Entries tagged with “co-production”.


Those of you who’ve read this blog before know that I have a lot of issues with “technology-will-fix-it” approaches to development program and project design (what Evgeny Morozov calls “solutionism”). My main issue is that such approaches generally don’t work. Despite a very, very long history of such interventions and their outcomes demonstrating this point, the solutionist camp in development seems to grow stronger all the time. If I hear one more person tell me that mobile phones are going to fix [insert development challenge here], I am going to scream. And don’t even get me started about “apps for development,” which is really just a modified incarnation of “mobile phones will fix it” predicated on the proliferation of smartphones around the world. Both arguments, by the way, were on full display at the Conference on the Gender Dimensions of Weather and Climate Services I attended at the WMO last month. Then again, so were really outdated framings of gender. Perhaps this convergence of solutionism and reductionist framings of social difference means something about both sets of ideas, no?

At the moment I’m particularly concerned about the solutionist tendency in weather and climate services for development. At this point, I don’t think there is anything controversial in arguing that the bulk of services in play today were designed by climate scientists/information providers who operated with the assumption that information – any information – is at least somewhat useful to whoever gets it, and must be better than leaving people without any information. With this sort of an assumption guiding service development, it is understandable that nobody would have thought to engage the presumptive users of the service. First, it’s easy to see how some might have argued that the science of the climate is the science of the climate – so citizen engagement cannot contribute much to that. Second, while few people might want to admit this openly, the fact is that climate-related work in the Global South, like much development work, carries with it an implicit bias against the capabilities and intelligence of the (often rural and poor) populations they are meant to serve. The good news is that I have seen a major turn in this field over the past four years, as more and more people working in this area have come to realize that the simple creation and provision of information is not enough to ensure any sort of impact on the lives of presumptive end-users of the information – the report I edited on the Mali Meteorological Service’s Agrometeorological Advisory Program is Exhibit A at the moment.

So, for the first time, I see climate service providers trying to pay serious attention to the needs of the populations they are targeting with their programs. One of the potentially important ideas I see emerging in this vein is that of “co-production”: the design and implementation of climate services that involves the engagement of both providers and a wide range of users, including the presumptive end users of the services. The idea is simple: if a meteorological service wants to provide information that might meet the needs of some/all of the citizens it serves, that service should engage those citizens – both as individuals and via the various civil society organizations to which they might belong – in the process of identifying what information is needed, and how it might best be delivered.

So what’s the problem? Simple: While I think that most people calling for the co-production of climate services recognize that this will be a complex, fraught process, there is a serious risk that co-production could be picked up by less-informed actors and used as a means of pushing aside the need for serious social scientific work on the presumptive users of these services. It’s pretty easy to argue that if we are incorporating their views and ideas into the design of climate services, there is really no need for serious social scientific engagement with these populations, as co-production cuts out the social-science middleman and gets us the unmitigated, unfiltered voice of the user.

If this sounds insanely naïve to you, it is*. But it is also going to be very, very attractive to at least some in the climate services world. Good social science takes time and money (though nowhere near as much time or money as most people think). And cutting time and cost out of project design, including M&E design, speeds implementation. The pressure to cut out serious field research is, and will remain, strong. Further, the bulk of the climate services community is on the provider side. They’ve not spent much, if any, time engaging with end users, and generally have no training at all in social science. All of those lessons that the social sciences have learned about participatory development and its pitfalls (for a fantastic overview, read this) have not yet become common conversation in climate services. Instead, co-production sounds like a wonderful tweak to the solutionist mentality that dominates climate services, a change that does not challenge the current framings of the use and utility of information, or the ways in which most providers do business. Instead, you keep doing what you do, but you talk to the end users while you do it, which will result in better project outcomes.

