Working as a team to promote adaptation to climate change | UNSC

Beneficiaries of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) — mostly poor rural small-scale producers in developing countries — are among the hardest hit by climate change-induced shocks such as floods and droughts. The impact they suffer is disproportionate to their minimal contribution to the problem. Helping beneficiaries adapt to climate change is one of IFAD’s priorities that we hold most dear and on which we believe our innovations should focus. How to achieve this goal? How can we involve and raise awareness? What new approaches can be used?

Achieve goals through United Nations Innovation Toolkit

Let’s start with the basics. What is adaptation to climate change? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines it as follows: “the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate change and its effects. In human systems, adaptation seeks to moderate or avoid harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. In some natural systems, human intervention can facilitate adjustment to predicted climate and its effects. (IPCC, WGII, III).

Between 2019 and 2021, IFAD has invested approximately $1,220 million, including cofinancing, in climate finance in the developing world. Ninety percent of this amount went to climate adaptation interventions led by small-scale producers. As part of the research and impact evaluation team, we started by asking, how much have we achieved? To what extent do people adopt the promoted practices? What are the impacts?

As the IPCC definition implies, adaptation to climate change is a context-specific process, as are livelihood and production strategies. It is also influenced and determined by the natural resource base in each context, the infrastructure available and by the types, intensity and frequency of risks and shocks to which different contexts are exposed.

Measuring the adoption rates of these various adaptation options and their impacts on livelihoods is key to understanding which options work best and can help people adopt.

How does this work in practice using the UN Innovation Toolkit?

We looked at the UN Innovation Toolkit and thought the Innovation storytelling tool would help us communicate and change the culture to help us achieve our goal. People need facts to be convinced, but facts are only convincing when accompanied by a good story, which involves the people, their contexts, their backgrounds and their challenges. These reflections made us realize the importance of first understanding what is happening in the contexts where we operate, documenting what is happening and understanding what is important to the people we serve.

We realized that given the requirement for context-specific adaptation, it is important to understand and document every story and project where we operate. The work we do is a great way to learn from evidence, and evidence is a powerful tool for telling compelling stories. This is what we do when we visit countries to engage stakeholders in our work, share their stories and help us better understand their contexts. We win with a more complete story to validate with our stakeholders; and this is what we have done for example in Bolivia, in Tajikistan and in many other countries.

Examples of adaptation options we are exploring among IFAD-supported projects include the establishment of rotational livestock feeding schemes to rehabilitate degraded pastures in Tajikistan or support agricultural production using small-scale irrigation in areas Bolivia.

How we used the Innovation Storytelling tool to reach our audience

To construct a good story, we must understand the story. First, we interviewed stakeholders (implementers, beneficiaries, project design team, government, etc.) to understand what adaptation options were promoted in these projects and what they consisted of.

In a second step, we decided to develop an innovative screening tool where we organized these adaptation options by type and context in order to assess the drivers and rate of adoption. Accordingly, we formulated specifically tailored survey questions.

Finally, we measured the impacts of adaptation choices on people’s livelihoods through analysis of household-level data that is enriched with geo-referenced data and through focus group discussions and discussion with key stakeholders. . This allows us to have a complete story.

At the end of our impact analysis work, we followed the the four steps of the Innovation Storytelling tool to effectively communicate our results to our primary audience. The audience is made up of technical experts involved in the design of climate adaptation projects, operational actors who implement the projects on the ground and donors who finance the interventions.

This means that as first stepwe decided what would be the main findings of our impact evaluation of the projects in terms of lessons learned about what worked and did not work to promote climate change adaptation in specific contexts.

Secondwe have identified the main audience that would be interested in our results. Thirdwe have chosen the appropriate storytelling or communication method that involves writing technical reports for the technical audience while distilling our key findings into guidance notes and infographics are aimed at operational staff and political decision-makers. Fourth, we made sure to present our findings in a visually appealing way to our IFAD colleagues, relevant government authorities and our donors through seminars and validation workshops. We also remained available to answer follow-up questions from our audience.

Foster a culture to learn from impacts and help promote climate adaptation

To document how adaptation has led to better livelihoods, we have relied on storytelling to communicate the challenges posed by climate change and the importance of adapting today for a better tomorrow.

Specifically, we combined the storytelling information from the UN Innovation Toolkit with the more quantitative analysis that we normally conduct at IFAD. This process assesses the impacts of IFAD investments on key livelihood indicators. We aim to foster a culture shift towards the importance of learning from evaluation rather than seeing it as just an audit of project performance. The ultimate goal is to more effectively communicate the critical need to adapt to climate change as it poses an existential challenge to the people we serve.

To capture the lessons and stories emerging from the evaluation we conduct, we generated tools and stories which we use to disseminate information about the importance of adapting to climate risks and challenges and provide examples of how this can be achieved.

To learn more about the impact of IFAD’s operations at the corporate and project level, including options for climate adaptation and more, please see our recently published reports here.

Teresa H. Sadler