338170 Bridging the Climate Information Usability Gap: Participatory Action Research with Agricultural Communities of Northern New England

Sunday, 7 January 2018
Exhibit Hall 5 (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Alissa White, Univ. of Vermont, Burlington, VT

The disparity between critical climate information and its actual application or use by stakeholders is referred to as the climate information usability gap. Integrated and participatory approaches are advocated as the effective way to overcome this gap, deliver complex and challenging science-based information and support agricultural communities in adapting to climate change (Gurung and Bhandari 2009; Kirchhoff et al., 2013; Bubela et al., 2009; Cash et al., 2006; Haywood and Besley 2013; Meadow et al., 2015). This body of scholarship is concurrent with a wave of recent literature criticizing academic knowledge for failing to serve the world outside university walls and advocating for greater emphasis on creating more usable scientific knowledge (e.g. Clark et al., 2016; Kirchoff et al., 2013).

Results of in-depth interviews with extension agents in the Northeast explore their experiences in delivering information about climate change to farmers, highlighting valuable trends in what works on the ground and what doesn't. Qualitative analysis of these interviews also reveals how knowledge which is co-produced with farmers 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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