Building capacity for actionable climate science in Alaska

Recent decades have produced significant advancements in climate science, but it can be challenging to apply climate science to local and regional scale resource management, adaptation planning, and decision making. This has created a usability “gap” between climate science and decision-making processes.

Numerous assumptions have been made about how best to bridge this gap, including knowledge co-production, sustainability science, translational ecology, and other boundary spanning efforts. To date, many of the people involved in these processes learn how to do them through first-hand experience. However, in order to expedite the adoption of these approaches, many people have called for more training. Numerous organizations are also independently hosting efforts to build capacity in actionable climate science.

The goal of this study is to develop a better understanding of existing training activities in the co-production of climate and conservation science, and to specifically understand who they are reaching, what they are teaching, and how the training programs are conceived.

The study was started in June 2017 and consists of two parts. First, a systematic web search was conducted in order to identify existing training activities. Using a series of key words and a snowball sampling technique, 42 training activities were identified in the U.S. (28 In-person, 7 Fellowships, 3 Transdisciplinary Conferences, and 3 Customized Training). Materials associated with each activity, such as syllabi, reports, webpages, and other documents were downloaded and analyzed with an inductive coding process. As themes emerged, these were cross-referenced to existing literature. The preliminary results show that approximately half of the trainings focus on practitioners (natural resources, tribal) and half focus on scientists (graduate students, early career scientists, and later career scientists), with about 20% including both groups of people. Participants were most often taught about climate change and local climate impacts. They were taught communication, facilitation, and occasionally more technical skills (i.e. accessing data, GIS). The combined trainings often focused on relationship building and networking.

Following the content analysis, several trainers from the identified organizations and programs were invited to participate in an in-depth interview about their training activities and their role in shaping them. Interviews (40-60 minutes) with 11 trainers or program managers were conducted in April through May 2018. The analysis of the interviews are still underway, but are likely to add valuable context to the results of the content analysis.

This study was broadly motivated by our interest in hosting a training and building greater capacity for actionable climate science in Alaska. It will likely guide future practical efforts to achieve these goals. However, the results are likely to be broadly applicable to a range of organizations and programs. To that end, the results will also be compiled in a white paper and peer-reviewed publication.

This study will build on the work of several recent studies that aim to uncover the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for knowledge co-production in climate and conservation science and how knowledge and experience is deployed in these efforts.