IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

20.8.2 Participatory processes in research and practice

Participatory processes can help to create dialogues that link and mutually instruct researchers, practitioners, communities and governments. There are, however, challenges in applying these processes as a methodology for using dialogue and narrative (i.e., communication of quantitative and qualitative information) to influence social learning and decision-making, including governance.

Knowledge about climate-change adaptation and sustainable development can be translated into public policy through processes that generate usable knowledge. The idea of usable knowledge in climate assessments stems from the experiences of national and international bodies (academies, boards, committees, panels, etc.) that offer credible and legitimate information to policymakers through transparent multi-disciplinary processes (Lemos and Morehouse, 2005). It requires the inclusion of local knowledge, including indigenous knowledge (see Box 20.1), to complement more formal technical understanding generated through scientific research and the consideration of the role that institutions and governance play in the translation of scientific information into effective action.

Box 20.1. Role of local and indigenous knowledge in adaptation and sustainability research

Research on indigenous environmental knowledge has been undertaken in many countries, often in the context of understanding local oral histories and cultural attachment to place. A survey of research during the 1980s and early 1990s was produced by Johnson (1992). Reid et al. (2006) outline the many technical and social issues related to the intersection of different knowledge systems, and the challenge of linking the scales and contexts associated with these forms of knowledge. With the increased interest in climate change and global environmental change, recent studies have emerged that explore how indigenous knowledge can become part of a shared learning effort to address climate-change impacts and adaptation, and its links with sustainability. Some examples are indicated here.

Sutherland et al. (2005) describe a community-based vulnerability assessment in Samoa, addressing both future changes in climate-related exposure and future challenges for improving adaptive capacity. Twinomugisha (2005) describes the dangers of not considering local knowledge in dialogues on food security in Uganda.

A scenario-building exercise in Costa Rica has been undertaken as part of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA, 2005). This was a collaborative study in which indigenous communities and scientists developed common visions of future development. Two pilot five-year storylines were constructed, incorporating aspects of coping with external drivers of development (Bennett and Zurek, 2006). Although this was not directly addressing climate change, it demonstrates the potential for joint scenario-building incorporating different forms of knowledge.

In Arctic Canada, traditional knowledge was used as part of an assessment which recognised the implications of climate change for the ecological integrity of a large freshwater delta (NRBS, 1996). In another case, an environmental assessment of a proposed mine was produced through a partnership with governments and indigenous peoples. Knowledge to facilitate sustainable development was identified as an explicit goal of the assessment, and climate-change impacts were listed as one of the long-term concerns for the region (WKSS, 2001).

Vlassova (2006) describes results of interviews of indigenous peoples of the Russian North on climate and environmental trends within the Russian boreal forest. Additional examples from the Arctic are described in ACIA (2005), Reidlinger and Berkes (2001), Krupnik and Jolly (2002), Furgal et al. (2006) and Chapter 15.

Social learning of complex issues like climate change emerges through consensus that includes both scientific discourse and policy debate. In the case of climate change, participatory processes encourage local practitioners from climate-sensitive endeavours (water management, land-use planning, etc.) to become engaged so that past experiences can be included in the study of (and the planning for) future climate change and development pressures. Processes designed to integrate various dimensions of knowledge about how regional resource systems operate are essential; so is understanding of how resource systems are affected by biophysical and socio-economic forces including a wide range of possible future changes in climate. This requirement has led to increased interest in a number of participatory processes like participatory integrated assessment (PIA) and participatory mapping (using, for example, specially designed geographic information systems – GIS).

PIA is an umbrella term describing approaches in which non-researchers play an active role in integrated assessment (Rotmans and van Asselt, 2002). Participatory processes can be used to facilitate the integration of biophysical and socio-economic aspects of climate-change adaptation and development by creating opportunities for shared experiences in learning, problem definition and design of potential solutions (Hisschemöller et al., 2001). Van Asselt and Rijkens-Klomp (2002) identify several approaches, including methods for mapping diversity of opinion (e.g., focus groups, participatory modelling) and reaching consensus (e.g., citizens’ juries, participatory planning). Kangur (2004) reported on a recent exercise on water policy that employed citizens’ juries. PIA has also been used to facilitate the development of integrated models (e.g., Turnpenny et al., 2004) and to use models to facilitate policy dialogue (e.g., van de Kerkhof, 2004).

Participatory mapping is a process by which local information, including indigenous knowledge, is incorporated into information management systems (Corbett et al., 2006). Ranging from paper to GIS, it is becoming more popular, and it has contributed to the increased application of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) as techniques to support rural development (Chambers, 2006). Maps have displayed natural resources, social patterns and mobility, and they have been used to identify landscape changes, tenure, boundaries and places of cultural significance (Rambaldi et al., 2006). With the advent of modern GIS technologies, concerns have been raised regarding disempowerment of communities from lack of training. Questions related to who owns the maps and to who controls their use have also been raised (Corbett et al., 2006; Rambaldi et al., 2006).

