Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

TALK | Climate Roundtables in SEQ, GCI

Last week, having just undertaken successful delivery of a Long Time, No See? dialogue and walkshop in Noosa, Harbinger’s Linda Carroli attended a talk by Professor Helen Ross and Dr Sylvie Shaw about their Global Change Institute, UQ funded research project examining locally applicable knowledge and engagement in climate change adaptation and action. The lecture provided insight into a series of ‘Climate Roundtables’ presented in South East Queensland (SEQ) in three localities, Redlands, Moreton Bay and Scenic Rim. A fourth ‘Regional Roundtable’ completed the process. The project principally developed and tested a participatory process for eliciting local, systemic knowledge and encouraging participation by connecting diverse community members.

As a fast growing region which is vulnerable to a range of climate change impacts, such as drought, flood and sea level rise, there is a need to find innovative ways of engaging SEQ communities in intersectoral responses to climate change. In other words, it involved ‘getting the system in the room’ to share knowledge and create links across diverse interests and backgrounds. This project sought to develop an experiential, systems-based and locally-grounded process by which to couple enhanced understanding of climate change risks with informed response. Professor Ross and Dr Shaw outlined their engagement process including the development of system maps – influence diagrams (see image below) – by which participants mapped system flows and feedback loops in relation to particular threats. Climate change not only poses risks to human populations, it also impacts biodiversity and ecosystem services. The researchers had observed a fragmented and siloed tendencies in addressing climate change – such tendencies can be wasteful and counterproductive.

Image. Slide from Professor Helen Ross & Dr Sylvie Shaw’s presentation at the Global Change Institute.

A recent Guardian article discussed the importance of ‘framing’ in relation to climate change communication, stating that “Climate change is a scientific fact, and increasingly a lived human experience. But it is not yet what sociologists call ‘a social fact’. It’s not an integral part of the way we shape our social practices, nor a significant enough cultural norm to act as a constraint on our behaviour.” The authors, Jonathan Rowson and Adam Corner, explain that

What climate change means – and by extension how we should collectively mobilise a meaningful response to it – remains stubbornly stuck, like a broken record, on a problematic vision of ‘The Science’ translating into a comically generic injunction for Action, with most of the difficult ethical, cultural, political and economic questions left implicit, for policymakers to work out, as if they were equipped for such a task.

Research projects like the Climate Roundtables address this by offering a process that starts with experience and locality, recognising the importance of socio-ecological systems. The participatory process was compelling, offering a platform for participants to share stories and compare notes about climate experiences and perceptions arising from extreme weather, seasonal fluctuations and the like. There was one exercise in which a timeline was drawn up to capturing recollections of particular weather patterns and climate experiences. This further enabled shared meaning making and knowledge creation that facilitated the creation of linkages from major event to impacts and risks. Professor Ross and Dr Shaw stressed the need to create rapport early, particularly in the recruitment process, and use neutral language, opting to use the term ‘climate variability’ rather than ‘climate change’. This diffused potential pressure points and heat. They also stressed the need for good process design – the roundtable agenda was developed through an intensive collaborative process involving the whole team over two days who tested ideas and scenarios. It seemed like user experience was part of the testing process, say by applying user scenarios. The idea of the roundtable – rather than a workshop – was important because it communicated a sense of equity and participation.

The roundtable was comprised of several parts starting with acknowledgement of traditional custodianship, a symbolic and culturally enriching way of recognising diverse relationships with country. The first process was described as ‘a dump’, where participants had their initial say. Parts of this process reminded me of Causal Layered Analysis which involves a litany process – as a kind of deconstruction or confrontation of a problem – before moving into constructions of knowledge, power, narratives, scenarios and new stories. The researchers stressed the importance of ensuring participants had their say prior to the scientists providing a Climate Briefing. The roundtables all seemed highly engaging with most of the action and discussion involving high levels of discussion and learning. The next stages were brainstorming, identifying climate connections, and identifying responses to risks through actions and adaptation.

The ‘climate connections’ process is compelling as it involved participants, drawing on their experience and local knowledge, to develop a system analysis of particular climate change scenarios. For example, groups might be asked what they might anticipate the risks and results of sea level rise. They then developed chains of influences and impacts e.g. increased flooding in seaside communities, increasing insurance premiums, loss of housing stock, policy responses such as planned retreat from coastal areas, and the likelihood of different socio-economic groups experiencing such impacts unevenly. There is more detail in the report, and the process had a distinct awarness raising element as participants from different sectors compared notes. For example, in reporting on the roundtable from Logan, Professor Ross and Dr Shaw noted that representatives from the South Sea Islander community pointed out that sea level rise impacts on the Pacific Islands would result in a greater number of environmental refugees who, if resettled in South East Queensland, would be more likely to settle in Logan City as a multicultural hub with a large number of South Sea Islander residents. This would also impact on service and housing provision. The combined knowledge of the participants resulted in the development of detailed and complex maps which, in turn, resulted in a greater understanding of the social, cultural, psychological, environmental and economic impacts of climate change. It also resulted in participants’ understanding the importance of small actions in the greater scheme.

The roundtables positively built discussion, networks, confidence, knowledge and adaptive capacity among the participants. A range of differentiated and diverse responses to climate change risk were also developed. Importantly, this created insight into how to avoid single maladaptive actions and recognition that more than one strategy was required to address the complexity of climate change. The researchers also noted the importance of the social aspects of the roundtable – bringing people together in this social and interactive learning process not only provided a shared experience but also resulted in connections for ongoing collaborative action and change making in their locality. For the researchers, it was important to start ‘where people were at’. Anchoring the process in the experiential had a normalising, perhaps equalising, effect. Participants also expressed concerns about a lack of leadership from government. This lack of leadership and governance might be the subject of another chain of influence diagramming. What, as communities, do we do if government is non-responsive or counterproductive in responding to climate change impacts? The strengthening of networks can play an important role in enhanced governance.

A report from the project is available online from the Global Change Institute website.

While this process is very different to Long Time, No See?, there seemed to be some shared priorities in terms of engaging experience, mapping values/relationships, and valuing the local via more social or socio-cultural approaches to learning and knowledge that respected  socio-ecological systems. Rowson and Corner proposed “those who broadly accept the facts of climate change struggle to see themselves either as part of the problem or the solution. No wonder then that our societal response has been lacking precisely those personal qualities – passion, honesty, tenacity, and vision – that the issue demands of us.” Yet, projects like Climate Roundtables are successfully tapping into those qualities; it would be interesting to evaluate longitudinal success. As the Long Time, No See? team prepares to redesign our dialogue process, there are some clear learnings from the Climate Roundtables that can be applied. We’d like this artwork to play a role in sustainability education and awareness raising, as a cultural engagement, something that we may be able to explore as Long Time, No See? commences its two year screeening at The Cube, QUT. The project can be more effective if it is cleverly interwoven with other engagement, research and participation processes.


1 Comment»

  lcarroli wrote @

PS. Another article from The Guardian discusses why talking about climate change – or climate communication – is so difficult. See: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/southern-crossroads/2014/jun/10/global-warming-climate-change-asymmetric-insight

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