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Engage in Dialogue Case Study

Case Study – Fostering Effective Dialogue

Constructive, mutually beneficial dialogue between researchers and research users is a pre-requisite to successful KE. But is it easy to foster such interaction? Emma Visman explains how the Humanitarian Futures Programme (HFP) tested some imaginative approaches in its bid to help West and East African communities protect themselves from drought and flooding.    

One of HFP’s priorities is to aid the effectiveness of humanitarian efforts in a more complex and uncertain future. In the field of weather and climate, for instance, there’s a pressing need to bridge the communication gap between, on the one hand, at-risk communities, policy-makers and humanitarian organisations and, on the other, scientists and technical experts who have the knowledge that could save people’s lives. In West and East Africa, as in many other regions, one of the main problems is the very limited direct contact that’s traditionally taken place between scientists and stakeholders.

To tackle the issue, we ran a series of workshops that brought them all together in an egalitarian environment designed to break down barriers.

Started in 2009 and funded by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network since 2011, HFP has co-ordinated an exchange between climate scientists from meteorological services and universities in Senegal, Kenya and the UK and a number of international humanitarian non-governmental organisations (NGOs), to assess how climate science can better support humanitarian, disaster risk reduction and development planning.

This exchange uses the Early Warning, Early Action workshop format developed by Dr Arame Tall with the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre*. Small stakeholder groups spend about 30 minutes with different scientists learning about research findings relevant to their disaster decision-making concerns. Everyone then takes part in a role-play game** exploring how to translate weather forecasts into actions that protect communities from floods and droughts. Finally, a joint stakeholder/scientist visit brings the dialogue’s practical benefits to a community affected by meteorological hazards.

These methods have proved outstanding at triggering discussion and debate, as well as at promoting trust and understanding.

It became clear how important it is for researchers to provide stakeholders with specific information meeting specific needs in a comprehensible way. For example, some of the communities represented at the workshops have an urgent need to know exactly when the rains are likely to start. It’s also vital to convey such information through accessible channels which communities trust. The dialogue needs to focus, too, on time frames and on demonstrating the practical benefits of taking particular actions.

Just as important is the improved awareness among participating scientists of what research users want and of their ability to take on emerging scientific findings – community members showed they were perfectly able to understand the format of probabilistic seasonal forecasts once it had been explained in clear terms and they had the chance to try it out. With NERC support, HFP is now collating case studies of approaches that have supported effective dialogue between science providers and users***.

To sum up, it’s impossible to overstate the value of employing a mechanism that has the proven ability to deliver productive dialogue.

* Working in conjunction with PETLab at Parsons the New School for Design.

** See for more information.

*** Covered in the resource ‘Dialogues for Disaster Anticipation and Resilience’ at

Further sources of information:

- Tall, A. and Suarez, P. Towards Forecast‐Based Humanitarian Decisions: Climate Science to Get from Early Warning to Early Action, March 2010, - draft article currently being submitted to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

- Film of the approach employed within the climate science humanitarian policy exchange demonstration study in Senegal: