Red Cross/ Red Crescent Climate Centre

'Taking science to society': A game on the ethics of providing climate services

10/03/2014 - by Joseph Daron in Cape Town

There is enormous pressure on the climate science community to provide output that is relevant to society, and to meet the demand for information to support climate change adaptation there has been a tremendous growth in the provision of climate services across the world.

As scientists are becoming increasingly engaged in climate services, there is a widespread belief that providing large amounts of detailed information about climate model projections is beneficial to the user.

In some cases, users are asked to pay large sums of money for greatly downscaled model results.

But if users confidently make decisions based on specific but imperfect information, their decisions may not be robust in the face of uncertainties, and could end up increasing the risks to society.

Providers of climate services, therefore, have a responsibility to help decision-makers understand the strengths and limitations of the information.

Decision-makers, scientists

The Climate Centre and the Climate System Analysis Group at the University of Cape Town have been working together to develop the Taking science to society game to help illustrate the ethical dimensions of climate services.

It has been designed to help both climate scientists and those involved in the dialogue around climate change recognise the dangers of failing to communicate the value of detailed but uncertain climate information.

In the game, people are divided into teams of “decision-makers” and “scientists”. The decision-makers must make investment decisions for a climate-sensitive community using information provided by the scientists.

The game was first played at the Third International Conference on Climate Services in Montego Gay, Jamaica, last December, and now this month at a British Council researcher links workshop in Cape Town.

Entitled “From Climate Science to Climate Services for Society”, the workshop was led by the UK Met Office and brought together researchers from Britain and South Africa.

As well as thoroughly enjoying the game, participants said they found it allowed them to immerse themselves in situations which closely paralleled the real-life challenges of providing information to decision-makers.

‘Insights’

“There is a fine line between providing climate information and providing a climate service in which the information is tailored and useful to the recipients,” said Erin Coughlan de Perez, one of the designers of the game.

“This game helps highlight that distinction. As players acknowledge the societal factors that can create a divide between producers and recipients of climate information, the game catalyses discussion on how such collaboration can be improved.”

The Climate Centre’s Associate Director for Research and Innovation, Pablo Suarez, adds: “When they get a chance to interact, climate scientists and decision-makers rarely experience the insights that emerge from the real world when forecasts don’t deliver quite what’s expected.

“Participatory games elicit learning and dialogue to improve communication, and the intense interactions enabled by this serious, but fun, activity help tailor expectations of what climate services can – and cannot – deliver.”

Dr Joseph Daron is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Climate System Analysis Group at the University of Cape Town, Rondebosch. His photo shows players at the Cape Town workshop session of Taking science to society