Learning through Collaboration

Submitted by Caroline Lumosi 18th March 2014 11:34

Why this policy brief and for whom

Objectives and target audience 

The CIRCLE-2 partners consider transfer of the knowledge generated by adaptation research investments in Europe to be potentially useful for developing countries, which are more vulnerable to climate change and its impacts than most European countries. With a few notable exceptions, knowledge sharing and development focusing on climate change adaptation is currently not yet high on the agenda of European national research funders and researchers, like those represented in CIRCLE-2 and the Joint Programming Initiative Climate.

Because of the importance of the two-way and dynamic nature of knowledge exchange, the term “knowledge sharing and development” is used rather than “knowledge transfer”. It is a major challenge to determine which knowledge can be meaningfully shared, or jointly developed, and under which conditions. The objective of this research policy brief is to address this challenge and propose a set of benchmarks or good practice principles for CIRCLE-2 partner programmes and other research funding and managing institutions. Possible project and programme design options are proposed that facilitate and promote knowledge sharing between industrialized and developing countries in the area of climate change adaptation research. Knowledge sharing would enhance the knowledge basis available to adaptation programmes which are funded either bilaterally or in the context of one of the international adaptation funding mechanisms. It can help narrowing the gap between the development collaboration agencies, private sector actors and other institutions engaged in adaptation practice,  and the climate adaptation research communities.

This research policy brief builds on a background paper on sharing and developing knowledge most effectively. It also discusses earlier collaborative projects between industrialized and developing countries in the area of climate change adaptation that can be regarded as successful in sharing and developing knowledge. The communities working on climate change adaptation research (both in Europe and in developing countries) often appear not to be well connected with the communities working on social and economic development. This policy brief intends to make a contribution to bridging this gap. Target groups include research funding and management agencies (including the CIRCLE-2 partners), development agencies addressing risks related to climate change variability and change, and researchers and research coordinators engaging in collaborative projects between industrialized and developing countries.

Scope of the projects and programmes addressed 

For this document, relevant lessons to be learned were derived mainly from specific climate change adaptation projects, including projects in areas like water management, agriculture and rural development, and public health. The emphasis is on two-way mutual learning and collaboration rather than a one-way, mechanistic transfer of particular knowledge from industrialized to developing countries. Literature and the CIRCLE-2 survey agree that the specific design of knowledge sharing and development programmes and projects has to be tailored to the specific local context, and collaboration with one region, e.g. South Asia, may have specific characteristics different from collaboration with another region, e.g. Africa. Nevertheless, in this policy brief, it is assumed that generic lessons can be learned from interactions between regions. But in a way, many of the issues dealt with in this policy brief are relevant for any collaborative project between industrialized and developing countries, because adaptation and general development processes are closely interlinked. 

Effectiveness, or success, of knowledge sharing is a difficult issue to measure and examine. Following the literature and the CIRCLE-2 survey results, it is assumed that good collaboration facilitates good sharing 
of knowledge between project partners in adaptation-oriented research projects. The policy brief attempts to strike a balance between generic, theoretical considerations from a heterogenic array of literature and experiences, and specific, practical recommendations based on experiences reported in the CIRCLE-2 survey and interviews with people in the field that readers can easily apply in their day-to-day work.

The basis for CIRCLE-2 findings

In order to arrive at the set of considerations and recommendations presented in this research policy brief, three activities were performed. First, a literature review explored what is known about effective knowledge sharing and development between industrialized and developing countries in the area of climate change adaptation research. This revealed that relevant papers either deal with very generic theoretical considerations about transfer, sharing or development of knowledge on the one hand, or with the content and output of collaboration in specific case study situations, rather than with (the effectiveness of) the knowledge sharing and development process. While some scientific studies are available on knowledge transfer for mitigation (e.g., the transfer of low-carbon energy technologies from industrialized to developing countries), papers concerning project collaboration and knowledge transfer for climate change adaptation are as yet scarce.

