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A low-carbon transition – how much faster if we had “actionable knowledge?”


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Summary

When it comes to climate change, the sheer volume of relevant and available information is overwhelming. As noted by E.O. Wilson:

We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.

But finding and synthesizing "actionable knowledge" from the infinity of available climate information is not easy. The Climate Web is unique in using knowledge management thinking to curate and organize the work of hundreds of individuals and organizations generating potential actionable climate knowledge into a publicly accessible and navigable knowledgebase. The Climate Web integrates knowledge from more than a dozen relevant disciplines, organizing books, reports, presentations, news stories, websites, and videos. But it goes further, extracting and linking tables, figures, presentation slides, and even specific ideas in ways intended to help advance the objective of getting "the right information to the right person at the right time."

A huge amount of potentially actionable knowledge already exists. Some of it probably is what you are looking for, whether as an individual or a CEO, to inform your climate change decision-making. Unfortunately, both individuals and CEOs are unlikely to ever spot that particular knowledge because of the overwhelming daily volume of information. Google any climate question or term and you’ll generate millions of hits. By curating critical climate knowledge, the Climate Web delivers on what the internet was supposed to be.

Carla O'Dell, one of the mothers of the discipline of knowledge management, summarized the challenge as: "If only we knew what we know!" That’s the ultimate goal of the Climate Web. Imagine if each of us according to our own needs could draw from the body of collective knowledge across climate-relevant disciplines from science to psychology to risk (and many more). What if we could find the actionable knowledge that matters to us, thus influencing our perceptions of climate change and our climate decision-making? We can.


What actions do you propose?

The Climate Web is not intended to propose new actions, policies, or behaviors. That’s hardly necessary to significantly accelerate progress on climate change, given the existing pool of  proposed actions and behavior changes we can already draw from. Rather, the goal of the Climate Web is to help individuals at all levels find the information and resources most useful to them when it comes to considering climate related actions and behaviors they may be involved in or considering.

Whether you are a teacher, an executive, a lawyer, an inventor, a policy-maker, or indeed anyone interested in the climate change problem, there is almost certainly information you don’t have that could influence your thinking if it could be made accessible to and usable by you. When you go looking for that information through Google, you are likely to only look at items 1-3 of the millions of suggested hits.  You are unlikely to find the actionable knowledge that might well be present (but hidden) in the longer list.

What if thousands of climate change decision-makers and stakeholders could instantly:

  • Quickly scan the key points of a new report or book, and link to related topics, discussions, and literatures?         
  • Understand important news by linking to the most relevant and insightful other resources?
  • Quickly review key facts and materials from (largely forgotten) prior books and reports?
  • Explore trending news topic, going beyond the headlines?
  • Delve into the literature on a particular climate change issue?
  • Dig into the technical and social arguments around key climate issues and questions?
  • Explore the organizations and web resources most relevant to a given climate topic?

 

These are just a few of the things you can do with the Climate Web, which is built on a TheBrain® software platform. The software combines the qualities of being easy to learn, infinitely scalable, and quickly modifiable; this makes it a uniquely powerful tool in advancing knowledge management  objectives in an area as complicated as climate change.

Making climate information accessible to and usable by a wide diversity of individuals requires two primary things: 1) continued work to develop and expand the Climate Web, and 2) continued work to encourage potential  Climate Web users to consider new ways to  filter and process climate-relevant information.

Expanding  the Climate Web

The Climate Web has been in development for more than 3 years, and reflects  more than 16,000 hours of invested time. It is an enormous knowledgebase, encompassing more than 12,000 documents and 15,000 URLs pointing to blogs, news stories, websites, and other resources. While the Climate Web proves the concept of applying knowledge management thinking to climate change decision-making, it has only scratched the surface of what it  can deliver when it comes to actionable knowledge regarding climate risks and opportunities. Because of the work already done, Climate Web is in a position to become exponentially more useful in delivering actionable knowledge by simplifying what users need to do, and shortening the time users need to find actionable knowledge (including information they might not know they were looking for). 

Building and Training the User Base

The Climate Web is fully functional and publicly accessible.  Efforts to date have focused on building rather than marketing the Climate Web, and it only gets a couple of hundred visitors per day. To make it a more successful tool, we need to expand the outreach channels through which individuals hear about the Climate Web, and continue to adapt the Climate Web to the needs users have identified. Just in the last two months, the Climate Web become accessible through Climate Spotlights embedded on web pages, greatly expanding its potential user base since the webpage environment is more intuitive for many users. When people are exposed to the Climate Web they are amazed by its scope and content, so we know there is an enormous opportunity to figure out what kinds of users will make effective use of the Climate Web through its multiple delivery systems and how to best adapt the Climate Web to their needs. We recognize the goal of adapting the tool to the needs of its users, rather than the other way around.  

The vast majority of climate information we consume today through social networks and other means often seems primarily intended to reinforce our existing belief systems, stoke our pre-existing outrage, and reinforce the “enemy frame” that pervades so much climate communication today. There is a growing literature on how damaging this is to actual progress on climate change. Getting people to think differently about the importance of finding the actionable knowledge that might actually help them advance progress on climate change—and to be willing to come up the short learning curve associated with the Climate Web—does require behavior change. There is no “app for that” when it comes to accessing actionable climate knowledge. We think that the Climate Web can come close to such a goal, but that will require a common effort. 


