys and participatory group discussions. Knowledge assessment of policy makers can be conducted through individual meetings, interviews and formal workshops.

Experience on the ground has demonstrated that, in general, local knowledge of current climate risks is substantial, and the perception of local changes in weather patterns (climate variability) is evident. However, there is no substantive local understanding of climate change as a global and enduring phenomenon, nor of the risks associated to long-term climate change to local livelihoods. Having a better understanding of the existing stakeholder knowledge provides the basis to develop relevant risk communication strategies that can inform knowledge gaps and fulfil knowledge needs. In addition, the relevance of the information shared can be enhanced, building stakeholder capacity in multiple and reinforcing ways through in-depth learning about risks and vulnerability, training on assessment methods, surveys, and participatory risk communication activities.

Engagement in the process

Building effective risk communication strategies requires developing capacities and knowledge, and promoting partnerships between the different stakeholders involved in the process. To facilitate this, it is key to engage stakeholders (e.g. vulnerable communities, resource managers, scientists, private sector, government policy makers) early in the process and continue building partnership and engagement throughout implementation. Engagement in the process of developing risk communication strategies empowers the perticipants through knowledge generation and sharing, resulting in higher understanding of and sense of commitment to the message that is being communicated. Sense of stakeholder ownership over the learning process also engenders capacity for action.

Engagement in the process can be promoted through the participatory development, validation and testing of the methods, tools and materials for risk communication. Engagement can also be achieved through training of trainers. The approach of training trainers is meant to have a cascading effect on information dissemination where trained stakeholders are involved in the process of disseminating the message further to reach wider audiences. The process of selecting trainers among the stakeholders is key for the effectiveness of this approach; a key consideration is to identify stakeholders perceived as having credibility within the stakeholder communities.

Combining strategies to target different stakeholders

To cater for a wide range of stakeholders, different tools and methods to communicate climate risk need to be developed and combined. Given that stakeholders can have different levels of expertise and backgrounds (disciplines), needs and expectations, a diverse range of materials that accommodate these differences have to be used for effective communication. At the local level, interactive communication strategies such as theatre, role-play, music and group discussions where community members are involved in debating climate risks and possible solutions to cope with climate change have been demonstrated to have a positive effect on communities’ behaviour and practices. Reports, concept notes, brochures, magazines, and formal presentations and workshops have proven to be effective communication strategies with policy makers at the local and national levels. To create widespread awareness at country/regional level, broad dissemination channels such as TV and radio broadcasts have shown to be useful.

Strategic use of space

To reach a wide audience, it is important to consider the strategic use of public space. If the communication strategy is to disseminate key information on climate risk, the distribution of large posters and brochures in public spaces such as schools, governmental buildings and markets have proven to be helpful. If the strategy is to train stakeholders, schools and universities provide the suitable environment to enhance learning and knowledge sharing. Governmental buildings have demonstrated to be useful for formal workshops with policy makers, while spaces where communities usually gather are appropriate for folk theaters, interactive role-plays and group discussions.

Innovative ways of communicating

Innovative processes of interactive learning have proven to be successful strategies for effective communication. Learning-by-doing, using practical and creative approaches, offers opportunities to better understand and use climate information despite the complexities associated to uncertainties, multiple and dynamic vulnerabilities, numerical analysis, etc. Hands-on exercises also help to understand the value of applying this information for decision-making. Innovative ways of communicating risk should consider interaction and two-way dialogue, as well as learning-by-doing, creativity and openness to varied understanding of meanings and respect to diverse backgrounds and disciplines.


This material is largely based on the ACCCA project Synthesis Report

Authors: Tahia Devisscher (SEI Oxford), Fernanda Zermoglio (SEI Oxford), Jon Padgham (START International), Anna Taylor (SEI Oxford)