1.5 Bridging the Climate Information Usability Gap in Agricultural Communities

Monday, 8 January 2018: 9:45 AM
Ballroom F (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Alissa White, Univ. of Vermont, Burlington, VT

Extension programs in the Northeast U.S. serve as crucial boundary organizations that deliver relevant science-based climate information to agricultural communities in the region. Extension agents report that they increasingly leverage collaborative relationships with farmers to co-create new agricultural knowledge about climate impacts, integrate climate science into usable agricultural information, and influence management changes on farms.

Results of in-depth interviews with extension agents in the Northeast highlight two major themes of interest. First, extension agents who have engaged in knowledge co-production identify factors which facilitate and constrain the co-production of knowledge, offering practical advice to anyone interested in knowledge co-production. Second, these outreach professionals share their experiences in delivering information about climate change to farmers, highlighting valuable trends in what works on the ground and what doesn't.

Interactional expertise emerges as central to the successful co-production of knowledge between certified experts and local stakeholders. Interactional expertise is tied to positive collaborative outcomes made possible through mutual trust, respect, listening, flexibility and follow-through. Relationships fostering these characteristics facilitate the sharing of contributory expertise between extension professionals and farmers, and ultimately the co-production of knowledge.

Success stories from this region showcase how research and outreach efforts leverage the established relationships extension programs have built with the agricultural community to produce actionable information. Co-produced information in these cases is reported as more usable because it is tailored to specific agricultural operating contexts, tied to climate impacts, and delivered strategically. Examples include translating weather data into growing degree days, linking weather data to nutrient availability in soils, and quantifying the mitigation co-benefits of practices that promise more tangible advantages for farmers. This research supports the idea that co-produced knowledge grounded by stakeholder expertise bridges the usability gap and overcomes many of the challenges identified by diffusion of innovation theory.

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