Who will take these actions?

A key advantage of approaching climate change from a knowledge management perspective is recognizing that  the same underlying knowledgebase can be sliced and diced in multiple ways to satisfy the needs of different audiences. You can see this explored in this “Holy Grail” Spotlight in the Climate Web.

Who can benefit from the Climate Web knowledgebase?

  • Individuals wanting to take advantage of the latest and best research on how to communicate with friends and family on climate change.
  • Teachers wanting to access the best available climate change teaching resources.
  • Policy makers wanting to understand the history and science behind pricing carbon.
  • Lawyers wanting to track legal theories being used in climate change litigation around the world.
  • Investors wanting to understand what assets might actually be stranded in the future and whether fossil fuel divestment is a useful strategy.
  • Writers wanting to explore the discipline of Climate Fiction (Cli-Fi).
  • Corporate strategists wanting to engage in climate risk scenario planning. 

 

All of these actors, and many more, can use the Climate Web to explore topics and questions of importance to them in their search for actionable knowledge.  


Where will these actions be taken?

There is no inherent geographical target associated with the Climate Web. Global users can look for actionable knowledge in the Climate Web on topics like climate change communications, climate change decision-making psychology, and climate science. That said, the Climate Web is in English, and curated information on topics like climate change impacts, corporate risk perceptions and risk management, and law and litigation, does tend to include more information from North America than the rest of the world. But this is purely a matter of audience and resources; there is nothing about the Climate Web that inherently limits it to English or to a topical focus on North America. 


How will these actions have a high impact in addressing climate change?

Enormous amounts of information are generated daily in an effort to influence climate change thinking and decision-making. An effective climate knowledge management system can’t help but make such information more useful in overcoming barriers facing both private and public action on climate change. The hypothesis behind the Climate Web is twofold: 1) that actionable knowledge will improve climate-related decision-making, and 2) that curating, organizing, and linking large amounts of the most relevant climate information will make actionable knowledge more readily accessible.  That said, it is difficult to link knowledge management directly to  specific emissions reductions outcomes. What we can safely say is that knowledge management through tools like the Climate Web has the potential to radically leverage the emissions reduction effectiveness of climate-related information.  


What are other key benefits?

The Climate Web uses knowledge management thinking and tools to tackle climate change. Such tools are intended to result in users focusing less of their time on reinforcing pre-existing beliefs about the problem, and more on finding the actionable knowledge that might make a difference to their decision-making on climate issues. Knowledge management tools and thinking are applicable to many other individual and organizational needs, and exposure to the Climate Web could promote more successful knowledge management among those users. 


What are the proposal’s costs?

While keeping the Climate Web public access, we need to put  it on  on a sustainable financial footing based on foundation support, subscription fees (for customized products like company-specific risk dashboards), website sponsorships, and specialized information-based consulting for specific users and audiences. The 16,000 hours invested in the Climate Web to date have been self-funded by the Climatographers. An interim annual budget of $250,000 will allow us to substantially increase the resources available to develop and market the Climate Web to potential users. A long-term annual budget of $500,000 would make it possible for the Climate Web to take on a long-term life of its own and to reach a potentially enormous user base. 


Time line

The Climate Web's goal is to take on a long-term life of its own in supporting climate change decision-making.

The timeline of this proposal relates to the speed with which the Climate Web's user base can be accelerated in order to serve thousands of users per day rather than hundreds. The Climate Web is already fully functional, meaning that it is ready for an accelerated roll-out and deployment as soon as resources and networks are available.  


Related proposals

Another Climate Colab proposal relating to this one is “Climate Chess 1.0 Isn’t Working – Let’s Move to 2.0.” To most effectively play Climate Chess you need a knowledge management system through which to track the players and the pieces on the chess board. The Climate Web offers such a system, and Climate Chess is specifically explored there. That said, the Climate Web is not currently focused on supporting Climate Chess 2.0, and creating that capacity is a focus of the related proposal. 

New Climate Magazine - different medium, but some of the same goals around which the Climate Web is being based. 

New Climate Magazine: Learning to live on a changing planet

 


References

Extensive literature exists on:

  • How we make decisions, and how decision-making is effectively influenced
  • The importance of knowledge management for wicked problem solving
  • The growing importance of knowledge networks
  • The problem of overwhelming information
  • The need for actionable knowledge
  • The relevance of scenario planning for public and private decision-making
  • The importance of breaking down disciplinary silos in favor of cross-silo information exchange and collaboration.  

 

The Climate Web responds to all of these needs, and includes hundreds of documents, papers, infographics, videos and other materials relating to these questions (in addition to the 25,000 documents and URLs specifically focused on climate change issues).  We also explore relevant questions in the following Climate Web Climate Spotlights: 

Actionable Knowledge - The Holy Grail

Why the Climate Web?

The Paris Agreement