This paper reports on GLISA's efforts to better understand its stakeholders' need for, and use of, climate information through the analysis of existing documents focusing on climate impact and response in the Great Lakes region. We use these documents to build a comprehensive database of stakeholder characteristics and needs across the whole region and to develop a scientific framework to analyze variables of interest including: a) characteristics of stakeholders currently engaged, including information about what organizations they belong to, at what scale and in what sector; b) the evolution and scope of stakeholders' thinking, engagement, and perception of climate knowledge needs in the Great Lakes region; c) the existence and configuration of existing stakeholder networks; d) the character and scope of actual actions and interventions to mitigate and adapt to climate impacts; e) kind and scope of knowledge needs (e.g. accuracy/level of uncertainty, spatial distribution in different sectors), patterns of knowledge production, access and uptake; and f) levels of interaction with scientists, participation in networks, and characterization of needs across scale and sectors. Such knowledge is vital not only to inform our future assessment research, but also to increase the effectiveness of science-policy networks in informing decision-making in the Great Lakes region.
One important goal this study is to develop a comparative analytical framework that can be used across RISAs. For that we are collaborating with the Western Water Assessment and the Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments in the design and implementation of this framework.
Data collection and organization were carried out in three phases. First, through web-based searches, key informant and academic contacts, and library searches, we identified and collected 70 documents and reports focusing on climate knowledge needs in the GL region. Then, in collaboration with our partner RISAs, we developed a common coding guide book focusing on activities being undertaken to address issues associated with climate change mitigation and adaptation, existing stakeholder needs for responding to climate change, trusted sources of information, perceived constraints and opportunities, and how the perceptions of these topics have evolved over time. Next, we organized the database in N-Vivo for further analysis. Finally, we identified stakeholders and their characteristics, including sector, area of focus and affiliation, to identify and map the social networks associated with the creation of documents and participation in key events that have produced and disseminated climate information.
Our findings suggest that assessments are often focused on either adaptation or mitigation, and are further fragmented by the interests of specific sectors. For example, the shipping industry is primarily concerned with adapting to fluctuating (lowering) water levels in the Great Lakes and expresses informational needs directly relating to this issue, such as the need to understand the short-term impacts of climate variability, improving real time communication with captains about water depths, and recommending dredging channels and ports deeper and extending the shipping season by utilizing existing icebreakers. Meanwhile those interested in the agricultural sector emphasize the need for regional and small-scale climate assessments in order to obtain a better understanding of appropriate adaptation measures that will address impacts of climate variability now and in the future.
Commonalities across sectors were found as well, some of which include information gaps, difficulty managing uncertainty (the role of the media "sensationalizing" climate change), the complicated management structure of the Great Lakes (lack of formal institutional structures), and adaptation needs and recommendations. Additionally, action is largely driven by context. Whether or not action is being taken in a region is largely dependent on whether neighboring regions are taking action. Smaller entities are waiting for guidance from other, usually larger, entities whether through example or incentives before utilizing climate knowledge to develop policy.