Users First: Building the Climate Security Observatory

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By Sigmund Kluckner, Digital Innovation Consultant for Impact Organizations and Change Makers, and Theresa Liebig, Associate Scientist, CGIAR Focus Climate Security

The climate-security nexus has become a key issue in public and scientific debates. Research on the nexus and associated risks, implications, and solutions is scattered across scientific disciplines. With the Climate Security Observatory (CSO), the CGIAR Focus Climate Security aims to develop a platform that combines the different research streams and provides consolidated information to decision-makers. To ensure we developed a useful tool, users and decision-makers were included throughout its design and development. Their needs and challenges have informed our overall process and their input directly shapes the CSO. 

The Climate Security Observatory – What it is

As climate variability impacts agroecological systems, people’s lives and security concerns are changing. Prominent examples of emerging security issues and conflict are farmer-herder and pastoralist conflicts in the Sahel revolving around access to and claims for land and water. 

When climate impacts on natural resources and agriculture undermine rural livelihoods and food security, and in a context of poverty and political and socioeconomic inequality, lead to grievances and conflicts, this is called a climate-security pathway. Many of these pathways involve water, land, and food systems.  

But there are many other, less obvious ways climate variability can exacerbate conflict. For instance, projects intended to adapt to or mitigate climate change and variability impacts may unintentionally trigger tensions and conflicts if trade-offs were not considered beforehand. The causal link between climate change and conflict can also work in the opposite direction; by displacing a large number of people, conflicts (and natural disasters) have enormous effects on infrastructure and the environment and can exacerbate climate change, for example, due to increased deforestation. 

The CSO will provide descriptions and analysis of the various pathways via which climate change and variability might act as a multidirectional threat multiplier to existing vulnerabilities and insecurity.

While the potential impacts of climate variability on human security have been researched extensively in recent years, there is still a lack of actionable evidence that supports policymakers in making climate security-sensitive decisions. The CGIAR Climate Security team has created the CSO to fill this gap.

The team is developing the CSO to expand access to high-quality information about and increase awareness of climate security-related issues, focusing primarily, but not exclusively, on the role of water, land and food systems. According to current plans, informed by extensive user engagement, the CSO will seek to provide answers to four main questions: 

  • How does climate worsen the root causes of conflict?    
  • Where are the most vulnerable areas to climate-induced insecurities and risks?  
  • Who are vulnerable groups to climate and security risks that should be targeted?   
  • What needs to be done to break the cycle between climate and conflict?  

Using a transdisciplinary approach, the CSO will feature granular information gained through the integration of qualitative and quantitative analyses and sources such as spatial, network and econometric analyses, social media and policy coherence analyses, extensive literature reviews, expert and field knowledge, and other assessment tools. This information will be available to support decision-makers in target countries and internationally. 

We hope this information will contribute to mitigating climate-triggered insecurity risks so that climate-resilient peace will be more achievable. 

Designing the CSO with the user at the center

During the initial design and development phases, we made a special effort to understand the potential user base of the CSO. It is important for us to make sure that we are not just building the platform for our own or research’s sake but that we create something valuable for those working in the field of climate security. These user-centered approaches give us insight into the aims of the people browsing our platform, allow us to better gauge their needs in terms of content and the system’s functionality, and give us an idea of how their work might be impacted by having the CSO at their disposal. 

We consulted representatives of the three main user groups that were identified before this exercise: International Organizations (i.e., the United Nations and UN-related organizations, regional intergovernmental entities, etc.), peacebuilding and peacekeeping organizations (possibly overlapping with the above, but also NGOs and foundations working on peace and conflict matters), and governmental entities like ministries, departments and agencies (working on either climate change or conflict prevention, peace and security).

During the consultations and workshops, we asked the following fundamental questions: 

–         What role and responsibility do you have in your organization and team? 

–         Where do you currently get the information and data for your job? 

– (And, after explaining our initial idea for the CSO):   How can the Climate Security Observatory be useful to you? 

Based on these questions and our conversations, we adapted the “value proposition canvas” by Peter J Thomson and the “multisided value proposition canvas for digital platforms” by Paul Belleflamme and Nicolas Neysen. We asked ourselves: What are the wants and needs of the users (in their roles and organizations), and what are their fears? And on the other hand, what features, benefits and experiences can the CSO provide for the users? The findings will inform how we design and develop the CSO with our users at the center.

The workshops and meetings provided great input and insights. While participants described their day-to-day work, the information sources they use and their excitement about the plans for the CSO, we scribbled pages and pages of notes. Some of the main points raised confirmed our existing ideas (after all, the CSO team has extensive subject knowledge and experience); some of the explanations gave us new insights into how these organizations work on a global level; and we also received inspiring and surprising input, ideas and feature requests. 

One thing that stood out for us was how and where our workshop participants currently get their information about climate security topics: most of them use various websites, downloading and compiling information in self-built tools and systems. This demonstrates the need for the CSO: climate information and security/conflict/peace information are generated by separate disciplines and are only slowly being integrated. The CSO and the “Climate Security Index” – a subnational measure for climate security that assesses relationships between drivers of the nexus, which soon will be integrated into the CSO – will address this need. 

Many of our participants also mentioned the need for more country-specific conflict and climate data; and, beyond, historical views on how the different topics developed over time. As expected, however, our stakeholders have different needs for access to and visualization of this data, as they work in different organizations with different aims. This also applies within teams: a data analyst might need more granular data tables, while a government liaison might expect diagrams and charts to support meetings. For this reason, the CSO data will be shown in pre-defined views but can also be accessed in a format that allows for further analysis. 

During our discussions, we also heard of different expectations for the timing of data publication: especially those organizations and teams ‘on the ground’ prefer to receive data in close to real-time, to assess situations and respond quickly. Other organizations and teams are content with longer update cycles to inform programs that aim to build resilience. The first versions of the CSO will release data in longer update cycles in line with the research outputs of the Climate Security team. In contrast, future versions will consider speeding up this process by linking external data and automated publication. 

In future releases of the CSO, we are also already updating the roadmap with new features. These include two very exciting challenges that were mentioned repeatedly in the workshops: The lack of information sharing and coordination between projects by different organizations working on peacebuilding (“know what worked for others”) and the need to provide insights into cross-border conflicts (as current research is often using political borders as boundaries). 

We hope to release our first version of the CSO public dashboard soon, but we know there is still much work to be done. In addition to expanding the features of the CSO, we are also aiming to onboard more countries within our research and the platform. Staying true to our user-first mindset, we will continue the conversation with all involved, showcase and test the beta version with those interested and aim to build a strong partnership between the CSO team and the organizations working in the climate and security nexus.

We look forward to having more and more users engaged in developing our tool; we are building this tool for you and with you. If you are eager to see an early version of the CSO or want to contribute ideas, feel free to reach out to – we would love to hear from you and chat about your expectations for the Climate Security Observatory! 

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