Monday, April 4, 2016

Applied Learning from the UNDP Last Mile Conference in Zambia

Connecting Last Mile Weather and Climate Products to National Hydro-Meteorological Services

The UNDP’s Programme on Climate Information for Resilient Development in Africa (CIRDA) Last Mile Conference in Zambia brought together leading thinkers in both the public and private sectors to discuss how weather and climate information can be applied to save lives and improve livelihoods.

There were discussions on communications, market forces and sector-wide imperatives, application development, enabling policies and more. We’ll be sharing the top lessons learned in a series of ongoing blogs. But it’s important to take a 50,000-foot view of some of the top outcomes of the meeting.

Country Updates
As most Climate Information and Early Warning Systems Projects enter mid-term review, now is a good time to start messaging impact and share important lessons learned. Getting it started, UNDP experts defined the goals of the workshop and the very space that encompasses “The Last Mile,” and country programs presented key takeaways half-way through project implementation. 

Country Presentations
Climate Action Hackathon
Stories from the Hackathon continue to roll in on the Climate Action Blog as the five teams (and one team forming virtually) continue to scale up, test and improve the applications they developed in Zambia.

“The Hackathon was an incredibly enabling environment for developing tools for climate and weather,” says Knife’s Edge team member Madi-JImba Yahya. “The panel sessions provided good insight into the underlying problems that plague climate issues, and helped Hackathon participants better understand the gaps that exist in the climate and weather industry, and its indirect impact on the public good.”

The Knife’s Edge team worked to develop a promising app that connects agricultural extension workers with a weather information dashboard that they can use to inform local farmers.

“While most of our team had heard about climate change and its impacts on the various sectors of the economy, what surprised us is the crucial role climate and weather information plays, as well as the expansiveness of sectors impacted,” says Teddy Odindo of the Climar Team, who developed a voice-messaging app to share relevant agro-climatic information in local languages.

The Hackathon was a breeding ground for innovation. The five onsite teams worked together to use design thinking principles to drive innovative applications for the sharing of weather and climate data.

“We were also surprised by the level of diversity in terms of skills and experience in our team, ranging from a coding expert, educator, GIS expert and business expert, to a climatologist as well as practitioner in climate change adaptation,” said Odindo. “Lastly, we were amazed by the huge number of companies and people working to bring climate services closer to the people who most need it. There exists a number of opportunities for us to work with other organizations to improve access to climate information.”

As the Hackathon moves into its virtual phase, partners from The Brown Institute for Media Innovations – a bi-coastal collaboration between Stanford’s School of Engineering and Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism – and The International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) will work with UNDP experts and country partners within National Hydro-Meteorological Services (NHMS) to scale up the innovations and create final products.

3-2-1 Action
With progress reports coming in from the CIRDA-supported Climate Information and Early Warning Systems Projects, one thing in particular stood out. Most countries supported through the CIRDA programme are now very actively engaged with Human Network International’s 3-2-1 service.

“CIRDA is serving as a knowledge broker and partnership builder, connecting innovative enterprises like Human Network International’s 3-2-1 service with National Hydro-Meteorological Services. By fostering these types of partnerships, we are working to take weather and climate data across the last mile,” says CIRDA Programme Manager Bonizella Biagini.

A number of other value-add services presented at the Zambia workshop, providing a new menu of services, service providers and unique approaches that African NHMS and Disaster Management Units can choose from to build tailored weather services and package weather information.

An entire learning arch was dedicated to communications. During that arch, the CIRDA Programme shared a Communications Toolkit that includes easy-to-navigate templates and strategies to issue early weather alerts, create response mechanisms and assign responsibilities in the early-warnings information chain, and create the supportive advocacy strategies necessary to build the enabling political environments necessary to continue with these important endeavors.

The use of agricultural extension services wasn’t just highlighted by the Hackathon teams, the Zambia Climate Information and Early Warning Systems Project is also looking to leverage extension services in a unique way, by placing information kiosks within agricultural extension offices. As with the design thinking process applied in the Hackathon, good communications starts with an intimate understanding of end-users. On the second day, country programs broke into teams to develop applications and messages based on the communications learning arch, with Burkina Faso and other countries presenting draft strategies to the plenary hall.  

Understanding Market Forces
Two upcoming publications and studies took center stage on the second day of plenary sessions. These included a much-anticipated publication entitled “A New Vision For Weather and Climate Services in Africa” and an in-depth UNDP market study conducted by C4Ecosolutions that is being shared as a draft to gain input and insight from the community of practice as well as NHMS across Africa.

“A New Vision for Weather and Climate Services in Africa” examines the climate information and services space in sub-Saharan Africa, taking a critical look at what hasn’t worked, why it’s important and possible solutions. The report is slated to launch soon. Can’t wait? Here’s a preview.  

The Market Study was conducted across the continent and dives much deeper into end-user needs, demand and market forces both on the supply and demand side of the weather services value chain.
This excerpt provides a tantalizing glimpse at the information contained in the report, which was designed as a unique third-party perspective to truly understand the way climate services are developing in sub-Saharan Africa.  

“Where markets for climate and weather information products have developed particularly successfully – e.g. in the USA and the Netherlands – NHMSs have been central to the process. A fundamental role of the NHMSs in these cases has been to provide good quality data and derived products from their extensive observation networks. This has enabled private weather companies to improve both the quality and the quantity of their products and services, and to develop new markets by providing tailored products and services catering to the needs of specific niches. Such government-provided data invariably underpin the growth of the commercial weather market, enabling companies to thrive. Another effect of a flourishing commercial weather market is to increase the status of the NHMS within both the private and public sectors, which in turn facilitates investments by government and the private sector into building the human resource capacity as well as infrastructure of the NHMS.

“This market assessment investigated how flourishing commercial weather markets could be catalysed in the countries supported by the CIRDA programme, and how NHMSs could maximise their benefit from such markets. Two main conclusions emerged from the assessment. Firstly, NHMSs should collaborate rather than compete with private sector weather companies; and secondly NHMSs should embark on phased, slow transitions into entities that derive benefits from the national commercial weather markets.”

How will all these lessons be applied by UNDP-supported, GEF-financed Climate Information and Early Warning Systems Projects, NHMS, Disaster Management Units, and other relevant stakeholders? It will take continued dialogue, enabling policies, constant contact with end users, and just a bit of hard work.

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