The long-term sustainability of dialogue processes is critical to the success of participatory approaches. For PIA, PRA, participatory GIS and similar processes to be successful as shared learning experiences, they have to be inclusive and transparent. Haas (2004) describes examples of experiences in social learning on sustainable development and climate change, noting the importance of sustaining the learning process over the long term, and maintaining distance between science and policy while still promoting focused science-policy interactions. Applications of focus group and other techniques for stakeholder engagement are described for several studies in Europe (Welp et al., 2006) and Africa (Conde and Lonsdale, 2004). However, there has been particular concern regarding its application within development processes and hazard management in poor countries. Cooke and Kothari (2001) and Garande and Dagg (2005) document some problems, including hindering empowerment of local scale interests, reinforcing existing power structures and constraining how local knowledge is expressed. Barriers include uneven gains from cross-scale interactions (Adger et al., 2005; Young, 2006) and increased responsibility without increased capacity (Allen, 2006). There can be difficulties in reaching consensus on identifying and engaging participants (Bulkeley and Mol, 2003; Parkins and Mitchell, 2005), and in interpreting the results of dialogue within variations in cultural and epistemological contexts (e.g., Huntington et al., 2006). There are also challenges in measuring the quality of dialogue (debate, argument), particularly the transparency of process, promotion of learning and indicators of influence (van de Kerkhof, 2004; Rowe and Frewer, 2000).

Participatory governance is part of a growing global movement to decentralise many aspects of natural resources management. Hickey and Mohan (2004) offer several examples of the convergence of participatory development and participatory governance with empowerment for marginalised communities. Other examples include agrarian reform in the Philippines, the Popular Participation Law in Bolivia (Schneider, 1999; Iwanciw, 2004) and the appointment of an ‘exploratory committee’ for addressing water resources concerns in Nagoya, Japan (Kabat et al., 2002). In each case, the point is to improve access to resources and enhance social capital (Larson and Ribot, 2004a and 2004b). Unfortunately, broadening decision-making can work to exacerbate vulnerabilities. For example, there have been cases emerging from Latin America describing difficulties in building national adaptive capacity as national and local institutions change their roles in governance. Although the language of sustainability and shared governance is widely accepted, obtaining benefits from globalisation in enhanced adaptive capacity is difficult (Eakin and Lemos, 2006).

Dialogue processes in assessment and appraisal are becoming important tools in the support of participatory processes. Although they may be seen as relatively similar activities, PIA and PRA have different mandates. The latter is directly within a policy process (selecting among development options), while the former is a research method that assesses complex problems (e.g., environmental impact of development, climate-change impacts/adaptation), producing results that can have policy implications. This chapter’s discussion on PIA is offered as a complement to integrated modelling results reported in Sections 20.6 and 20.7 to suggest that PIA may assist in providing regional-scale technical support to match the scale of information needs of decentralised governance.

An agricultural example of a PIA of climate-change adaptation can be found in the eastern United Kingdom (Lorenzoni et al., 2001). Adaptation options are identified (e.g., shifting cultivation times, modifying soil management to improve water retention and avoid compaction), but questions about how a climate component can be built into the way non-climate issues are currently addressed emerge. Long-term strategies may have to include greater fluctuations in crop yields across a region; as a result, farm operations may have to diversity if they are to maintain incomes and employment. The compartmentalisation of regional decision-making is seen as a barrier to encouraging more sustainable land management over the periods in which climate change evolves. In an example from Canada, Cohen and Neale (2006) and Cohen et al. (2004) illustrate the linkages between water management and scenarios of population growth and climate change in the Okanagan region (see also Chapter 3, Box 3.1). Planners in one district have responded by incorporating adaptation to climate change into long-term water plans (Summit Environmental Consultants Ltd., 2004) even though governance-related obstacles to proactive implementation of innovative measures to manage water demand have appeared in the past (Shepherd et al., 2006).

A comprehensive understanding of the implications of extreme climate change requires an in-depth exploration of the perceptions and reactions of the affected stakeholder groups and the lay public. Toth and Hizsnyik (2005) describe how participatory techniques might be applied to inform decisions in the context of possible abrupt climate change. Their project has studied one such case, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and a subsequent 5 to 6 m sea-level rise. Possible methods for assessing the societal consequences of impacts and adaptations include simulation-gaming techniques, a policy exercise approach, as well as directed focus-group conversations. Each approach can be designed to explore adaptation as a local response to a global phenomenon. As a result, each sees adaptation being informed by a fusion of top-down descriptions of impacts from global climate change and bottom-up deliberations rooted in local, national and regional experiences (see Chapter 2, Section 2.2.1).