In particular on the international level, adaptation in developing countries gets a lot of attention. One may expect that experiences gained in the context of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol (e.g., the Adaptation Fund, Special Climate Change Fund, Least Developed Country Fund, Clean Development Mechanism) would have led to the evaluation of the effectiveness of the associated programmes. But the related studies are usually confined to macro-level statistical trends following changes in policy development rather than systematically addressing how organisations and project collaborations function and how this influences knowledge sharing and development. Studies addressing the latter often relate to organizational theory concerning private enterprises and the knowledge management within and between firms, a context different from climate change adaptation research and practice. While some of the cited factors facilitating cooperation and transfer of knowledge may be valid across different situations, lessons from this literature have to be interpreted with caution. Therefore, as a second step, a survey was done based on an electronic questionnaire that was distributed to relevant experts identified by the authors as well as through the CIRCLE-2 network. A total of 82 respondents, about 40% of which from developing countries, completed the questionnaire. As a third step, seven respondents were selected for face-to-face or telephone interviews to further clarify answers provided and to collect more in-depth insights.

Key messages

  • Knowledge sharing and development, rather than knowledge transfer, plays as yet a marginal role in European climate change adaptation research programmes. Experiences from CIRCLE 2 indicate a rationale and opportunities for European countries to give knowledge sharing and development a much more central position in adaptation research and policy. 
  • Benefits of enhanced knowledge sharing and development include enhancement of the knowledge basis available to bi- or multilateral adaptation programmes, increased effectiveness of adaptation research for both developing and European countries, and a narrowing gap between development collaboration agencies and the adaptation research community. 
  • Be aware of barriers. Barriers that can limit the effectiveness of knowledge sharing and development include lack of trust, lack of relevant knowledge, uncertainty about project objectives and process, technological infrastructure differences, physical distance, cultural diversity, language barriers, incompetence, lack of skills or motivation.
  • Adopt demand-driven objectives and design. Programmes and projects on adaptation knowledge sharing and development should be designed based on the needs of developing countries, and be tailored to the specific local context. 
  • Build lasting partnerships and engage stakeholders adequately. A sufficiently wide range of stakeholders from various institutional background and administrative levels should be actively involved. Dependent on the specific situation, this should include “local champions”, the private sector, particularly vulnerable groups, and local political decision-makers, groups which are often not actively engaged. Engagement should cover the whole project duration, and stakeholders should have equitable influence on project design and implementation features.
  • Take normative adaptation dimensions seriously. Effective adaptation knowledge sharing and development requires the normative dimensions of adaptation knowledge to be identified, disclosed and discussed. How to do this depends on the institutional setting of the personal interactions, taking into account the project conditions that will differ between projects, depending on what type of knowledge is transferred, shared, or developed and between whom.
  • Ensure the availability of adequate resources. Projects should have secure funding for at least 2-3 years, including start-up time to engage stakeholders, agree on objectives and procedures, and build trust. Budgets should be sufficient to frequently organize face-to-face dialogue and learning events and allow all partners to adequately become and remain engaged.
  • Adopt a suitable mix of knowledge sharing methods. There is no one-size-fits-all solution and different methods and tools are likely to provide different, complementary answers. A variety of knowledge exchange methods can be explored, such as scenario development and planning, gaming and role playing, and electronic means of information exchange. The latter have greatly enhanced the potential volume of information to be shared and the frequency, reach and scope of communication, but at the same time they have a number of important limitations, including technical problems and limited ability to cover interpersonal aspects of communication.

Suggested citation

Swart, R., J. Alberth, B. Kuna, M. Lillieskold, M. Hanzlickova, B. Horstmann and A. Rovisco (2014). 
Learning through collaboration – Knowledge Transfer and Sharing in Climate Change Adaptation Research between European and developing countries. A CIRCLE-2 research policy brief. Foundation of the Faculty of Sciences, University of Lisbon, Portugal.