But for co-production to replace the need for deep social scientific engagement with the users of climate services, certain conditions must be met. First of all, you have to figure out how, exactly you are going to actually incorporate user information, knowledge, and needs into the design and delivery of a climate service. This isn’t just a matter of a few workshops – how, exactly, are those operating in a nomothetic scientific paradigm supposed to engage and meaningfully incorporate knowledge from very different epistemological framings of the world? This issue, by itself, is generating significant literature…which mostly suggests this sort of engagement is really hard. So, until we’ve worked out that issue, co-production looks a bit like this:

Climate science + end user input => Then a miracle happens => successful project

That, folks, is no way to design a project. Oh, but it gets better. You see, the equation above presumes there is a “generic user” out there that can be engaged in a straightforward manner, and for whom information works in the same manner. Of course, there is no such thing – even within a household, there are often many potential users of climate information in their decision-making. They may undertake different livelihoods activities that are differently vulnerable to particular impacts of climate variability and change. They may have very different capacities to act on information – after all, when you don’t own a plow or have the right to use the family plow, it is very difficult to act on a seasonal agricultural advisory that tells you to plant right away. Climate services need serious social science, and social scientists, to figure out who the end users are – to move past presumption to empirical analysis – and what their different needs might be. Without such work, the above equation really looks more like:

Climate science => Then a miracle happens => you identify appropriate end users => end user input => Then another miracle happens => successful project

Yep, two miracles have to happen if you want to use co-production to replace serious social scientific engagement with the intended users of climate services. So, who wants to take a flyer with some funding and see how that goes? Feel free to read the Mali report referenced above if you’d like to find out**.

Co-production is a great idea – and one I strongly support. But it will be very hard, and it will not speed up the process of climate service design or implementation, nor will it allow for the cutting of corners in other parts of the design process. Co-production will only work in the context of deep understandings of the targeted users of a given service, to understand who we should be co-producing with, and for what purpose. HURDL continues to work on this issue in Mali, Senegal, and Zambia – watch this space in the months ahead.

 

 

*Actually, it doesn’t matter how it sounds: this is a very naïve assumption regardless.

** Spoiler: not so well. To be fair to the folks in Mali, their program was designed as an emergency measure, not a research or development program, and so they rushed things out to the field making a lot of assumptions under pressure.

Otaviano Canuto, the World Bank’s Vice President for Poverty Reduction, had an interesting post on HuffPo yesterday in which he argues that we cannot understand the true cost of climate change until we can better measure poverty – “as long as we are unable to measure the poverty impact of climate change, we run the risk of either overestimating or underestimating the resources that will be needed to face it.”  I agree – we do not have a particularly good handle on the economic costs of climate change right now, just loose estimates that I fear are premised on misunderstandings of life in the Global South (I have an extended discussion of this problem in the second half of my book).

However, I find the phrasing of this concern a bit tortured – we need to better understand the impact of climate change on poverty so we can figure out how much it will cost us to solve the problem . . . but which problem?  Climate change or poverty?  Actually, I think this tortured syntax leads us to a more productive place than a focus on either problem – just as I am pretty sure we can’t address poverty for most living in the Global South unless we do something about climate change (which I think is what Canuto was after), I don’t think you can address climate change without addressing poverty.  As I argue in my book:

Along globalization’s shoreline the effects of climate change are felt much more immediately and more directly than in advanced economies. More and more, as both climate change and economic change impact their capacity to raise the food and money they need to get through each day, residents of this shoreline find themselves forced into trade-offs they would rather not make.

For example, most of the farmers in Dominase and Ponkrum agree that deforestation lowers the agricultural productivity of their farms, due to both the loss of local precipitation that accompanies deforestation and the loss of shade that enables the growth of sensitive crops, such as cocoa. At the same time, the sound of chainsaws can still be heard around these villages every once in a while, as a head of lineage allows someone from town to cut down one of the few remaining trees in the area for a one-time payment of a few hundred dollars. These heads of family know that in allowing the cutting of trees they are mortgaging the future fertility of this land, but they see little other choice when crops do not come in as expected or jobs are hard to find.

From a global perspective, this example may not seem that dire. After all, when one tree falls, the impact on the global carbon cycle is minuscule. However, if similar stresses and decisions result in the cutting of thousands of trees each day, the impact can be significant. All along the shoreline, people are forced into this sort of trade-off every day, and in their decision- making the long-term conservation of needed natural resources usually falls by the wayside.

Simply put, we have no means of measuring or even estimating the aggregate effect of many, many small livelihoods choices and the land use impacts of those choices, yet in aggregate these will have impacts on regional and global biophysical processes.  When we fail to address poverty, and force the global poor into untenable decisions about resource use and conservation, we create conditions that will give us more climate change.  If we don’t do a better job of measuring poverty and the relationship of the livelihoods and land use decision-making of the poor (something I have addressed here), we are going to be caught by surprise by some of the biophysical changes that persistent poverty might trigger.